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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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1xok 11 Jun
Only two things are important to me:

1. That the device is a great success, even if I don't like it.
2. That all releases without exception are also released for normal Linux.

Both must be.
slaapliedje 12 Jun
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Quoting: Liam Dawe
Quoting: BeamboomI was quite surprised to see this rather odd claim. Infancy?? I would rather say the direct opposite: That this is a market that's long past the adult years of its life span. Hand held consoles USED to be big. PSP, anyone?
We'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.
Hell, to add to that, it wasn't until Valve made a huge push toward making more PC games playable via controllers. Many years went by where basically if you told people you played PC games with a gamepad, you'd be ridiculed. Or PC game players would bitch up a storm if a game basically was a 'crappy console port' and forced gamepad usage or had no advanced settings.

Now that Valve has done a lot of legwork, and yes the whole Steam Controller / couch play thing I think was ultimately leading up to this. They've been planning this for YEARS.

The problem with other handheld PCs, is that they SUCK. I have a GPD Win2 and my biggest complaint (besides not having clicky analog sticks) is the shear NOISE that comes out of it if I am just chilling and trying to do... well anything on it. I basically have to have noise canceling headphones to even remotely enjoy using it.
Appelsin 12 Jun
Quoting: Julius
Quoting: AppelsinThey need to be in *normal* stores. Everywhere. Being only on Amazon (and barely there even, at that) is what made the Steam Link and Controller a mere bog unicorn. You'd heard of it, but not really.

Experiences obviously differ from country to country, but in the EU the purchase of Steamlink and Controller worked perfectly fine via the Steam store itself.

Oh and funny to read your experience of Amazon in Norway, because at least in Germany even people that don't like Amazon grudgingly admit that ordering from them is fastest, most convenient and returning anything is super easy and customer friendly. So ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Well, I certainly wasn't allowed to buy one from them, and not for lack of trying 😂 Just goes to show how willy-nilly the "effor" in selling it was x) I mean, those of us who're actually interested usually get a hold of it of we want to, but that's not how you move units; it's how you make a niche product that will flop 🤷🏻‍♂️

Since Amazon doesn't actually operate out of any nordic country (yet), we usually have to order from the US (or UK or German) store, which usually leaves us at the mercy of whatever passes for Amazon "international" customer rights in the US. Thus having/wanting to return anything will leave us with a shipping cost for abroad, which isn't cheap.
In most Norwegian (and Swedish and Danish too, I guess?) online stores, you have 30-60 days "open purchase" with free returns and for the most part free shipping (at least for orders above ~100 EUR) (while the law requires a 14 day change-your-mind time, where it's up to the store who pays the return shipping fee).

That said, I'm aware that Amazon, in many countries, are actually considered to be a very good option. But does that say most about Amazon or the other stores? I think Amazon have been trying to step up their game here, since they want to establish here (at least in Sweden), and to be able to displace our normal stores (like they do wherever they go), they need to offer quite good prices, free and almost instant shipping, and free returns nearly no questions asked with really, really good customer support and warranty.


Last edited by Appelsin on 12 June 2021 at 7:06 am UTC
Kristian 12 Jun
"Since Amazon doesn't actually operate out of any nordic country (yet), we usually have to order from the US (or UK or German) store, which usually leaves us at the mercy of whatever passes for Amazon "international" customer rights in the US"

https://www.amazon.se/
syxbit 12 Jun
If this happens, and it takes off, there will be an incentive for developers to release native games. Native should have better performance, and, more importantly, better power efficiency.
Mal 12 Jun
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Smartphones "killed" the portable console market. It submerged the market with casual audience easily satisfied with F2P crap reducing the hardcores to a small minority unworthy of big investments. And even then premium smartphones and accessories can rival any dedicated handheld console making very difficult to justify the existence of such a device.

In this market mess where the bounds between consoles, pc, Smartphones, tablets and whateverelse are blurred and not clearly defined, only the vendor with the clear personality could survive which of course is Nintendo with the switch.

If steam pal has to be a handheld console, it needs this. A clear and well defined personality that makes it distinct and allows it to deliver experiences that no other hardware can. You can replace a PS with an Xbox. And also a PC easily enough now. A vita you can replace it with a portable switch or a handheld pc. You just can't replace a switch with anything else. It's in a league of its own.

Imho that's not the kind of things Valve excels at. Quite the opposite. I would be surprised if their board (or whatever equivalent they have) really believe they are. If they release something and hope it's a success, I bet it will be a pc accessory, rather than full fledged console.

