Valve Steam Deck: New Opportunities for Game Developers?

Gaming giant Valve has unveiled the Steam Deck, its portable gaming device. With its dual thumb-stick controllers and seven-inch touchscreen, it resembles the bestselling Nintendo Switch. Valve hopes that, by pricing the Steam Deck at $399 (and up, depending on which memory tier you choose), it will compel millions of gamers to rush out and buy it—and that creates a potential opportunity for game developers everywhere.

If you’re a game developer who wants to take advantage of an upcoming platform (the first units are slated to ship in December), there’s some good news: Valve already has a good amount of online documentation about building games for the Linux-based Steam Deck, and it’s clear that Windows games can be ported to the new platform via the Proton compatibility layer

“The team has been working on and improving Proton for a while now, and it has a large amount of coverage,” reads one section of the documentation. “Most APIs are already supported by Proton, and most games work out of the box. We’re continuing to improve Proton compatibility, and our goal is to get as close to full coverage as possible.” On that same page, Valve has a list of known issues as well as steps for setting up a Linux test environment on a PC. 

Valve also plans on issuing Steam Deck developer kits, but quantities will be scarce. In lieu of a kit, Valve offers instructions about optimizing games for Steam Deck, including controller function.

For developers, the other question is whether the Steam Deck will prove a hit with audiences, especially given how the Nintendo Switch still dominates the market for handheld gaming devices. Valve has gone the hardware route before; its Steam Machine console, released five years ago, failed to become a sizable challenger to the Xbox or PlayStation. However, Valve’s Steam service remains a substantial force in the gaming world, and the ability to port Windows-compatible games could give the Steam Deck a substantial library upon launch. If you’re a game developer, keep an eye on this one.