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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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Beamboom 15 Jun
Quoting: HoriThey never entered the mainstream though, and it was long ago.

I guess you're very young.
The Nintendo Game Boy iterations were *massive*, like total world domination, for a long long time, to a greater degree that the Switch is today. If I remember correctly the market for Game Boy games were much bigger than the market for Playstation games, back then.
Nintendo created handheld gaming with the Game&Watch machines released back in 1980, and handheld gaming esblished itself in the mainstream from then on. They sold SHITLOADS of'em. Every kid I knew in the 80s had at least one.

I would summarise with handheld gaming being a mainstream thing - especially in Japan but also globally - all the way up until the smartphone took over that market. Then it died extremely abrupt.


Last edited by Beamboom on 15 June 2021 at 11:43 am UTC
Eike 15 Jun
Quoting: BeamboomThe Nintendo Game Boy iterations were *massive*, like total world domination

Absolutely.

And before it, there were the single game handhelds...

link

Quoting: BeamboomI would summarise with handheld gaming being a mainstream thing - especially in Japan but also globally - all the way up until the smartphone took over that market. Then it died extremely abrupt.

I thought of it in waves. Game boy, world domination, then nothing notable, PSP and DS, nothing again, smartphones.


Last edited by Eike on 15 June 2021 at 12:51 pm UTC
Mohandevir 15 Jun
I just don't believe in the smartphone argument... There is nothing to see there, imo. Gaming directly on a smartphone is sub-par and the screens are too small... Maybe on a tablet, but it didn't do any waves either. It didn't do any harm the the real gaming handhelds, imo. And when you are referring to Nintendo, it's all about undockable devices which is a huge asset of the Switch and SteamPal (from what is rumored).

Personnally, I think that dockable handhelds are quite a new thing and it's really interresting. In my point of view, it's like a laptop specialized and dedicated to gaming, which is exactly what I'm looking for. For other tasks, I got other devices. Anyway, it's not because you think it's dead that it cannot be revived, if given the right presentation and features.

Remember in the early 2000's? PC gaming was supposed to be dead...


Last edited by Mohandevir on 15 June 2021 at 12:45 pm UTC
Eike 15 Jun
Quoting: MohandevirI just don't believe in the smartphone argument... There is nothing to see there, imo. Gaming directly on a smartphone is sub-par and the screens are too small...

It doesn't appeal to me either, but you should ask Feral Interactive, I guess they've got (more information than us combined and) a different opinion on this matter...
Mohandevir 15 Jun
Quoting: Eike
Quoting: MohandevirI just don't believe in the smartphone argument... There is nothing to see there, imo. Gaming directly on a smartphone is sub-par and the screens are too small...

It doesn't appeal to me either, but you should ask Feral Interactive, I guess they've got (more information than us combined and) a different opinion on this matter...

Not saying that selling games on mobile can't be profitable... I'm just saying that your are not targeting the same audience. PC handhelds never ever happened at the right price bracket. Valve is in a postion to do that... Nobody else.


Last edited by Mohandevir on 15 June 2021 at 12:58 pm UTC
CatKiller 15 Jun
Quoting: NoStThe problem is that the whitelist is currently very short (less than 100 titles, I think). That's why it needs to be expanded.
The thing with the whitelist was that Valve themselves took on the official support of running it in Proton; the devs were off the hook entirely, and if they released an update (Steam is primarily a tool to get everyone's game updated, after all) that broke the game in Proton, Valve were left holding the bag. They can't keep doing that indefinitely.

Instead, the Proton github contains compatibility reports for thousands of games. They know, for each game, which versions of Proton work (and they're very bothered by any regressions), and they know which settings are necessary. They'll also know all the specifics of the device: hardware, driver version, kernel version, specific runtime. I think they'll use that to initially populate their list of compatible games. But if a game is going to keep its "compatible" tag then the game devs themselves are going to have to test each update in the specific environment for the handheld before it goes live, and remedy it if it doesn't work. I think Valve are happy to collaborate on that process, and make it as easy as possible for the game devs, but they won't want to do all the work, nor have all the liability.
CatKiller 15 Jun
Quoting: HoriObviously you wouldn't see your strategy games there since they don't (IMO: can't) work with a controller

The right touchpad on the Steam Controller worked pretty well as a mouse substitute. I expect the handheld will have that. The left one didn't work that well as a D-pad substitute, so I don't know if it will have one of those. Maybe if they go with the swappable modules they have a patent on. The display is also expected to have a touchscreen. I think that the touchpad/touchscreen combination should work well for a lot of strategy games. Particularly fiddly or particularly information-dense ones won't likely be great, but I can see something like Civ or something like Northgard being fine.
Mohandevir 15 Jun
On another note, I'm wondering if Valve didn't come to the realization that it's biggest threat is still Microsoft, this time with it's Xbox GamePass/XCloud that brings everybody under the control of Microsoft and it's store... Again... Valve realized that they still need an hardware platform that is not Windows based, to survive... That the threat didn't disappear, it just mutated. Just a guess.
slaapliedje 15 Jun
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Quoting: CatKiller
Quoting: HoriObviously you wouldn't see your strategy games there since they don't (IMO: can't) work with a controller

The right touchpad on the Steam Controller worked pretty well as a mouse substitute. I expect the handheld will have that. The left one didn't work that well as a D-pad substitute, so I don't know if it will have one of those. Maybe if they go with the swappable modules they have a patent on. The display is also expected to have a touchscreen. I think that the touchpad/touchscreen combination should work well for a lot of strategy games. Particularly fiddly or particularly information-dense ones won't likely be great, but I can see something like Civ or something like Northgard being fine.

I was going to say this same thing. With a portable device, you have whatever controller scheme they put on there, plus the potential for touch screen controls as well.

Hell, only having a game pad hasn't stopped ports of Command and Conquer (for example) to the Playstation, etc. Yeah playing RTS games with a gamepad is chunky, but perfectly possible. Even more so with something like the Steam Controller.

Valve have put TONS of effort into making PC gaming more gamepad friendly. Between that and lazy console -> computer ports of games, there are a ton of games that have full controller support these days.

I'm hoping the 'SteamPal' has some sort of modularity to the controller though, being able to hot swap buttons and control sticks around like the Thrustmaster eSwap controller would be amazing!
CatKiller 15 Jun
Quoting: slaapliedjeI'm hoping the 'SteamPal' has some sort of modularity to the controller though, being able to hot swap buttons and control sticks around like the Thrustmaster eSwap controller would be amazing!
Yeah, that could be awesome. Having button blocks, D-pad blocks, touchpad blocks, and stick blocks that you can swap out, to suit your taste (not having to choose between GameCube-style and PlayStation-style) or for easy replacement when they get sticky or whatever. They might find that it adds too much cost to the build, or are too fiddly at the size they need to be, though, so that's in my nice-to-have list rather than something that I'm particularly expecting.
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