Steam Deck gets lots of game dev love – should Nintendo be worried?

Steam Deck units in testing at Valve
(Image credit: Valve)

As Valve’s Steam Deck prepares for launch later this month – it starts shipping at the end of February – some very positive comments have been forthcoming from game developers who’ve been playing with pre-release dev (testing) units.

As PC Gamer reports, a good example is the maker of Valheim, the popular survival game (still in early access). Jonathan Smars, a programmer and designer at Iron Gate, commented: “I was surprised how well games work on [Steam Deck] without any changes, and how good it feels to play on it. Valheim worked from day one on Steam Deck without any changes.”

The programmer did clarify that visual details needed to be dropped somewhat compared to playing on a high-end PC – which is hardly unexpected – but that he was “still impressed with what such a small handheld can handle without any platform specific optimizations.”

That’s good to hear, and Smars is far from a lone voice out there. PC Gamer observes that many of the developers they spoke to were confident of a smooth launch for the Steam Deck as regards the software side of the equation.

Granted, there will be issues – inevitably with any new device, especially one relying on a compatibility layer (Proton) to run Windows games – and some devs pointed to potential problems with some titles struggling to detect the Steam Deck as a controller, and possible interface issues (like navigating the Steam library, if it’s a sprawling affair, with no search function available).

Other devs talked about needing to tweak their games for detecting and running the Steam Deck’s screen resolution, and one of the bigger issues potentially being controller support – but many such issues shouldn’t be difficult to fix in theory (fingers crossed).

Analysis: Things are looking good, but let’s not get carried away

We shouldn’t get too stoked by early hype, naturally, but given that this is coming from game developers and not Valve itself, it seems safe to put a bit more stock in it.

Of course, we won’t know how the device really performs until we actually have the portable PC in our hands and get to try it out, and really see how many Steam games just work. Other early signs are promising too, though, such as nearly half of the games tested with the Steam Deck apparently working ‘flawlessly’ no less.

We’ve also just seen that Bloodborne PSX – the PS1 demake which is now on PC – has been confirmed to run on Steam Deck, and both God of War plus Horizon Zero Dawn have just joined the ranks of verified games for Valve’s handheld as Wccftech recently made clear.

All of this is certainly exciting for those desperate to get their pre-ordered handheld from Valve, and it's arguably a number of further reasons to make Nintendo even more nervous about the rival handheld’s prospects to affect Switch sales.

If the Steam Deck gets off to a storming start and its early reception from owners is similar to what we’re hearing from developers, that has to be a worry regarding the ability to poach Switch sales. Valve’s handheld offers so much potential in terms of its flexibility and nature as a PC, not to mention that buyers have a whole raft of games right there from the off if they’ve been purchasing on Steam for a number of years (as many PC gamers have been).

One thing that Nintendo can perhaps be comforted by is the production capacity aspect of the Steam Deck, and whether Valve can get those many pre-orders fulfilled in good time; there are still big question marks in that respect. Plus, there will always be keen gamers out there who will want both handhelds, for their Mario or Zelda fix on the Switch, of course.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).