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Now that Valve has actually revealed the Steam Deck, we finally know what all their recent Linux work has been for over the last few years. We have some thoughts to share on it both positive and negative.

It's probably the most exciting thing to happen for Linux gaming in a very long time, in fact, probably the most interesting since Valve originally announced Steam Play Proton back in August of 2018. With SteamOS 3 being based upon Arch Linux, along with KDE Plasma for the desktop mode, it's a fantastic sounding device overall.

This time around, they've got their marketing right. Steam Machines were a failure, a pretty abysmal one (let's be honest). There wasn't really a market for a living-room Linux box, from different vendors that ended up confusing. We're now seeing one model, with different storage options (and a better screen on the top-end), that's pretty much perfect and exactly what was needed. One device type to test against. Not only that, the handheld market is actually a very exciting one to be moving into!

Heck, even Tim Sweeney of Epic Games appears to love the idea:

Amazing move by Valve! A handheld PC/console hybrid running the SteamOS fork of Arch Linux, and it’s an open platform where users are free to install software or their choosing - including Windows and other stores.

When it comes to Linux gaming, Valve are now going all-in with Steam Play Proton. So much so, that they're telling developers "No porting required.", because they want to get everything on Steam working with Proton. Is that surprising? No, not at all. A little concerning perhaps? Yes, for multiple reasons, a lot of the same reasons we've spoken about before. To sum it up quickly:

  • It relies on Microsoft to set the standards (unless developers pick OpenGL/Vulkan which reduces it a bit), since Proton is based upon Wine which translates Windows calls to something Linux understands. Linux as an actual platform takes a seat way at the back, even further in the minds of developers from where it is now.
  • If it fails and Valve pull back from Proton - Linux gamers are truly left out in the cold.
  • It largely forces Linux gaming to be from a single vendor with Valve. If you're not concerned about that at all, you probably should be.
  • There's still no guarantees that a game update won't break the Windows build in Proton. How long will we have to wait for a fix? Tens of thousands of games on Steam is a ridiculous thing from Valve to take on to ensure they work.

Quite a lot of games will need UI improvements for it too. Think about how many are cramped as it is, have no UI scaling, are terrible on a gamepad? A large number of developers out there will regardless need to put in some effort for the Steam Deck to make it a good experience for gamers.

However, that's just focusing on the negatives. The potential positives likely far outweigh the possible negatives there. We've long said "hardware, hardware, hardware" as the key to Linux and Linux Gaming having a future - and so Valve has pretty much said "hold my beer" on that and hopefully it will deliver. To give some positives to the negatives above:

  • Could it be that Proton truly ends up being something developers directly target for supporting Linux? It gives a mostly stable base, with well-known APIs already used on Windows. It might also be an incentive for developers working all across Linux to get some more standards in place overall.
  • It all fails? The work is already done for Proton (and Wine that it's based upon), that won't just go away. Valve can just keep the Steam Play system in place and it already supports external Steam Play tools. It's all open source, it can't just vanish and that's a big mark in Valve's favour on what they're doing.
  • Other vendors? What other vendors? GOG still haven't bothered with Galaxy on Linux, Epic Games don't seem to care about their store on Linux, Humble Store sells Steam keys so they're in a good position. Honestly, if you end up buying a Steam Deck, why would you need look at any other store again? You then get a copy you can play on the Linux desktop, the Steam Deck and yes Windows too. We might end up seeing less exclusives on other stores, another win for Steam and so Linux and the Steam Deck too.
  • Actually having a device out there that might be popular (we reckon it will be!) with plenty of users finally gives developers a real incentive to actually test on Linux, and not roll out updates if it breaks for Linux with Proton (same goes for native Linux games).

A positive for me personally: I work sat at a desk pretty much all day. Do I want to sit here as well during all of my evenings? Heck no. I've wanted a device like this supported by a bigger company for a long time now. Being able to sit back and relax with a Steam Deck, in a room that's not boiling hot and also when travelling? I've never been sold this fast on something before.

Considering it's not exactly a beast (still quite powerful though), developers will need to look at optimizing their games. This is a net benefit for everyone. We've seen multiple times in the past that a console release has seen an update for the same game on Steam, to bring over some optimizations. Hopefully we will see a similar thing too, so that not only the Steam Deck will see good performance but that gain could be seen elsewhere on desktop Linux and other platforms too perhaps.

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The desktop mode too, briefly seen in the above video is awesome. Giving you the ability to carry around not just a portable gaming unit, that will actually run modern games but have a full Linux environment to hook up wherever you want too. An incredibly exciting idea to really show off the device to other people. KDE Plasma has come a very long way in even just the last two years too, and it looks really good.

