The Steam Deck is a handheld gaming device by Valve, set to release later this month on the 25th. It’s gotten a lot of excitement due to its Nintendo Switch-like appearance, and the supposed ease of use for playing PC games.
I don’t think it’s going to be a successful product short term (2-3 years), because of how fiddly and unoptimized PC gaming is. Especially on Linux, which the Steam Deck runs. Though Valve has made a lot of progress with gaming on Linux, my personal experiences with even Valve games (Dota 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive) have been rocky.
In addition to Linux issues, there’s potential publisher issues too. Third-party launchers and stores plague triple-A titles, and even on consoles such as the Xbox you have to sign up to these third-party services just to play those games.
Ubisoft and EA both make you install Origin on PC, and in Ubisoft’s situation, logging in on Xbox doesn’t work at all. I have not been able to launch Rainbow 6: Siege, or their newest title in the series, Extraction, due to an unspecified and vague error when I try to log in to my Ubisoft account.
Because of publisher greed for email addresses to fuel their microtransaction marketing engine (wow what a sentence), many or most AAA titles will simply not run on the Steam Deck, and I think it will suffer as a result.
However, there are indeed tons of games on Steam that don’t make you go through the launcher or third-party account hassle. Games with launchers are a minority.
The other issue plaguing PC games is very few of them are targeted for certain hardware profiles, the way console games are. Performance constraints are often ignored, and each update often hurts performance more, steadily degrading the game from its peak performance it had at launch. Targeting PC is an afterthought for many developers. I understand targeting a large range of different performance levels is difficult, and that’s an inherent part of developing for PC.
The Steam Deck is no slouch, though. It has roughly the same specs as an Xbox Series X or mid-tier gaming PC, with 16 GB of RAM, Ryzen 3000-equivalent CPU, and RTX 6000-equivalent GPU. Driving a 1280x800 px display at 60 FPS will be no problem for those specs, but driving a 4k TV may see performance drops.
The problem is, as mentioned in the former paragraph, is that PC games tend to balloon over time and lose performance. On a non-upgradeable device such as the Steam Deck, your games will just get slower and slower over just a couple years. And I wouldn’t want to buy a new $400-$650 device every couple years, just like I used to do with GPUs. Consoles tend to last 7-8 years.
I hope to be proven wrong, though. I would love for Linux to become more popular and easier to use for gaming. I myself have given up and just use Windows for the 2-3 games I play on PC these days.
And Game Pass has been such a great service, I can’t go back to buying individual games anymore. Valve currently has no response to Game Pass.
Maybe the Steam Deck will be the new baseline for performance in new PC games, and I think specific hardware targets are something PC gaming has been missing.