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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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59 comments
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Beamboom about 24 hours ago
Quoting: Liam DaweWe're not talking traditional consoles, we're talking what's basically a portable PC here.

I stand by what I said there. The market for portable PC gaming handhelds has nowhere near hit the proper mainstream yet.
Quoting: omer666As someone who's once been really passionate about handheld consoles, I second that.

I'd like to get back to you two on that, if I may.
From a regular consumers point of view I believe this will be a handheld gaming device just like all its predecessors, with its unique pros and cons. They all had their advantages, all had their selling points. They all had their unique OS, just like this one. This is a continuation of the market that started with the Game Boy.

You may say the PC game catalogue is the whole difference (cause really, that's all), but that's also the massive drawback here: The regular PC gaming market will render this device outdated almost before it leaves the conveyor belt. This is *THE* major advantage of the other handhelds: The developers had ONE specific hardware spec to follow - year after year. All tools primed for this particular setup. The advantage of this in regards to lifespan of the device simply can not be exaggerated.

And what regular PC game would you want to play on this device? May I remind you that you must take into account the extreme downscale of the screen dimensions here. Regular sized text scaled down from a PC display dimension will be next to impossible to see on this screen without a magnifying glass. Menus, item descriptions, written dialogue all run the obvious risk of simply being impossible to see properly.

So I'm in on a bet on this: The market will see this as yet another attempt to breath new life into an old market segment that's pretty much died unless your name is Nintendo. It needs games suitable for a handheld, and it needs a SOLID market penetration for that to happen. And what are the odds for that...
We shall see, but I am no optimist on this one.


Last edited by Beamboom on 11 June 2021 at 5:58 pm UTC
Eike about 23 hours ago
Quoting: BeamboomFrom a regular consumers point of view I believe this will be a handheld gaming device just like all its predecessors, with its unique pros and cons.

I already own over 300 games that run on it.

Quoting: BeamboomAnd what regular PC game would you want to play on this device? May I remind you that you must take into account the extreme downscale of the screen dimensions here.

Well, that's a good question and in the end would need trying. My favorite genre, point and click, comes to mind though.

Quoting: BeamboomSo I'm in on a bet on this: The market will see this as yet another attempt to breath new life into an old market segment that's pretty much died unless your name is Nintendo. It needs games suitable for a handheld, and it needs a SOLID market penetration for that to happen. And what are the odds for that...
We shall see, but I am no optimist on this one.

I wouldn't bet against you.
Mohandevir about 23 hours ago
Quoting: Eike
Quoting: BeamboomFrom a regular consumers point of view I believe this will be a handheld gaming device just like all its predecessors, with its unique pros and cons.

I already own over 300 games that run on it.

Quoting: BeamboomAnd what regular PC game would you want to play on this device? May I remind you that you must take into account the extreme downscale of the screen dimensions here.

Well, that's a good question and in the end would need trying. My favorite genre, point and click, comes to mind though.

Quoting: BeamboomSo I'm in on a bet on this: The market will see this as yet another attempt to breath new life into an old market segment that's pretty much died unless your name is Nintendo. It needs games suitable for a handheld, and it needs a SOLID market penetration for that to happen. And what are the odds for that...
We shall see, but I am no optimist on this one.

I wouldn't bet against you.

Still... Could it be worst than playing on a mobile device with the Steam Link app? In my personnal experience, Witcher 3's menus and texts are just a little too small on my phone's 5.6" screen in 720p, but it's playable. Isn't it going to be better on a 8" screen 720p? But your point is valid... I'm just wondering.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 11 June 2021 at 6:31 pm UTC
benjamimgois about 23 hours ago
I agree with all the points. But i would add 2 points:

- revised Big Picture interface:
The actual version get the job done but it seems like a interface from the last decade. I think we need something fresher and and easier to navigate.

- Steampal "certification" program
A certified game could have a pre-ajusted settings for the steampal hardware. Just hit play like a console.
Purple Library Guy about 23 hours ago
I want it to have a pony!
mahagr about 22 hours ago
For $400 I would be VERY interested to buy a device like this:

- 7-8" 1080p (w FreeSync)
- DHMI port for TV output
- USB-C (charging, 3.1 data port)
- WIFI5 + Bluetooth
- 8GB of RAM
- 128GB+ MVME (multiple options?)
- Good battery life
- Expected controller features (rumble etc)

Software:

- Netflix 1080p
- Controller mode (Wii U?!?)
- Games should come with optimal presets / pre-cached
- Proper UI scaling and upscaling in games
Beamboom about 22 hours ago
Quoting: EikeI already own over 300 games that run on it.

Yeah that is as far as I can tell the one single argument for it. But the question remains: What PC game would someone with a full gaming rig at home (who I would presume is the case for any gamer with a solid Steam library) rather play on the portable? Because that's the real scenario here. What would we prefer to play on the small screen?