Gamepad support. We might finally see it become a truly serious thing in developers minds thanks to this. You cannot be expected to, or for developers to assume, that you're going to hook up anything else to it. We'll likely see a lot more games announce full gamepad support. Another big win for all Steam gamers.

Anti-cheat, the big missing puzzle piece for Linux with Windows games run through Proton, it's finally moving in the right direction too. In our original wishlist for what was code-named the Steampal, we mentioned how online gaming was a sore spot due to the likes of Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye not working but Valve do say "We’re working with BattlEye and EAC to get support for Proton ahead of launch." and so we might finally be able to play the likes of Apex Legends, PUBG and more on a Linux desktop and the Steam Deck. A huge win for everyone to be sure.

Going by what Valve has said, they have plenty of work for Proton that is not yet public which we should hopefully see before the Steam Deck releases, that way they can ensure plenty of desktop Linux testing which would put them in a good position for launch.

Let's talk about the pricing too. As a reminder the Steam Deck devices come across three editions at £349 ($399), £459 ($529) and £569 ($649). Each version has more and faster storage than the previous, with the top-end having the anti-glare screen too. The higher model also gives you a special carry case and other little niceties. Considering the type of device it is, it's a shame the anti-glare is only on the most expensive version. Hopefully it won't be long before we see Valve or others create an anti-glare cover specially for it. Compared with the pricing on the Nintendo Switch (£279.99 original, £309.99 OLED model), it's quite aggressive given the higher specifications and masses more games.

The pricing should put the Steam Deck in a good position, and Valve CEO Gabe Newell even said to IGN that the price-point was "painful" and they're hoping to sell "millions" of units. Valve also aren't thinking about it in terms of having to shift multiple games per-device, they're more focused long-term on if it's the right product and mentioned about opening up this new category for other vendors to make devices.

Emulation is something to think about too. While obviously Valve are focusing on the bigger fish, this is going to end up being a hugely fun device for retro gaming too. You even have RetroArch on Steam (in Beta currently), which will have a bunch of different emulators ready for you and RetroArch supports Linux with a native build too. That can't be underestimated as helping shift a good few units.

Game streaming? Yeah, it will enable more of that too. Since it has the full desktop mode, loading up the likes of Stadia, GeForce NOW and Xbox Cloud Gaming should be just a few clicks away.

How about some game development? Well, there's game engines available directly on Steam like Godot Engine which offers a native Linux build of the editor and exported games support Linux natively too. Compile times might be an issue, but the point is the possibilities of the Steam Deck just keep on giving.

Thinking back to the original SteamOS and Steam Machines, there was a problem with the Steam Hardware Survey. SteamOS using Big Picture Mode didn't ever show the opt-in survey box, so it was seemingly never counted. Valve obviously know all the details but we could never see. How will they show it this time? Hopefully it won't be missed. Interestingly, since it's a PC and you can install whatever you want on it (even a different operating system), will they show it like VR devices and count who has used one recently, or will it actually show SteamOS 3 in the main operating system list? That will be interesting to see.

We're also very curious to see if Valve will actually show some kind of "optimized for Steam Deck" label. They've said they want pretty much everything to work on it, either through Linux native titles or Proton but how will users know what to buy without going to external and unofficial websites that often have dubious user reports? We think they're going to need something to show it at least officially. This has yet to be mentioned by Valve.

No matter what happens with it, Valve has possibly truly opened up a whole new market.

What about for us, GamingOnLinux? Naturally, we're going to be grabbing a device to test and report on specifically for the Linux audience. We're hoping to continue being at the front of it all. We're hoping to do regular games testing across the Steam Deck and desktop Linux together, in addition to everything else we cover.

You can pre-order it from today around 6PM BST / 5PM UTC / 10AM PDT from the Steam Store. There's a fee to place your reservation at $5/£4, which applies only to the specific model you pick - you can't change it unless you cancel and re-do it. That fee is used against the price of the unit, or refunded if you don't actually order one. Valve are also fully aware of scalpers, so they've made sure you can only pre-order if your Steam account has made a purchase before June 2021 for the first 48 hours and you can only order one. Your invitation to then properly order will be hopefully some time before the end of December 2021.

To repeat what we said in our coverage of the Steam Deck announcement: is this the holy grail of Linux gaming? Could be.

Will you be buying one?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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223 comments
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BielFPs 18 Jul
For those discussing about people installing windows 10/11 on it, I don't think people would do it a lot for the same reason average users don't bother change the system that comes with their notebooks.

And if Valve wants to "prevent" people to do this without blocking windows entirely, it's much simple than you all think. They just need to make the same statement that windows people always does to us:

"You want to install Windows on it? Go ahead but we won't support it"

Then you have the same scenario we're used to, but I really don't think average users wants this burden.

