While it’s hard to say whether or not “Steam Deck” has become a household name, it certainly deserves such status after an impressive introduction. Valve’s mini-PC had a one-of-a-kind first year that might be the envy of other platforms. After various attempts to enter the hardware game, from complicated steam machines and the steam controller to the more successful steam link, Valve’s hardware ambitions finally landed with a remarkable success, perhaps even shaking the industry. In a JNCO handheld form factor, the Steam Deck is a small terror of PC computing power. And its Steam Marketplace connection provides a library no console could ever dream of at launch.
Initially available via reservation, Steam Decks began shipping in February. While that delivery window was itself a delay (Valve was originally aiming for December), the fact that Decks started showing up so quickly and consistently on the doorsteps of eager fans is something of a miracle in itself. The impact of the pandemic and various global supply chain and shipping issues have complicated a number of industries; consumer electronics was particularly hard hit. While the demand for, say, a PS5 is very different from that of a Steam Deck, we’re two years into the life of the PS5 and it’s still a bit of a struggle to get one. Steam Decks though? Now you can buy one without reservation. Shipping is usually the only waiting period.
Not only did the Steam Deck arrive faster and more reliably than many other gaming hardware, it also arrived with a remarkable amount of games ready to play. Admittedly, this comparison might be a little unfair when you consider the fact that the Steam Deck is essentially a gaming PC you can hold in your hands and not as much of a generational “platform” as, say, the PS5 or the Xbox Series, but look at a title like Opening office job. Released by Valve clearly as a way to demonstrate the various features and graphical power of the Steam Deck, you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. Unlike, say, Astro’s Playrooma similar kind of “game” to show off the capabilities of the PS5, it didn’t have to wait its time to play (with all due respect to astro) demoware until “good games” come out. Right out of the gate, the Steam Deck offered experiences like Control in a way we have never experienced before; PC-level graphics quality was yours to play on the couch, public transport, a park or anywhere you want. Battery life might be a bit limited, but when you consider the level of performance you get, that seems understandable rather than limited.
And as a portable console, the Steam Deck gives the Nintendo Switch some serious competition. Of course, unless you’re using an emulator (what even Valve admits to doing) the Switch will still have certain exclusives that aren’t as easily obtainable on the Deck. But the Switch has been out for a while, using an aging mobile processor – meanwhile, the Deck that runs true PC-grade silicon under the hood. Nintendo’s handheld may have better battery life on average and the new OLED model has a much prettier screen, but it’s starting to show its age. Meanwhile, the Steam Deck is here crushing it with Cyberpunk 2077 run through your hands. As Kotakuby Zack Zwiezen noted in his playrecent headlines like Bayonet 3 and Alan WakeThe remastering struggle on Switch. While the Switch may be the biggest audience of the big three consoles, its sales are also starting to slow and, more importantly, its ability to keep up with modern games is diminishing. Sure Bayonet is exclusive to Switch, but the Deck is more than happy to deliver thousands of modern, next-gen, or classic games, sometimes with flawless 60fps.
Just over 10% of Steam’s entire library is “verified” on Deck at the end of this year, and countless more are playable with a little patience, workarounds, and compromises. My Steam Deck arrived around the middle of the year, and I can’t remember the last gaming device I bought – in its first year, no less – that had so many titles playable right away. And it’s not just great games, the Deck immediately impressed with its malleability as gaming hardware.
The Steam Deck runs a Linux-based operating system, much like the Steam Engines that came before it. But unlike Steam Engines, Valve has included an accessible “desktop mode” which, with some limitations, offers a recognizable desktop experience that is fun to play with and surprisingly usable. This allowed users to access alternative storefronts like GOG or Epic with simple utilities like heroic games launcher. To be clear, this requires a bit more computer savvy and even light hacking skills, though all of these are easier than modding a console. But those learning curves have been flattened by the Steam Deck community and its willingness to design and document smart innovations. Getting Epic Games Store games to work is as easy, if not easier, than installing a mod for a PC game. Fire up Reddit or YouTube with a simple search for “how to install…” and there are tons of tutorials on how to set up different storefronts, customize the splash screen, and more.
With wide product availability, the ability to deliver your Steam library to you on the go, plus other PC gaming storefronts, the Steam Deck didn’t have to justify itself unless portability is your thing. just not. Of course, there is room for improvement, as a better screen desperately needed and better battery life, but few gaming hardware have shipped with such a powerful game library with unique ways to play them. And the fact that it’s all wrapped up in this incredibly customizable and editable open-source software environment is the icing on the cake. 2022 has been a powerful year for the Steam Deck, and it’s only just begun.