It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites deliberate on a single burning question. Then, we ask your take.
Valve, maker of Half-Life, Half-Life Alyx-player the Valve Index, and unavoidable online marketplace Steam, unveiled its surprise portable gaming PC, the Steam Deck. Just like that, a heck of a lot more people seem interested in the possibility of tiny handheld gaming PCs. (Too bad Steam Decks are now pre-ordered into the back half of 2022.)
So this week, we Ask Kotaku: Are you intrigued by the Valve Steam Deck?
Oh hell yes. I am a lazy gamer. There are often situations in which I’ll have a strong desire to play a PC-only game but no desire to sequester myself in the cold solitude of my room to do it, so I simply won’t play. With the Steam Deck, I can sit on my porch or in my sunroom and just vibe with one of the many not-on-Switch games that I’ve been eager to play but haven’t because I don’t want to be stuck at my desk.
Steam Deck will be my Persona 4 Golden machine. I literally bought that game on Steam with the intention of playing it mobile from my Mac laptop only to notice that the Steam version of P4G isn’t Mac compatible (womp womp). I haven’t touched it since. I’ll be psyched beyond measure to have a device on which I can play this game on the go. And! According to an itch.io dev, Steam Deck will be compatible with Itch.io’s app. I am stoked to make my Steam Deck my “all the small things” indie paradise machine. I can’t wait!
Hollow Knight came out in 2017, but nobody at Kotaku started yammering on and on about it until June of the following year when it finally came to Switch. There are a bunch of games like this — Stardew Valley, Slay the Spire, Crypt of the Necrodancer — great indie games that came to Steam first but I never bothered with until they arrived on Nintendo’s hybrid portable because I didn’t want to play them at the same PC I spend hours working in front of every day. The Steam Deck seems like the perfect solution for that.
I’m not convinced that the thing will feel good to hold, or even be that easy to play with, especially for Steam games that haven’t really been optimised for a handheld control scheme. If a game doesn’t require a cursor, I almost always prefer to play with a controller, and there are plenty of games that release on Steam that only support mouse and keyboard at first. Still, if I can play my favourite arcade-y platformers, roguelikes, and bullet hells anywhere I want before they come to Switch and get that Nintendo markup, it seems like $US400 ($546) well spent.
Plus, Steam has a ton of old and new games that will likely never come to Switch, from Dragon Age: Origins to Wildrmyth. If Valve actually does the hard work of making the Steam Deck a solid user experience (a big if) then it could easily become my favourite console.
No. Its specs and price are nice enough, sure, but I have a long enough memory to recount the days when Valve tried to push Steam Machines on folks. Or what about the ill-fated Steam Link? Or the cool but barely supported Steam Controller? Not to mention all the rumours of projects dying as people at Valve lose interest or move on to something shinier. Needless to say my confidence in Valve shipping and supporting this thing is very low.
Even if it was amazing and Valve had a great track record in supporting and making hardware this would still be a pass for me because it doesn’t really seem useful. I rarely go out on long trips and I work from home. So I spend a lot of my time around video game consoles and a fast PC. I have no need for a portable PC. And when I do go on a rare trip or vacation, I’m trying to escape my job and not bring it with me in the form of a handheld PC with a so-so battery and meh-quality screen. If I want to play something, I can whip out my phone and kill some time for a lot less, and it won’t break my wrists holding it.
I’m only mildly intrigued. Like, would I enjoy a free Steam Deck? Of course, I’d mess with that. But paying $US650 ($887) for the vaguely capacious one is a much bigger ask. I already have too many devices that I don’t use and a portable Steam player would just add to the clutter and choice paralysis.
Which isn’t to say it’s not cool. One aspect that does intrigue me is that it carries forward some of the interface ideas pioneered by Valve’s legit innovative, forward-thinking Steam Controller. The dual touchpads, four rear bumpers, and sheer programmability of it all are all really exciting. Triggers look pretty good too. However, the d-pad and face button placement make them look like afterthoughts and ergonomic nightmares. So, note of concern there.
The screen doesn’t impress me either. Maybe I was wrong to expect 1080p rather than slightly over 720p, but 1280×800 feels pretty crusty these days and I’m a little concerned that the odd 16:10 resolution could cause display annoyances with games that prefer 16:9. Hopefully no big deal?
Still, I really like Ash’s notion that the Steam Deck would be a perfect device to enjoy smaller indie games and Itch.io material. If I were to jump on board, that’d be the most compelling use case for me.
I am more than intrigued by the Steam Deck. I immediately knew I would reserve a spot for the 512 GB model. My partner is also a massive gamer, so between the two of us, it’ll definitely get used a ton. It largely appeals to me for the exact reason I often don’t play on my PC as often as I’d like: it’s convenient. I know some people love having a dedicated game station and/or room, but I much prefer to be on the living room couch or in bed with my partner and kitties while gaming. I can do this with console games, and especially with my Switch. But I’m loath to break out a PC game so I can sit in the office by myself.
I see the Steam Deck as a luxury item, more so even than a solid gaming PC. But it’s one of those purchases that I look at with my adult money and no one to tell me no and dive right into. Treat yourself.
Steam Deck allows me to reveal a dirty little secret: I’ve never owned a gaming PC, and I’ve no intention of ever investing in one. Too big. Too expensive. Too much research to fine-tune the thing to perfection. And any rig I build would require new parts on a constant cycle if I’d hope to have the most cutting-edge machine at all times.
Has this stubborn stance affected my job? You bet! Sometimes it’s demanded I wait ages until a game comes out on Switch (see: Hades). Sometimes it’s meant I’ve missed a game entirely (see: a list too long to type out). But the Steam Deck is small, fairly priced, and, best of all, requires no research commitment whatsoever. Finally, I’ll be able to play PC games. Whew! Feels good to get that off my chest.
Nope. I think it’s neat and I’d like to try it out, but it’s nothing new in the hardware space. There are a bunch of handheld PC gaming devices already on the market. Most of them are kind of crappy, but they can indeed play PC games at decent speeds and resolutions. Like this GPD dealio I found on Amazon. It costs over $US1,000 ($1,364), sure, but it has a built-in keyboard and a fancy sliding display.
Hell, I’ve been playing with these things since back in 2013, when Razer released the Edge handheld PC gaming tablet. These devices have existed for a long time, just like gaming PCs were around a long time before Valve brought out its Steam Machines. I like that they’re trying to bring the price down to make portable PC gaming more affordable, but if people really wanted a PC gaming portable that’s not a gaming laptop, they would have caught on by now.
How About You?
Kotaku’s weighed in, but where do you stand? Do you want to use the Steam Deck to cosy up with your favourite indies? Or do you think it’s a waste of money? We’ll be back next time to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!