The only reason I think most of people would install windows on it, if it the same games performs way better than SteamOS. This was true back in the Steam Machines era, but not so nowadays. This is one of the reasons I think Valve will/should use a custom Linux kernel instead of a mainlined one.

And to be honest, I think the majority of users change the system will be people installing other linux distros/DEs instead of the official one.


Last edited by BielFPs on 18 July 2021 at 11:12 pm UTC
g000h 18 Jul
Quoting: peta77P.S. I really hope this thing will become very popular. That would at least motivate developers to take care of how their stuff runs inside proton. And I think it will, because one good thing about steam is: you get a huge variety of games from a big amount of developers and they're lots cheaper than those exclusives in other (console) stores.

Actually, as much as every little step forwards is positive (i.e. a better Proton experience) I'd hope that this device encourages developers to actually release their Linux binaries for their games. Quite often, it is just a case of Ticking the Box in Unity (or Unreal Engine) and you have your Linux binaries ready to go.

Most medium-sized games development companies will have access to the Steam Deck in-house for QA testing, and probably find the native compiled version runs better than the Proton version (More FPS on Steam Deck = More desirable gaming experience).

Small steps are good, but big steps are better.
slaapliedje 18 Jul
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Quoting: Tuxee
Quoting: sub
Quoting: VisharWin 11 on Steam deck 64BG version...
No, no possible (ok its possible but no free space for any game left)

I mean there must be an option to attach some (yeah, rather slow) USB3 stick/HDD to it with a Steam collection anyhow.
64 Gb won't get you far even with a slim Linux distro.

Yes. It is called SD Card.
Ha, USB3 is going to be faster than an SD card.
Mal 18 Jul
  • Supporter
Quoting: ShabbyXThe goal doesn't justify the means.

Lol. This is a cliché.

The thing is that means always tell about the actual goal, which pretty much always differ from the PR friendly, publicly stated one. And that's one of the major reasons why civilized people invented propaganda.
peta77 18 Jul
Quoting: CatKillerIt's already 215 DPI. Higher resolution doesn't make any sense unless you make the screen bigger.

I wouldn't mind having a low-end print quality (300dpi) display. Or one or two inches more. But on the other hand, that takes more power (display itself and especially GPU for the additional pixels), so maybe it's OK in the end to have longer battery life for mobile usage.

Quoting: CatKillerIt seems you haven't tried KDE for a long time. KDE 4 had some severe growing pains, yes, but Plasma 5 is solid. And is one of the lighter desktop environments. It's also the best choice for this kind of device (unless they were rolling their own)

Your right, after having many troubles with KDE4 (especially at work) I gave up dealing with it, switched to XFCE and everything ran fine with it. Many of our Linux developers switched from KDE to XFCE actually, and also the Gnome users after there were also problems with Gnome3. As this runs still fine, there wasn't any need to try anything else again. I don't know which one's the be choice for such devices but I'm sure (rather hope) they took a closer look regarding resource usage as those 16GB can quickly fill up with modern AAA-titles (as I understand it CPU & GPU share their memory?). And regarding "... one of the lighter desktop environments...": if it's not the lightest, why use it? Because the normal user doesn't need a full desktop environment. They will only see steam and won't care about the rest. So even a simple window manager (is fvwm2 still alive? ) would suffice for the inteded purpose.

Quoting: g000h
Quoting: peta77P.S. I really hope this thing will become very popular. That would at least motivate developers to take care of how their stuff runs inside proton. And I think it will, because one good thing about steam is: you get a huge variety of games from a big amount of developers and they're lots cheaper than those exclusives in other (console) stores.

Actually, as much as every little step forwards is positive (i.e. a better Proton experience) I'd hope that this device encourages developers to actually release their Linux binaries for their games. Quite often, it is just a case of Ticking the Box in Unity (or Unreal Engine) and you have your Linux binaries ready to go.

Most medium-sized games development companies will have access to the Steam Deck in-house for QA testing, and probably find the native compiled version runs better than the Proton version (More FPS on Steam Deck = More desirable gaming experience).

Small steps are good, but big steps are better.

If things were just that simple. It's like with Qt, you're supposed to write code once and then it works on all supported platforms.... But it doesn't. At least not in all cases and then you have to adapt code or even have platform-specific stuff again.

I have been reporting a few bugs to developers that used Unity and the like which then turned out to be a Linux specific issue because some things are interpreted differently on every system and you can't completely abstract that. Especially when people start to integrate their own or third party code.

