Valve found a hardware winner in the Deck this year
2022 saw gaming shift in a lot of big ways. But amid a clamor of big headlines, Valve managed to work its way into the home console space with the Steam Deck this year. And this one really seems like it’s going to stick it out.
Valve has had a, let’s say, interesting record when it comes to home hardware launches. The build-your-own PC nature of the Steam Machine didn’t really take off, and neither did the Steam Link. Even the Steam Controller, which has its defenders, got lumped in with the successes and failures of Valve’s work to put a box in the living room.
This year, Valve launched the Steam Deck, a new attempt at portable PC gaming. It was revealed as a surprisingly flexible piece of hardware; it can stream games or run them itself. It’s portable, but compatible with USB-C docks, able to HDMI out and connect with a TV or monitor. And it runs on Linux, but is fairly open source, allowing users to tinker and mod away to their heart’s desire. (Within reason, of course.)
The Steam Deck does a lot of what Valve had already been trying to do in the space. But this year, the Steam Deck has been incredibly popular. As we looked back at the year that was 2022 in gaming, I wanted to examine exactly why this one clicked.
Best of both worlds
I’ll say this up-front: yes, the popularity of the Switch probably did help the Steam Deck a bit. The concept of hardware that can be played handheld or on the television works great for the Switch, and it somewhat does for the Steam Deck too. More importantly, it’s about the form factor. Having a Switch with the potential library of your overflowing Steam backlog is tantalizing, too.
It’s funny, then, that I don’t think I’ve ever docked my Steam Deck more than a couple times. Instead, it’s been a completely handheld experience. The main reason for that is because if I wanted to play a computer game with a set monitor and controller, all those options are already available through my gaming PC. Normally, this would be the part where one or the other takes over.
Instead, the Steam Deck feels additive. There are still games I play at my PC, for when I want the mouse-and-keyboard experience or need the higher fidelity and horsepower of my setup. But other games can travel back and forth, or just be played through solely on my Steam Deck. My review of Signalis and dozens of hours of Tactics Ogre: Reborn were all on my Steam Deck, and I’m currently bouncing back and forth on Chained Echoes using cloud saves. The Steam platform tie-ins really make the Deck useful for taking a game-on-the-go, and then plugging right back in, whether I want the gaming computer or the Deck running the show.
Steam Deck Verified
I’d also argue Valve found a lot of success on the Deck thanks to the Verified system. Traditionally, Valve has been pretty laid back when it comes to letting users tinker, discover, and work on things. (More on that in another section.) But Verified introduced a system where users, especially less tech-savvy users, could instantly see whether a game was cleared for the Steam Deck or not.
Being able to open up a Store page and see that green check made it easy to know if a game was going to run well or not. And the Verified system doesn’t just check on performance, but also basic pieces like whether controller support is well-integrated.
Long-time PC users are accustomed to tinkering with settings and work-arounds, but for someone who just wants to play a Steam library on the go with little fuss, now Verified can help them identify what will work right away, fresh from the install. It’s been popular enough that I’ve seen owners asking developers whether Steam Deck Verified status is on the way or not.
Endless tinkering potential
On top of all that, the Steam Deck is also ripe for potential tinkering. Homebrewing and modding are predictably thriving, as Steam Deck owners have found all sorts of ways to run things on the Steam Deck. Heck, even the custom boot-up animations got a nod from the hardware developers, netting animation creators some extra seconds of boot animation potential.
It’s not just that you could, theoretically, play some retro games on the Steam Deck. It’s that it does that, and still does a lot of the Steam Deck Verified, fresh-out-of-the-box options too, and all of it is fairly easy to set up. The Deck has felt relatively easy to work with compared to other modding endeavors I’ve undertaken, and I can still always just boot back into the proper Steam OS and play a game when I’m tired of tooling around.
It’s obvious but bears repeating: the Steam library is a massive boon for the Steam Deck. Other consoles have pretty hefty libraries at this point, but nothing compared to what even a somewhat-frequent Steam user has stored up.
This was also a stellar year for games that just fit well on the Steam Deck. Sure, Elden Ring was popular and makes sense, but Vampire Survivors feels like a match made in heaven for the Deck. Tons of stellar indies like Citizen Sleeper and Norco, and even established hits like Hades all felt right at home on the Deck. Add in the launch of ports like Persona 5 Royal and everyone’s massive Steam sale backlogs, and the Deck had a wealth of games already bought, paid-for, and ready to play for new owners.
I’ll admit, I was pretty skeptical about the Steam Deck at first. I remembered a lot of older Steam hardware attempts not doing well, even when I loved the concept of them. And in the first few months, my Deck would collect dust. Once a few games cracked the seal, though, I was completely won over. I frequently find myself opting for the Deck if at all feasible. This handheld PC feels like one of the big winners of 2022, and I’m really interested to see where Valve takes it from here.