Steam gets a new look – is Valve laying the groundwork for the Steam Deck?

(Image credit: Steam)

Just because the Steam Deck has been hogging most of the recent news, doesn't mean that Valve is neglecting its game distribution service. Windows Central reports that the latest beta client for Steam on Windows, Mac, and Linux contains some interesting UI changes, particularly on the downloads page.

Not only has the downloads section been completely redesigned, but new features are being introduced to streamline its usage, including the ability to manually reorder your download queue by dragging and dropping the games into the order of your choosing.

Full Steam ahead

Screenshot of new Steam Client Update

(Image credit: Future)

The beta also includes the usual bug fixes and updates you would expect from a Steam update, such as a new installation process for the HTC Vive Pro 2 VR headset, with a prompt that should automatically appear to download the relevant driver. 

For anyone that has multiple drives on their PC, there are also some useful changes coming to library folders. Each drive you have a library folder in will get its own dedicated tab, which, in theory, will allow you to easily move your game files around without having to mess with your devices Filer Explorer. This feature isn't currently working, but we've all accidentally installed huge game files onto our boot SSD at some point, so this should remove some stress going forward.

You have to sign up for the beta if you're wondering why you can't see any of these changes live on Steam right now, so if you're tempted to try these new features for yourself then head to the Steam taskbar located at the top of the application and click settings. From there, you should land on the account section where you can opt into beta participation. The full list of updates can be found in Valves update announcement, but we've detailed some of the key changes below.

  • Further reduced CPU usage of Steam Input, especially in Steam Input API games
  • Added support for the current set of PowerA Xbox Series X controllers
  • Game keyart/logo featured in the header for whichever game is actively downloading
  • More accessible color palette for the visually impaired
  • When a game/update is actively downloading it will now display the total progression completed for the download or update. Previously the progress bar would only display the downloading content progress but not the disk allocation process which would make an update to appear completed when it was not.
  • Any partially completed downloads/updates in queue now will show a faded progress bar and percent completed next to it to clearly display its current state.
  • A new (i) icon next to the game's title will reveal a tooltip displaying the types of content that is included in that update. Types consist of: Game Content, Downloadable Content, Workshop Content, and Shader Pre-caching. This icon only appears if the update is not solely game content.
  • The context menu for the actively downloading item now includes an option to launch the game when the download is complete and an option to suspend download throttling (if enabled) for the duration of that download.
  • The "View News" button is now a "Patch Notes" link that will open an overlay to the most recent relevant patch notes for the game. This will only display for games that have entered patch notes into the new event system. The patch notes link will only show up on updates, not fresh installs.
  • In the Completed section there is a "Clear all" button to help clean up your downloads page.

Analysis: designed for the Steam Deck?

Valve is no stranger to futureproofing, so it's likely that some of these updates could be linked to the Steam Deck launch. The library folders overhaul especially could be to prepare for users moving game files between the internal drive and any additional SD card storage you insert into the device.

It also seems a few of the changes involve a general interface clean up, such as the removal of the 'Recent Friend Activity' shelf which could take up precious space on a 7-inch display. Features like drag and drop may also have been optimized for the Steam Deck's innovative trackpad controls to make Steam more pleasant to use on such a small screen.

The color palette update may also have been developed along a similar means to help push accessibility not just on laptops and desktops, but also for anyone with those accessibility concerns looking to reserve a Steam Deck for themselves.

That said, Valve likes to develop and release features a good deal ahead of time, regardless how many users will actually see benefits. A few months back Steam announced a feature that allowed 8K streaming, despite the fact most computers would need to be equipped with pricey components like a Ryzen 5950x CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 graphics card (and of course, an 8K monitor or TV) to achieve this.

The good news about this beta client update is that it standard PC users will also reap the benefits alongside prospective Steam Deck owners, so this is a win-win situation for PC gamers across the board.

Jess Weatherbed

Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.