Whether you think the Steam Deck is the Next Big Thing in PC gaming, or just a wee little Steam Machine-in-waiting, if you're a gamer then the odds are good that you have some sort of opinion on it. Announced today by Valve, it's a powerful (and pricey) machine that makes portable your entire Steam library.
What's potentially even more interesting, though, is that you can treat it as a conventional PC if you prefer. Unlike, say, the Nintendo Switch, the Steam Deck will allow users to run pretty much whatever they want: If you want to wipe the whole thing and replace the preinstalled SteamOS with Windows, well, okay. Your performance might not be great, since the new version of SteamOS is optimized for Steam Deck's hardware, but if you're okay with that then so is Valve.
But where things get really interesting is its ability to run other game storefronts, like Epic or GOG. Because it can run Windows, it can run other game clients, and in case there's any question the Steam Deck hardware page lays it out: "Browse the web, watch streaming video, do your normal productivity stuff, install some other game stores, whatever."
That approach made a big impression on Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who enthused about the device on Twitter:
Amazing move by Valve! A handheld PC/console hybrid running the SteamOS fork of Arch Linux, and it’s an open platform where users are free to install software or their choosing - including Windows and other stores. https://t.co/jf5TWUWGP5July 15, 2021
"Amazing move by Valve!" Sweeney tweeted. "A handheld PC/console hybrid running the SteamOS fork of Arch Linux, and it’s an open platform where users are free to install software of their choosing—including Windows and other stores."
Sweeney's praise of Valve might seem a bit odd, given that Epic has been working hard (and spending a lot of money) over the past couple of years to cut into Steam's near-absolute domination of the PC gaming marketplace. But an even more pressing matter is Epic's ongoing lawsuit against Apple. Simplistically, Epic wants Apple to let iPhone users install any apps they want—including those not offered through the App Store—and to allow developers to use their own payment processing systems. That's exactly what the Steam Deck does. I don't know how much weight it will carry in some future legal proceeding (we're still waiting on the decision from the first trial), but being able to point to the PC gaming behemoth as an example of open competition as Sweeney envisions it can't hurt Epic's cause.
Reservations to preorder Steam Decks, which will start at $400, open tomorrow. They're expected to begin shipping in December, and not unlike his rival Tim, Gabe Newell has very high hopes for them.