The Nintendo Switch is one of the fastest-selling consoles of all time. Before its original release in 2017, the hybrid system was a massive question mark for Nintendo, and it needed to be a home run after the embarrassing misstep of the Wii U.
The Switch hit the sweet spot for many gamers, allowing hardcore players to enjoy games on the go or from the couch. Casual players found plenty to love, too, from Pokemon to Animal Crossing.
The Switch’s biggest draw, unsurprisingly, has been its portability. Busy adults with full schedules often don’t have time to just plop in front of the TV and play a game for hours. However, the Switch lets busy people play in short bursts between real-life obligations, and then transition to the big screen for the rare days off. This alone has made the Switch a smash hit with kids and adults alike, letting players shape their experience around their own preferences.
Valve, the company that owns the web store Steam, is looking to break into this market, too. The Steam Deck, a new hybrid gaming console, promises to let players take their Steam libraries with them on the go in a form factor that is suspiciously similar to the Nintendo Switch. Put simply, Valve wants to make the Switch just for kids.
Echoes of Handhelds Past
Valve wants to succeed where many companies before have failed. Nintendo has long held the championship belt in the handheld gaming arena. In the 1990s, the Sega Game Gear took on the GameBoy and is now little more than a historical footnote.
Then in the ‘00s, Sony’s PlayStation Portable went toe-to-toe with the Nintendo DS, and the PlayStation Vita carried the fight against the Nintendo 3DS in the ‘10s. In both cases, the Nintendo system ended up on top, in spite of the better specs and bolder displays on all of the competing platforms.
Valve’s Steam Deck is in much the same position as these competitors of years gone by. Sega stopped making consoles at the turn of the millennium, while Sony bowed out of the handheld space after the Vita’s failure in the US. Valve wants to find a niche where those systems didn’t, aiming to use the Deck as a way to tap into a brand-new gaming audience.
Who Is the Steam Deck for?
The Steam Deck will let lapsed PC gamers get back into the Steam ecosystem with a console that sports a ton of power in a slim package. Buying a gaming laptop can be an expensive endeavor, so Valve has tried to target aggressive price points for the Deck to make it a clear winner against traditional gaming PCs. The ability to take your game library on the go with you in a small form factor is part of what has made the Switch so popular.
Jamming in a level of Doom or a quick round of Overwatch between classes or on the train has been the Switch’s signature. If Valve can take some of that spotlight and introduce a more “serious” gaming machine into the hybrid console space, it has a real shot of finding a niche in the market. While kids are unlikely to be moved by the prospect of playing Steam games, plenty of grown-up gamers are likely to love the idea of a new way to play all of the PC games they already own.