Will developers need to support Steam Deck – and will their sales benefit?

The Steam Deck is an exciting new piece of PC-based hardware, but it’s not one that comes with a new storefront or a set of launch titles. Instead it ‘merely’ expands upon the current Steam-PC ecosystem, so what does that mean for both game sales and developers wanting to have their games perform on the hardware. 

Well, the first one is easy, given the sheer size of Steam game sales at present, the fledgling Steam Deck looks unlikely to spike anyones sales on the platform as a whole for a while yet. That said, it will undoubtedly drive interest from press and influencers, and ‘how well does it run on Steam Deck’ will be a key talking point later this year, so it’s a visibility/marketing beat that you won’t want to miss.

The opportunities for community meetups or PR events in unusual places are huge. And demoing your PC indie title at consumer shows could be revolutionised by these easy to transport units – just need someone to make a nice secure table clamp. 

Steam is yet to announce whether it will provide Steam Deck-related analytics for titles. It would be intriguing for developers to be able to see whether their games were being played on the new hardware. 

The second question, of supporting the device, looks to be straightforward. The Steam Deck will run SteamOS 3, Valve’s now long-running Linux-based operating system. While games can be created for this directly, most titles will instead run via Valve’s Proton tool, which allows Windows/DirectX titles to run on its Linux-based OS.  

Valve has already put up some basic advice here. And you can test your game on Proton in Ubuntu easily right now. Valve has a limited number of devkits that it will be distributing pre launch, more on how to get your hands on one of those in the future. 

The technology has already proved itself to be impressive and most games should run with no issues. Although developers might look to providing a graphics preset within their games for Steam Deck users, to further smooth the process for players. 

Not all games will work however. With the Proton method potentially causing issues in multiplayer titles, especially competitive games with anti-cheat technologies. In addition, while there’s been much talk of running other stores and hardware, that would generally require a Windows installation on the device, with unknown impacts to performance and battery life.

Instead it seems more likely that should the concept catch on, then competitors such as Epic Games, would release official Linux versions of their launchers in order to capitalise. 

So that all seems relatively straightforward, and any developer should be good to go without any real effort, although some checking is worthwhile. Both Unreal and Unity support Linux of course, so if you do have issues, then it’s always possible to create a ‘native’ version for Steam Deck users, but the platform will only succeed if that is rarely necessary.

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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