Valve, the company that manages PC gaming’s most dominant storefront, Steam, announced its entry into the portable gaming market with the Steam Deck. The handheld gaming device will sell for between $399 and $649.
Reservations, which also come at a price, began Friday for a planned December 2021 release in the U.S., Canada, Europe and United Kingdom. The form factor looks much like the old Sega Game Gear portable from the 1990s, with two touch pads on either side of the screen to mimic using a mouse.
The device comes with a 7-inch screen, the same size as Nintendo’s recently announced Switch OLED Model. Valve claims Steam Deck has been optimized as a mobile device and promises an ambitious two to eight hours of battery life for continuous gameplay.
The LCD screen’s resolution will be 800p, a bit sharper than the Switch’s 720p in handheld mode. But it’ll sport a refresh rate of 60hz, which would ensure high-performance games will run at most at 60 frames per second. It will also include haptic feedback and gyroscopic motion.
Much like the Switch, Valve said it’s planning for a dock soon. In the meantime, the Steam Deck will have a USB-C port to plug in as a TV device. Valve also claims the Deck is basically a portable PC, so you can install Windows, check your email and do anything you might do with a desktop or laptop.
“We think Steam Deck gives people another way to play the games they love on a high-performance device at a great price,” Valve founder Gabe Newell said in a prepared statement. “As a gamer, this is a product I’ve always wanted. And as a game developer, it’s the mobile device I’ve always wanted for our partners.”
Nintendo fans have been licking their wounds after rumors of a “Switch Pro” ran rampant, even if such a device has never been confirmed to exist. The Steam Deck’s base model is only $50 more than the upcoming OLED Switch console. And even if Steam games won’t appear in 4K resolution on the device, PC games can be scaled upward to appear sharper on lower resolution screens anyway.
And that’s beyond the obvious attraction of being able to play demanding, high-powered games like “No Man’s Sky” or “Final Fantasy XIV” on a portable device.
On paper, everything about the device sounds like a Steam dream come true. PC players have lamented needing to carry around hot laptops with loud fans to get anything close to portable play. Alienware released a concept of a portable machine last year as well, which underscores a sizable void in the portable market that Nintendo and Apple, with its iPhones and iPads, haven’t addressed.
However, Valve already has a history of releasing hardware and failing to support it. In 2013, Valve announced its Steam Machine effort to roll out its operating system with premade PCs built like consoles. It was considered a failure very early on, and reports from that time say that Valve wasn’t very responsive to the manufacturers and that games ran poorly on the SteamOS compared to Microsoft’s Windows.
The jury remains out if Nintendo should start worrying. At first blush, it doesn’t seem wise to have Nintendo’s base $300 Switch model, and its upcoming $350 OLED Model, stack up against a $400 machine that promises to play any PC game in existence. But Nintendo’s also the only company that sells plastic boxes that have Mario and Pokémon in them.
Now that portable and mobile gaming has become mainstream and arguably larger than the PC space, there’s going to be a lot more eyes on how Valve is able to support its newest hardware.