And you have to do testing on all platforms anyway, no matter if you use proton or native code, to hopefully find those platform specific issues. And for that it's easiest for many, especially the smaller studios, to start with a backend which is almost equivalent to windows. It will be enough additional work for a start to find out installation including all 3rd-party plugins, additional ms-packages, etc. works correctly. Jumpstarting into multi-platform development needs lots of changes in the process which need time. And the people need time to get to know all the peculiarities of a different system before they can generate software with the same features and quality. But talking from experience it's rewarding as you will easily find and fix bugs on one platform which are hard to reproduce on the other one. So at least from a QA perspective it's totally worth it.

I'd also would be very happy if there were big steps in Linux gaming ahead of us in the near future. But I'll stay realistic and think it will be a bit slower with lots of improvements in Proton compatibility as a first step. The rest depends on how popular the device will be long term.
Lofty 18 Jul
Quoting: peta77If things were just that simple. It's like with Qt, you're supposed to write code once and then it works on all supported platforms.... But it doesn't. At least not in all cases and then you have to adapt code or even have platform-specific stuff again.

I have been reporting a few bugs to developers that used Unity and the like which then turned out to be a Linux specific issue because some things are interpreted differently on every system and you can't completely abstract that. Especially when people start to integrate their own or third party code.

And you have to do testing on all platforms anyway, no matter if you use proton or native code, to hopefully find those platform specific issues. And for that it's easiest for many, especially the smaller studios, to start with a backend which is almost equivalent to windows. It will be enough additional work for a start to find out installation including all 3rd-party plugins, additional ms-packages, etc. works correctly. Jumpstarting into multi-platform development needs lots of changes in the process which need time. And the people need time to get to know all the peculiarities of a different system before they can generate software with the same features and quality. But talking from experience it's rewarding as you will easily find and fix bugs on one platform which are hard to reproduce on the other one. So at least from a QA perspective it's totally worth it.

I'd also would be very happy if there were big steps in Linux gaming ahead of us in the near future. But I'll stay realistic and think it will be a bit slower with lots of improvements in Proton compatibility as a first step. The rest depends on how popular the device will be long term.

i wouldn't be surprised if Valve started to encourage developers to focus on Proton rather than native as there will be less compatibility issues eventually and it's a target platform.

Your still 'gamingONlinux' just like stadia. I don't imagine this site will change it's name to 'gamingontopoflinux' anytime soon though because of it.


Last edited by Lofty on 18 July 2021 at 8:37 pm UTC
denyasis 18 Jul
Quoting: EikeHopefully it'll be the Linux (SteamOS) icon, otherwise I think they'll have disappointed me.

I would think there are some arguments for separating it and against just using the Linux Icon, although I feel your pain.

Namely, it's being sold as a "console" - like. This brings in some inherent assumptions. Particularly with compatibility.

When we by a pc, we generally purchase off the specs. You know the machine might not be able to play every game for it's OS at purchase and certainly will come a time when it can't play new releases. We accept that and everyone knows it, even non computer people.

When we buy a console, the assumption is that console will play every game released for it now and in the future on that platform.

I think that was a problem for steam machines and will be a problem for the Steam Deck.

I think a different "Deck" icon/category could help. Alternatively, it could throw a warning if your trying to buy a game it can't run. I think there's more advantages to the Deck category (searching, storefront customization, etc).

What do you think?


Last edited by denyasis on 18 July 2021 at 10:40 pm UTC
Vishar 19 Jul
steam have one option in case game dont work on steam dock: refund
so just buy game you like if it work its great, if not we (steam) will refund it

btw what is not right in this screen?
Steam Dock

Spoiler, click me
Where is SteamOS icon? i see Windows icon on device that will be shipping with SteamOS


Last edited by Vishar on 19 July 2021 at 3:07 am UTC
Swiftpaw 19 Jul
Right now, there is a SteamOS logo (used to be Tux, which was way better) which represents Linux platform support from developers. So where is the new icon in Steam that represents a developer supporting running the Windows version of their game on Linux via Proton or WINE? So far this is still a massive problem which I don't see being addressed (not to mention are we going to see these games being supported on GoG and itch.io too? What about new icons for them?).

Developers finding themselves being hit up by gamers requesting that they support a platform they didn't agree to support or indicate to gamers that they would support is NOT COOL.

Gamers finding themselves in this boat of not having developers actually support the platform they're trying to run a game on is NOT COOL.

This was a reason Steam Machines were a flop, and so far Valve is not helping with this communication and support problem.
Swiftpaw 19 Jul
Also LOL@the Windows logo on the Steam Deck. WTF? That shows even more that they have completely dropped the ball on using icons to indicate actual platform support by a game developer.
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