The Steam deck had a phenomenal first year
While it’s hard to say whether “Steam Deck” has become a household name yet, it certainly deserves such status after an impressive introduction. Valve’s mini PC has had a unique first year, one that could make other platforms envious. After various attempts to get into the hardware game, from the complicated Steam Machines and Steam Controller to the more successful Steam Link, Valve’s hardware ambitions finally landed with a remarkable, perhaps even industry-shaking, hit. In a JNCO pocket form factor, the Steam Deck is a small terror for PC computing power. And the connection to the Steam marketplace provides a library that no console could ever dream of at launch.
Initially available via reservation, Steam Decks began shipping in February. While this delivery window itself was a delay (Valve had originally targeted December), it’s something of a miracle in itself that Decks started showing up on the doorsteps of eager fans so quickly and regularly. The impact of the pandemic, and various related global supply chain and shipping issues have complicated a number of industries; consumer electronics have been particularly affected. While the demand for, say, a PS5 is very different to that of a Steam Deck, we’re two years into the PS5’s life and it’s still a bit of a challenge to get one of those. But steam tires? Now you can buy one without a reservation. Shipping is usually the only wait.
Not only was the Steam Deck faster and more reliable than a lot of other gaming hardware, it also came with a remarkable amount of games ready to play. Granted, this comparison might be a bit unfair when you consider the fact that the Steam Deck is basically a gaming PC you can hold in your hands and not as much of a generational “platform” as say the PS5 or Xbox series, but look at a title which Aperture Desk Job. Released by Valve clearly as a way to demonstrate the various features and graphical power of Steam Deck, you’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. Unlike, say, Astro’s playrooma similar type of “game” to showcase the PS5’s capabilities, there was no need to wait to play (with all due respect Astro) demoware until “the good games” came out. Right out of the gate, Steam Deck delivered experiences that Control in a way we had never experienced before; The PC gaming level graphics quality was yours to play on the sofa, public transport, a park or anywhere you want. Battery life can be a bit tight, but when you consider the level of performance you’re getting, that feels understandable as opposed to limiting.
And as a portable console, the Steam Deck gives the Nintendo Switch some serious competition. Sure, unless you’re running an emulator (which even Valve admits to doing), the Switch will still have certain exclusives that aren’t as easy to come by on deck. But the Switch has been out for a while using an aging mobile processor — meanwhile, the tire running is actually PC-level silicon under the hood. Nintendo’s portable may have better battery life on average and the newer OLED model has a wildly prettier screen, but it’s starting to show its age. Meanwhile, the Steam deck is out here crushing it too Cyberpunk 2077 running into your hands. As Kotaku‘s Zack Zwiezen noted in his piece, recent major titles such as Bayonetta 3 and Alan Wakeits remaster match on the switch. While the Switch may be the most mainstream of the big three consoles, its sales are also beginning to slow, and more importantly, its ability to keep up with modern games is declining. Secure Bayonetta is exclusive to the Switch, but Deck is more than happy to offer thousands of modern, last-gen or classic games, sometimes at flawless 60 frames per second.
Just over 10 percent of the entire Steam library is “verified” deck by the end of this year, and countless others are playable with a little patience, workarounds, and compromises. My Steam deck came around halfway through the year, and I can’t remember the last gaming device I bought – in the first year, no less – that had so many playable titles at once. And it’s not just great games, the Deck immediately impressed with its malleability as a piece of gaming hardware.
Steam Deck runs a Linux-based operating system, much like the Steam machines that came before it. But unlike the Steam machines, Valve included an accessible “desktop mode” that, with some limitations, provides a recognizable desktop experience that’s fun to mess around with and surprisingly usable. This has allowed users to access alternative storefronts like GOG or Epic with simple tools like Heroic Games Launcher. To be clear, this requires a little more computer knowledge and even some hacking-lite skills, although 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 create and document clever innovations. Getting Epic Games Store games up and running is just as easy, if not more so, than installing a mod for a PC game. Hit Reddit or YouTube with a simple “how to install…” search and there are tons of tutorials on how to set up different storefronts, customize your splash screen, and more.
With great product availability, the ability to deliver your Steam library to you on the go, as well as other PC-based game storefronts, the Steam Deck hasn’t had to justify itself unless portability just isn’t something you’re into. Sure , it has room for improvement, such as a desperately needed better screen and better battery life, but few pieces of gaming hardware have come with such a powerful library of games with unique ways to play them. And that it’s all wrapped up in this open source software environment that’s incredibly customizable and moddable is the cherry on top. 2022 was a strong year for the Steam Deck, and it’s only just getting started.
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