Although wildly successful, Nintendo’s original Game Boy was by no means a technical powerhouse- even for its time. The Atari Lynx (launching just a few months after the Game Boy in September of 1989) and Game Gear sported full-color displays and graphics closer to console titles. On the other hand, the Game Boy had a meager black and white display. In addition to not having a backlight (something we now take for granted), Game Boy titles were more in line with what consumers could have expected from the NES than the incoming 16-bit generation.
Still, the Game Boy managed to outperform both the Lynx and Game Gear in terms of sales and shelf life. I’ve always believed this was due to two significant factors- the lower price and (more importantly) brand recognition. Atari was a dying name in the late ’80s, and Sega was getting its foot in the door with a promise of “bringing the arcade experience home.” The then up-and-coming Sega Mega Drive made an appearance. Parents were starting to call everything that appeared to be a video game “the Nintendo” at this point due to the widescale success of the NES. The simplification by adults, along with the much lower asking price, made the Game Boy a bigger hit even though it was far from cutting edge.
Fast forward to 2021. We argue that Nintendo is (yet again) simply doing the bare minimum when it comes to the Nintendo Switch. The recently revealed Switch OLED is hardly a step up from the standard Switch released almost five years ago; the issue of joy-con drift remains unsolved. While games like Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild are aesthetically stunning…they’re not the best a portable console can provide from a technical standpoint. Still, the Switch has remained highly successful thanks to its affordability and robust lineup of software. In the portable arena, it hasn’t seen a true competitor- until now.
Announced just this week, the Steam Deck is striving to be a portable PC gaming device. It can also (surprise, surprise) connect to external displays via a dock that is sold separately.
Valve has more or less dominated the PC gaming market since launching Steam almost twenty years ago. Although competitor platforms such as GOG exist, it’s a name the vast majority of consumers associate with the world of computer gaming. Valve has attempted to enter the console market in the past, but most attempts were dead out of the water as many outlets have rushed to remind us. The Steam Machine and Steam Link were far from successful. Nevertheless, there are several potential advantages that Valve’s latest project has over the Switch that shouldn’t be overlooked.
You’ll have access to the entire Steam library:
Although it’s a no-brainer, one perk of the Steam Deck will be access to an instant library of games. The chances are that if you’ve done any gaming on a PC in the past 20 years, you’ll already have plenty of games to play on this new device out of the box since you’ll have access to the Steam client. Although the Switch may be selling like hotcakes now, it took a while for its software library to build up. That’s one problem the Steam Deck isn’t going to have by default.
More games to play- and sooner than consoles:
Riding off of this, this also means access to far more games than the Nintendo Switch. In the case of indie games (a niche that the Switch can owe a good chunk of its success to), it also means sooner access in many cases. I’m someone whose modern gaming experiences are often occupied by independently developed titles. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten fed up with console port delays and opted to buy a game through Steam. It’s also worth noting that many fantastic indie games are in early access and may not ever see console ports.
Fewer burns thanks to Valve’s refund policy:
One often forgotten strength of Steam as a platform for purchasing games is its refund policy. So many new titles (indie scene especially) are experimental by design. It’s safe to say that everyone has bought one (or several) games that did not click with them early on, even after doing research. That, or it’s just not everything the developer promised. That feeling of getting “burned” can lead some (myself included) to wait for deep discounts on many games. While Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft technically allow refunds- they are incredibly strict with their policies regarding them. Typically, Valve will allow you to refund a game for any reason. Provided you have less than two hours of total playtime, and they don’t suspect you’re abusing the policy. Considering demos are quite the rarity in this current landscape, this is a substantial advantage for the Steam Deck.
Valve is actually trying to deter scalpers:
Preorders may not be a big deal to some, but it truly is the principle that gives me a sense of respect for the Deck despite not even being out yet. A quick peek at the Deck’s official page shows that Valve has taken measures to deter “unauthorized resellers.” First, there is a fee involved in reserving a Steam Deck, but it also goes towards purchasing the unit itself. Second, the account used to make the reservation must be in good standing and have at least one purchase tied to it before June 2021 in the first 48 hours of reservation availability.
When you consider that Nintendo has not only done nothing to deter scalping at any point in time but has even gone as far as to tell consumers “good luck” when it comes to acquiring legacy content…it’s just an easy thumbs up.
The Steam Deck is slated for a Q2 2022 release with a base asking price of $399. Reservations are open now, and units are expected to begin shipping in December of this year.
Valve’s track record with hardware aside, I think there’s a strong foundation behind the Steam Deck. This event is truly a case of history repeating itself. Nintendo has been coasting by, leaving someone else to figure out how to outdo them in the same way things played out in the ’90s. Even if the Deck costs a bit more than the primary Switch, it will give players access to quite a bit more than the Eshop. Valve’s dedication to fending off scalpers shows that they’re taking it seriously. Do you think it stands a chance against the Walt Disney of video games? Let us know in the comments!