Virtual Reality

I love VR, but Valve’s potential standalone headset leaves me cold

I love VR, but Valve's potential standalone headset leaves me cold

Image: Midjourney invited by MIXED

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Valve continues to work on VR hardware in secret. But if and when a new product will be launched is a whole different story.

Since Valve Index (2019) and Half-Life: Alyx (2020), Valve’s VR efforts have been silent. No new hardware, no new games: As of late, this has led to SteamVR barely penetrating the consciousness of the VR bubble, let alone that of the gaming public.

It’s no wonder, then, that VR studios have largely turned away from the PC VR platform. The present and the near future belong to Meta Quest and Playstation VR 2.

Valve’s VR lethargy is clearly reflected in Steam user statistics: SteamVR users represent only 2% of Steam’s total user base after almost seven years. In other words, PC VR is extremely small and hence hardly comes with any software. A vicious circle.

Rumors about new VR hardware

It has been rumored for some time that Valve could return to the virtual reality sector. Patents, code hints and job postings continue to fuel rumors about new VR hardware.

In September 2021, sources close to the company confirmed that Valve is working on a prototype codenamed Deckard, which hardware analyst and Youtuber Brad Lynch has been tracking for some time. Unlike Valve Index, the device could be standalone, following the trend of mobile VR game consoles since Quest 1.

Valve CEO Gabe Newell himself hinted in early 2022 that Valve’s next VR hardware could evolve into a VR version of Steam Deck.

“A lot of the technology that we could use and future versions of it comes from, you know, the technology that we have to develop for virtual reality. And then if you flip it [Steam Deck] around and you consider this a high-performance mobile PC gaming device, you kind of say, well, why can’t I have this in a wireless integrated VR solution? Newell told Eurogamer at the time.

Deckard is just a prototype

There are no question that something is in preparation at Valve. But that’s no surprise and doesn’t necessarily mean a new VR headset will be released soon.

Valve has invested heavily in VR and doesn’t want to be left behind when it perhaps reaches a wider audience one day.

We don’t know the size of the hardware team working on Valve Deckard and other prototypes. At worst, it’s a handful of VR enthusiasts whose projects don’t get much attention outside of the sworn group.


Anyone familiar with Valve’s unique corporate structure knows that internal projects need collective support and enthusiasm to get off the ground. And it’s rather doubtful afterwards Valve’s SteamVR fiasco. Attention will turn to the more promising Steam Deck for now.

Even more important than the past is the present and the near future. It will be very difficult for Valve to achieve significant success in the virtual reality market.

Meta dominates the standalone headset market. An important fact that competitor Bytedance will continue to cut their teeth on, and one that Valve certainly won’t dispute.

Valve is a rich but small company. He waits for an opportunity to achieve the greatest possible impact with the least possible effort. Permanent and expensive investments in virtual reality, such as those made by Meta, mean the exact opposite and therefore do not correspond to Valve’s business strategy.

The time has not (yet) come for Valve

Suppose Valve does indeed release a standalone VR headset in 2023 or 2024. What content can we expect for the device? Best-case scenario, a new Valve game; in the worst case, 2016’s VR classics and “Half-Life: Alyx” downgraded to a mobile chipset.

The device will struggle as Valve may not be willing to invest heavily in software for its platform. This is where the company stands out from other game industry players like Sony, Microsoft, and Meta. The last seven years of SteamVR prove it enough.

The time for Deckard has not yet come. In any case, I don’t see any gaps the headset could fill, any needs it could satisfy, other than being a Valve device. From this point of view, the company would have more to lose than to gain.

The more interesting question is what market environment would prevail and what technological conditions would have to be met for Valve to sense the opportunity again. A breakthrough in VR technology that we cannot yet predict? A brain-computer interface? Cloud streaming?

The latter remains the most likely, because if Valve launches another attack on the VR industry, it will be from its own PC platform – without the limitations of mobile hardware.

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