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Friday, July 16, 2021

With the Steam Deck, will PC Elitists Still Think PC Gaming > Consoles?

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - What are supposed to be the advantages of the Steam Deck?

Upfront disclaimer: I'm not a PC gamer and I'm biased in favour of console gaming. I've also been around a long time to hear many PC gaming vs. console gaming debates wherever gamers congregate. PC gaming proponents (henceforth called PC Elitists) tend to be very passionate.

Valve has announced the Steam Deck, a “portable” computer that is specialised to play your Steam library on-the-go. You can pre-order it now. It sort of resembles a Nintendo Switch if it got messed up in a car accident, and the comparison isn't lost on the news media.

Here's Bloomberg, who the day or two before published an anti-Switch hit piece because the Nintendo Switch (OLED model) doesn't support 4k graphics output (their intro article when the Switch was announced has the headline, “Nintendo Unveils $350 Switch With Display That Still Lags Rivals” and notes it lags by lack of 4k graphical output), writing very positively when introducing the Steam Deck with the headline, “Nintendo Switch Gets New Rival With Valve’s Portable Steam Console”. (Important note: the Steam Deck also isn't a 4K device, but it can be externally connected to a 4K or even 8K monitor. Unknown how well it actually performs on that.) They just really hate Nintendo. As do plenty of PC Elitists.

Steam Deck Valve hands-on portable gaming computer
Screen-grab from this IGN video where they interview Valve people.
The journalist claims that his hands are comfortable.

Since people want to compare the Switch and the Steam Deck, you should note there's a reason I put portable in scare-quotes above. While the Nintendo Switch is 9.4 inches long, 4 inches high, and .55 inches deep while weighing just 0.88 pounds; the Steam Deck is 11.73 inches long, 4.6 inches high, and 1.93 inches deep while weighing 1.47 pounds. That is significantly bulkier and heavier than the Nintendo Switch, which is already not very portable. You're pretty much going to be carrying around the Steam Deck in a backpack. It also only lasts 2 to 8 hours, to compare to the current Switch model's 4.5 to 9 hours.

It's important to note that Valve is marketing the Steam Deck as a small PC with a controller attached to it, as opposed to a game console. That's because you can use it for all of the things you'd use a PC for. Use web browsers, other game stores, install Windows on it (it's Linux-based by default), whatever. It's not actually competing with the Nintendo Switch, and I don't believe there'll be a notable population of people who will not buy a Nintendo Switch who otherwise would have if the Steam Deck didn't exist. You can also connect the Steam Deck to a monitor and eventually buy a separate docking station from Valve.

There's this top-of-the-search-results article from Business Insider four years ago that's all “12 reasons why gaming on a PC is better than game consoles”. I believe it's representative of why PC Elitists find it better to be console gaming. The reasons include the graphics and frame rates are better if you buy a stronger PC, that Steam is a great platform, that there's no subscription service like Xbox Live or PlayStation Network you must pay to play multiplayer online, there's a greater game quantity, you can download modifications to games to extend their life, there are more controller options, you have the choice to play on the monitor you want (really weak point since consoles do this too; I play my Switch on a computer monitor), you're not hogging the TV in multiple-occupant-one-TV living arrangements (but you are hogging the computer), building your own PC is fun, you can decorate your PC, you can “go all-out with custom water cooling”, and you can upgrade your PC parts so it won't be obsolete like consoles would.

Of those reasons, the Steam Deck won't give better graphics or frame rate, it obviously uses Steam and gives you access to all of the Chinese Communist Party-approved games on there, you indeed don't have to pay a subscription service, you get access to that greater game quantity, as well as those mods, and the Steam Deck is designed around controller flexibility (many consoles are becoming very respectable on that too), you can hook it up to the monitor you want (but again, you can do that regardless), you are indeed not hogging the TV unless that's the monitor you want to hook it up to, but you aren't building your own PC, you're not decorating the Steam Deck, you won't do your own water cooling (and I don't know why this is a good reason?), and you won't be upgrading your Steam Deck internals.

That pretty much means the only legitimate thing in common with the Steam Deck and the reasons why PC Elitists are PC Elitists is access to Steam (and you'll share cloud saves between Steam on your normal computer and the Steam Deck). And if you're a Valve fan and you're excited over the Steam Deck, admit it's because you're a Valve fan, not because PC gaming is inherently superior, because the Steam Deck forfeits the majority of those advantages.

(One wonders what happens when the specifications for PC games will surpass what the Steam Deck is capable of. Maybe Valve will keep making new, more powerful ones. Or abandon it and its customer base.)

I don't recognise why PC Elitists would want a Steam Deck. Just buy a (gaming) laptop. You can get that sooner than a Steam Deck, which will start shipping in December 2021, but according to the pre-order/reservation site, you're probably going to get it in the middle of (or later) 2022. You can also carry around a laptop in a backpack, too!

Ludwig will happily stick with his Nintendo Switch. How about you? Is Ludwig missing a key value proposition for the Steam Deck that he should understand, or do you agree that it's as superfluous as he thinks it is? Is the idea that the Steam Deck is more affordable than gaming laptops/more powerful within its price range? If you're getting one, you'll probably want to buy the $529 or $649 one, not the $399 Steam Deck, because 64 GB internal storage is a bad idea for a digital-only gaming experience.

You know what also isn't a Switch competitor? The Playdate.


  1. I'm honestly pretty tempted to get one eventually. One of the reasons I love getting Switch versions of games is because I can wake up, grab my Switch, and play a little bit before getting up. I also can watch a video or something on my PC while playing a Switch game at the same time, or have my Switch sitting nearby for me to play while taking a break in-between projects.

    I can't do those things with a laptop. Gaming laptops are expensive (more expensive than these), and they're also a lot bigger and clunkier to take with you than a handheld gaming device.

    There are also some genres that I just strongly prefer to play on a device I'm holding in my hands.

    Now, the price is high enough that I'm not ready to go for it yet, but I do see the appeal.

    1. It sure sounds like you could do those things on a laptop. >.>

      As I was sayin', you're gonna have to carry a laptop and a Steam Deck around the same way (a backpack) because the Steam Deck ain't gonna fit in your pocket or purse or anything.

    2. From the pictures, it's bigger than a Switch, but not nearly the size of a laptop.

    3. Lots of people leave laptops by their beds!

    4. A tablet, possibly, but a laptop? Way too big and clunky for me to use the way I use my Switch.

    5. ...
      I guess I'll need some pictures or something then. >_>;

      (Put the laptop on the floor under the bed when not using it.)

    6. Oh, and I doubt I could find a good gaming laptop for anywhere near the price of the Steam Deck.

    7. I wonder how Valve can afford manufacturing these... >_>;

      Okay, so then the real reason why you'd get a Steam Deck versus a laptop comes down to cost, then?

    8. Even if the prices were closer, the smaller size still would make it tempting to me.

    9. Alright. ^_^

      Just wanna note that things like form factor is wot you'd consider when buying among laptops, not gaming systems. (To my point that the Steam Deck is a laptop competitor, not a Switch one.)


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