With proton sitting in a nice place, and stuff like Nvidia Now working excellently it's a good time to bring out something that allows PC gamers to survive this dire times of Hardware famine by exploiting the opportunity of the cloud. And after that, when cards come back to the stores, LAN streaming if one still wants it. A pal meant to amplify streaming experience, could really find the best market window right now with Chinese miners and global scalpers running wild. To bad it won't be able to escape the semiconductor crisis though.
jrt 12 Jun
PC Gamer has updated the page about the PC Game Show.
Previously: "And a message from Valve regarding Steam" original article
Now: "And a message from Valve regarding Steam Next Fest" article

So it will probably take a few weeks more until they show it/talk about it.
Beamboom 12 Jun
Quoting: MohandevirMobile 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... :)

You need to look into what's actually available for iPhone and Android. It's every single genre. There's RPGs, mmos, strategy games, adventure games, action, puzzle, you name it. Even ported PC games. For instance, Rockstar has put all their earlier Grand Theft Auto games on there. Republique (stealth, great game) is another example.

But this also boils down to what we actually want to play on small gaming devices. Back in the PSP days I had a TON of PSP games, all sorts. But my favourite games on that machine were indeed all small, quick, fun games that worked perfectly on a small device.

Quoting: MohandevirWhat about the Nintendo Switch? With the Wii U, Nintendo was on the verge of going under... The Switch saved them

This is why I wrote further up in my replies:
Quoting: BeamboomThe market will see this as yet another attempt to breath new life into an old market segment that's pretty much dead unless your name is Nintendo.
They are the one single instance that survived the fall of the market of handheld gaming devices. An amazing example, but there's an agreement that it was the insanely strong catalogue of IPs in their fold and their long standing rock solid reputation on portable gaming devices that made this to be even remotely possible.

Remember, Nintendo is primarily a handheld gaming company. That's their home turf. I'm not so sure that a bunch of PC games have that same ability to push handhelds. But we shall see!

Quoting: MohandevirImo 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.

But the product must also resonate with the market. Sony pushed a hell of a massive marketing power behind the Vita. They had a 100% dedication on that device for years after the rest of us declared it dead in the water.
But they were not Nintendo. They didn't have that insanely strong brand for HANDHELD gaming devices. Even after the great success that were the PSP!


Last edited by Beamboom on 12 June 2021 at 4:28 pm UTC
slaapliedje 12 Jun
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Quoting: Beamboom
Quoting: MohandevirMobile 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... :)

You need to look into what's actually available for iPhone and Android. It's every single genre. There's RPGs, mmos, strategy games, adventure games, action, puzzle, you name it. Even ported PC games. For instance, Rockstar has put all their earlier Grand Theft Auto games on there. Republique (stealth, great game) is another example.

But this also boils down to what we actually want to play on small gaming devices. Back in the PSP days I had a TON of PSP games, all sorts. But my favourite games on that machine were indeed all small, quick, fun games that worked perfectly on a small device.

Quoting: MohandevirWhat about the Nintendo Switch? With the Wii U, Nintendo was on the verge of going under... The Switch saved them

This is why I wrote further up in my replies:
Quoting: BeamboomThe market will see this as yet another attempt to breath new life into an old market segment that's pretty much dead unless your name is Nintendo.
They are the one single instance that survived the fall of the market of handheld gaming devices. An amazing example, but there's an agreement that it was the insanely strong catalogue of IPs in their fold and their long standing rock solid reputation on portable gaming devices that made this to be even remotely possible.

Remember, Nintendo is primarily a handheld gaming company. That's their home turf. I'm not so sure that a bunch of PC games have that same ability to push handhelds. But we shall see!

Quoting: MohandevirImo 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.

But the product must also resonate with the market. Sony pushed a hell of a massive marketing power behind the Vita. They had a 100% dedication on that device for years after the rest of us declared it dead in the water.
But they were not Nintendo. They didn't have that insanely strong brand for HANDHELD gaming devices. Even after the great success that were the PSP!
I am pretty sure Nintendo could pick up a turd and sell it in a bag and Nintendo fans would still buy it. They have very loyal fans.

That said, I bought a switch because the concept of being able to dock and play on a large screen and then pick it up without losing where you were and go mobile is an awesome idea! Sadly as I don't think every Mario game is epic and I must have it, mine mostly gathers dust..
NoSt 13 Jun
I think Valve will need to whitelist a lot more games for Proton before releasing the device.
You can't expect the users of a portable console to be tinkering with the Proton version or command options.
I hope they are already working on it. Otherwise it could become a source of many negative reviews.
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