Sure, if on travel or holidays one could imagine wanting a unit like that. But would we really purchase one for those occasions where we sit on a bus or sleep at a hotel? Wouldn't we then rather just buy a game on our mobile phone for that temporary occasion? It's not like there is a lack of options.

If there's one case where I wish to be proven wrong, it's this one. I would love to see the resurrection of portable gaming consoles. I loved my PSP to bits. It was a machine I could not wait to play on again. A machine where I marvelled over the fact they were able to cram the entire Vice City into. A companion on all travels. An excuse in itself to travel!
But that was before mobile gaming took off. It was the PSP or nothing, I had no alternative. Would the average gamer invest in another gaming device when they already got a modern smart phone sitting right there?

Like I said, I'd love to be wrong. But my money is on that I'm not.
KohlyKohl about 22 hours ago
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QuoteSome 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.

I thought the same thing before I bought a Nintendo Switch.

I'm glad that all it has is YouTube and would prefer it didn't even have that.

I think it only needs to serve one purpose, gaming, and it should do that seemlessly.
Mohandevir about 22 hours ago
Quoting: BeamboomYeah that is as far as I can tell the one single argument for it. But the question remains: What PC game would someone with a full gaming rig at home (who I would presume is the case for any gamer with a solid Steam library) rather play on the portable? Because that's the real scenario here. What would we prefer to play on the small screen?

Pretty much everything. I'm tired of sitting in front of my desk, after a long day of work (CAD design).

Quoting: BeamboomSure, if on travel or holidays one could imagine wanting a unit like that. But would we really purchase one for those occasions where we sit on a bus or sleep at a hotel? Wouldn't we then rather just buy a game on our mobile phone for that temporary occasion? It's not like there is a lack of options.

Mobile gaming? You mean like in Android playstore games? Because these are two different breeds of players. I, for one, never ever considered mobile games. Candy crush, June's Journey and touch screens in general are not my kind of fix. My wife though... :)

Quoting: BeamboomIf there's one case where I wish to be proven wrong, it's this one. I would love to see the resurrection of portable gaming consoles. I loved my PSP to bits. It was a machine I could not wait to play on again. A machine where I marvelled over the fact they were able to cram the entire Vice City into. A companion on all travels. An excuse in itself to travel!
But that was before mobile gaming took off. It was the PSP or nothing, I had no alternative. Would the average gamer invest in another gaming device when they already got a modern smart phone sitting right there?

What about the Nintendo Switch? With the Wii U, Nintendo was on the verge of going under... The Switch saved them and it all started from scratch with a handfull of titles. I see no reason, why it couldn't be the same for the SteamPal and Witcher 3 won't look like it's in a perpetual fog, on this device.

Imo the real deal is marketing... Mass products are requiring mass marketing (including support). This thing must be available everywhere it's possible and be advertised on every inches of all visible walls. That's how it usually works.

Quoting: BeamboomLike I said, I'd love to be wrong. But my money is on that I'm not.
I'm not going to bet against you on this one. Even Nintendo failed on occasions. It's a competitive market.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 11 June 2021 at 8:52 pm UTC
CatKiller about 20 hours ago
Quoting: BeamboomYeah that is as far as I can tell the one single argument for it. But the question remains: What PC game would someone with a full gaming rig at home (who I would presume is the case for any gamer with a solid Steam library) rather play on the portable? Because that's the real scenario here. What would we prefer to play on the small screen?


My 30-inch monitor is awesome. It's big, clear, and has brilliant colour reproduction. What it isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, is comfortable to curl up with on the sofa, or in bed.

I love my mechanical keyboard and high-precision high-speed mouse. I've been using KB/M for gaming for some 30 years; I am comfortable and familiar with them. They are entirely terrible for racing games, fighting games, or any kind of platformer.

My high precision speakers and 10-inch subwoofer are amazing. For the spectacle and bombast of big explosions and dramatic cutscenes, or loud reggae, they can't be beaten. For the background music in Stardew Valley they are complete overkill.

My computer chair provides perfect support for sitting upright with arms extended in the correct position for hours on end, day after day, without any discomfort or injury. It actively resists any other configuration. Having your feet higher than your head with a controller? Forget about it.

QuoteWould the average gamer invest in another gaming device when they already got a modern smart phone sitting right there?

I'm probably not the average gamer; however, my smartphone has a 4.6“ diagonal and zero buttons. That's exactly what I want from Internet-in-my-pocket, but would be entirely unsuitable for any PC game I might want to play.

The speculated Steam handheld would likely be able to play some 80% of my Steam library without troubling my gaming rig, and would be the superior platform for a solid chunk of that independently of the convenience factor. I'm unlikely to try Stellaris on it, but I'd be willing to give Two Point Hospital a go if the touchscreen implementation is decent.
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