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Switch vs. Steam Deck: Gabe Newell reckons 'you're going to know which one is right for you'

Valve Steam Deck playing a game
(Image credit: IGN)

Steam's upcoming handheld console has prompted a number of comparisons to the Nintendo Switch, as the most popular handheld console outside of people hacking old Vitas into emulation machines. Despite this, Gabe Newell stated in an interview with IGN that he didn't see the Steam Deck as a competitor with the console at all due to their differing philosophies, as the Steam Deck is courting "high end" gamers.

"So I think Nintendo does a great job targeting the audience they do with the content that they have. And that's going to be different. Like when you pick this up, it feels much more like the ergonomics for somebody who's used to playing with an expensive game controller, right? Because it's bigger and it's bulkier than a Switch. And if we're right, that's the right trade-off to be making for the audience that we're going after," Newell said.

It's an odd comparison to decide that bigness and bulk equal more expensive or more ergonomic kit, but it's also quite loaded. Directly equating the Steam Deck's "high-end" gaming audience with people with bigger hands implies that people with smaller hands are only 'casual' gamers, and not part of Steam Deck's audience—which is a trend that (generally) falls along gender lines. This bias is already present in hardware—think about how VR headsets sell the straps you need to fit them comfortably on smaller heads separately—but it's eyebrow-raising to say it out loud.

Newell continues to directly equate 'device shape' with 'audience type' further on in the interview: "Let me put it this way. If you're a gamer, and you pick up a Switch, and you pick up one of these, you're going to know which one is right for you, right? And you're going to know it within 10 seconds."

For many, the appeal of the Steam Deck is going to be playing their favourite 'casual' PC games like Stardew Valley on a handheld console, but with mods. You can also already play deeply involved games like The Witcher 3 on Switch. The comment about ideal audiences is already in poor taste—but building it into the hardware itself is risky.

You can read the full interview at IGN.