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What we want to see from the possible SteamPal handheld from Valve

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You've all seen the rumours by now, and apparent confirmation from Ars that Valve has been working on the SteamPal, a Linux powered handheld that could be released this year. Here's a short list of what we want from it.

Steam Machines and SteamOS were ultimately a failure, for many reasons. The whole thing was confusing for both users and consumers with multiple models, and most of them wanted far too much money. What will be different this time? How can Valve actually make it work?

This time around at least, it looks like Valve are entering a market that's still relatively in its infancy. However, it's clearly popular with more hardware vendors showing prototypes and the GPD Win series continues showing how a smaller vendor can make it happen. If Valve really do enter, they would be positioned well considering they know how to produce their own hardware after the Steam Controller, Steam Link and now the Valve Index too. Doing it directly with only one model or perhaps two with a higher model would already solve a lot of their original Steam Machine issues. Let's say that's the first thing we want: make it clear. Get the marketing right this time, and actually continue marketing it unlike before.

Game support is something that suffered originally. We had porters like Feral Interactive and Aspyr Media come onboard thanks to Steam Machines but they simply weren't enough. This time, we have a vast library of supported indie games, a couple AA/AAA and then there's Steam Play Proton too. However, realistically, we still need that direct support and porting effort from developers to ensure the games work as good as they can on the hardware, especially since this won't be top-end stuff. Still, with Proton, there is at least that ability to play more than what's supported and the ability to is vitally important to make a SteamPal actually worth even thinking on to purchase.

Having good game support is the single most essential thing. People don't want to wait around for shaders to compile when you hit play, stuttering while Proton/DXVK builds up a cache will be very noticeable on the hardware too and no doubt be the source of many poor reviews. Having developers build and optimize for it will end up essential to making it a win overall.

Another serious point to think on is online gaming. This is a sore spot right now. I can only imagine the reviews of "you can't play x or y, the most popular online games" which will be due to the likes of Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye. Perhaps though, since Valve will fully control the kernel they can have it all signed in a particular way that anti-cheat systems can hook into it. However, that could then split things between desktop Linux and a SteamPal. It's both exciting to think on for support and concerning.

A Steam Game Pass, yup, something like that I think would be in some way needed. Other consoles have a form of it, Valve allows it on Steam already with the likes of EA Play, it would make sense for Valve to have one to not only pull in even more money but to give users access to a library of games right away for a SteamPal when they signed up. Either that, or team up with a bunch of developers to give free copies to those who buy one.

Keep the desktop mode. Please. That was actually a highlight of SteamOS originally. You get the console-like experience, with the option to dive into a normal desktop if you want to do other things. That would extend the possibilities of what you can do with a Valve SteamPal. I think removing that would be a mistake, as long as they lock-down the SteamPal SteamOS side of things so that users can't break it and as easy system-refresh option to set things back to normal.

Send loads out to developers long before release. Gosh I hope they're doing this. How do you get people interested in supporting it? Give them developer kits. Other console makers do this for good reason.

Some form of external streaming media support out of the box. Yes, I know, that the main point is gaming but we're long past the point of such single-use devices. People will expect the likes of Netflix and others to work. So get it sorted before release. It was a sore spot for the original Steam Machines.

I don't think I really need to put down "use a Linux operating system" as a thing we want from it do I? It's pretty obvious it will be. So, SteamOS 3? Let's say I want that to be real and to still allow others to download it and install it just like they could before. Oh, and duh: please don't be a failure.

Don't be too big. I can't stress this enough. The Nintendo Switch is just about right (except the terrible to hold Joy-Cons that is when in portable mode). Any bigger and it would be far too unwieldy and likely defeat the point. That is one thing I am genuinely worried about. Valve could get a little too screen-happy with it but I hope they're being smart about this one.

Just a few thoughts to get it out there to stop the mind from spinning on it, no doubt we will all have more we want and expect from it over time. They key though is to not expect too much. It is, after all (if real), a handheld! We can't expect magic from it, as it will be limited in terms of what power it can cram into the casing.

Over to you in the comments: what do you want from it?

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86 comments
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Eike 11 Jun
Quoting: CatKillerAnecdotally, with people having done more working from home recently, they don't necessarily want to be tethered to the same machine for entertainment. Being able to do PC gaming while flopped on the sofa could be quite attractive to them.

