Valve’s latest foray into the unforgiving world of gaming hardware is their impressive Steam Deck. I’m sure you know all about it, but for the sake of the uninformed (and Google’s search algorithm), let’s talk briefly about what the Deck is, what it does, and why so many gamers are calling it a “Nintendo Switch Killer.”
Nintendo has always dominated the handheld market.
Ever since the original Game Boy, no other gaming manufacturer has managed to topple Nintendo in the handheld market. And many have tried! Sega and Atari failed in the early days, and more recently, Sony completely bailed on the scene.
Even when another company could offer customers superior hardware, Nintendo always won out. Why? Well, Pokemon of course. Sure, handheld entries into Nintendo’s other franchises helped too, but my gamer opinion is that Pokemon almost single-handedly assured Nintendo’s domination. That topic is probably worthy of an article in itself, but it’s beside our point today.
But consider today that Pokemon is no longer a handheld-only franchise. And if we’re being honest, Sword/Shield really doesn’t look too impressive on the big screen. It worked just fine as a handheld.
Also consider Sony’s retreat from the handheld market.
Oh, and let’s not forget Nintendo’s failure to deliver on a Super Nintendo Switch Pro at E3 and their consolation-prize OLED Switch that has met with such a tepid response.
Basically, there is a bigger vacuum in the high-end handheld gaming market than there has ever been. And while Valve has pretty much always had bad luck at getting into hardware manufacturing, their timing on the Steam Deck is pretty much perfect.
The resemblance is striking!
Besides their impeccable timing and the gaping vacuum currently in the handheld market, there are a lot of parallels to draw between the Steam Deck and the (nonexistent) Switch Pro.
For one thing, Valve is promising to offer a dock for the Deck. This Deck dock would allow you to easily hook up your Deck to a TV or monitor while it charges.
The most obvious similarity is their portability. Gamers are gamers even when they’re on the go, so having a powerful carry-along to actually play quality games is a no-brainer. The form factor is similar too, but the Deck does not feature detachable joysticks like Nintendo’s Joy-Cons. It does, however, use motion controls.
Along with the obvious inputs (XYAB buttons, L/R1 and L/R2 buttons, dual thumbsticks), the Deck offers more. It has an actual dpad, four more buttons along the back, and a pair of what appear to be track pads to allow for mouse-like controls in PC games.
The track pads are a brilliant idea, absolutely essential for certain PC games to be played on a controller, and one of my favorite features from the ill-fated Steam Controller.
Best of all (if you’re a Steam-head like me), the Deck simply connects to your Steam account and BAM! …All your games are right there to download. Valve offers 3 versions for storage: 64GB, 256GB and 512GB.
The APU is a custom collaboration with AMD that was made just for the Deck, “a Zen 2 + RDNA 2 powerhouse, delivering more than enough performance to run the latest AAA games in a very efficient power envelope.” According the Valve, whatever all that means.
And as a final nail in the Nintendo Switch coffin, the Steam Deck is already available for preorders with an expected ship date in Q2 of 2022.
Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?
The Tribes are at War
Naturally, we can’t have all this talk and comparison between the Switch and its hi-tech successor without a hefty swath of Nintendo fans rushing to the aid of Mario, Zelda and Samus. The internet (or at least Twitter) basically exploded with little skirmishes between Camp Nintendo and the PC Master Race after the Deck was announced.
The memes were immediate and hilarious.
I haven't posted a meme in awhile so here's one 🧐 pic.twitter.com/V1sAJpJvnI
— MegaMatt (@MegamattX86) July 17, 2021
Beyond the memes, I haven’t voiced much of an opinion on the matter. And I definitely haven’t unsheathed my Master Sword to join this pointless fan fight. And why the hell would I?
The thing is, the argument is stupid. In all markets, competition is healthy. It keeps prices from rising too fast. It offers consumers more options. I’ll never understand why people so often feel like they have to pick a side and defend it. Whether it’s Ford vs Chevy, Apple vs Android, Nintendo vs. literally any other gaming platform.
And Nintendo fans ought to know by now that not only is their beloved company fleecing them every chance they get, they also have absolutely no need to be defended. Nintendo can take care of themselves. At their fans’ expense, of course.
Valve can’t possibly kill the Switch
Okay, don’t get me wrong here. I’m a lifelong Nintendo fan. Just have a look at this website!
But the majority of my gaming happens on Steam. Why? Because a huge majority of games I want to play are available on Steam and Switch. The biggest difference is that most of them are massively cheaper to play on Steam. There are only three reasons I ever buy a Switch game:
1. I love it enough to want a physical copy (Curse of the Moon)
Steam is a digital-only platform. It always will be. Nintendo clings tightly to physical media, which I madly respect.
2. It’s only available on Switch (Breath of the Wild)
The real reason Valve, Sony, Sega, Atari, or anybody else can never kill Nintendo: Their first-party franchises. I’ll always have Nintendo systems around because I’ll always want to play the latest Zelda, Mario and Metroid. That’s literally all their fans care about. Handheld or not. Nintendo fans love Nintendo.
3. I’m going to play it while I’m traveling (Castlevania Collection)
This is the one category where I see Nintendo possibly losing a few customers. Until I get a Steam Deck, my only way to play new games on the go is the Switch. Other than my ancient laptop.
The Steam Deck could very easily peel off the small percentage of Switch players that only use it for its portability. But how much of Nintendo’s customer base does that slice represent? Five percent?
And yet, if Valve does manage to get a grip on half that sector, say 2.5% of “I only play bc it’s portable” customers, that’s still hundreds of thousands of people. That’s still enough to make the Deck a success.
PC gaming has always been on the fringes of mainstream gaming. Somewhere between 10-12% of gamers play primarily on PC, and Steam has been serving those customers for years. But now with Microsoft Game Pass for PC, Epic Games, Blizzard and Bethesda each controlling their own digital IP marketplaces, Steam has never had more pressure to maintain their crab grip on the PC market.
So while the Steam Deck is not going to cause any real damage to Nintendo, there’s a great chance that it help could stem the tide against their real competition in the PC gaming market.
Certainly Valve has a very favorable shot at finding huge success with the Steam Deck. And there’s a reasonable chance they will edge into Nintendo’s market. If the hardware is good, and it delivers what they promise, we could be witnessing a revolution in the gaming world. The Deck is a bit expensive for this Ghetto Gamer, but if it ever winds up in the bargain basement (like the Steam Controller), I’ll buy two.