Not on the same machine, but same monitor, keyboard, mouse for over a year now. Once in a while, I enter my private password at the working machine and vice-versa. It's one of the downsides of home office (which overall is positive for me nonetheless).
CatKiller 11 Jun
Quoting: ObsidianBlkhobbiest
A mild nitpick, because this really annoys me whenever I see it. That word would mean that you were "the most hobby." The word you're looking for is "hobbyist" - someone who participates in a hobby.
elmapul 11 Jun
"Send loads out to developers long before release. Gosh I hope they're doing this. How do you get people interested in supporting it? Give them developer kits. Other console makers do this for good reason."
actually the reason why developers support stuff is because they are paid upfront to do it, so they make profits before they sell an single copy of their games, and even more if they do sell (they might even put aditional money intro improving the performance post launch if it sell enough copies)


"Some form of external streaming media support out of the box. Yes, I know, that the main point is gaming but we're long past the point of such single-use devices"
did switch support anything else?

"Over to you in the comments: what do you want from it?"
an good batery life, despite the fact it will be x86.
Quoting: CatKillerAnecdotally, with people having done more working from home recently, they don't necessarily want to be tethered to the same machine for entertainment

Seeing it these way I'm just not the targeted audience, I can't work from home, I need a car to go to work ( so obvusely no gaming during commut ), and I spend 1h30 max per day on my gaming rig during the week and not even every day.

But IMO if they don't offer a " lot " of power for a little price, or a lot of unseen features, it will be redundant with a gaming laptop, a phone / tv with steamlink or a nintendo switch.
CatKiller 11 Jun
Oh! One more thing that hasn't been discussed here yet.

If they can square away a Steam Cloud service - like In-Home Streaming, but from Valve's machines - that would strengthen the proposition for a portable machine. Light gaming locally, as a complement to a beefy machine if you already have one, and using Steam's service if you don't, or if you have good bandwidth where the handheld is but not where the beefy machine is.

It's not something I'd use, probably, but I expect it would be very useful to some.
Mohandevir 11 Jun
Quoting: HoolyWith Thunderbolt coming to AMD boards, I could even imagine them selling a docking station with an AMD GPU in it.
From what I've heard, GPU hot-plugging might work better with Wayland compared to X11.

This is quite what I hope for too. It would effectively become the laptop killer I've been waiting for.

"Gaming on the go", in the bus/train to the job, with the 8", 720p screen (from what is reported) and comfortable 1080p or 4K gaming on my TV with the optional docking station (Doubtfull they would be able to sell the whole package for 399$).

If that's the deal, it's an instabuy for me. My wallet is ready.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 11 June 2021 at 4:18 pm UTC
FauconNoir 11 Jun
And what if SteamPal is actually a portable VR headset with the possibility to play "traditional" games in "cinema" mode ?
Mohandevir 11 Jun
Quoting: FauconNoirAnd what if SteamPal is actually a portable VR headset with the possibility to play "traditional" games in "cinema" mode ?

With a Van Gogh APU? They would have pulled nothing short of a miracle considering the limited hardware capacity, but who knows?


Last edited by Mohandevir on 11 June 2021 at 12:29 pm UTC
ShabbyX 11 Jun
Don't do the same thing you did with Stadia people. You're making speculations, building expectations then hyping each other about it. Then you get disappointed when the device does not meet those expectations.

For all we know, this could basically be a steam link paired with a controller. It's a "pal", so maybe it's supposed to pair with a PC/seever where the game actually runs.
Mohandevir 11 Jun
Quoting: ShabbyXDon't do the same thing you did with Stadia people. You're making speculations, building expectations then hyping each other about it. Then you get disappointed when the device does not meet those expectations.

For all we know, this could basically be a steam link paired with a controller. It's a "pal", so maybe it's supposed to pair with a PC/seever where the game actually runs.

399$ for a streaming box? Makes no sense at all. Steam Links where 60$ and did the same and that's not what is being reported everywhere either.

Edit: And your Stadia exemple is a bad one... I'm quite satisfied with it.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 11 June 2021 at 12:51 pm UTC
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