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Monday, July 15, 2024

Why the Steam Deck is My Favorite Way to Play

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When the Steam Deck shipped back in late February 2022, it honestly wasn’t quite up to the task of delivering on the promise it showed when first revealed back in July 2021. Seth Macy gave it a 7 when he reviewed it for us at launch, but it was clear there were some issues despite seeming so full of potential. It was an Early Access approach to a system launch, and that meant it was buggy, unstable, and game compatibility was a crapshoot. I signed up for a pre-order twice during the first six supply-constrained months, and both times I chickened-out when I finally got the notification to flip my $5 deposit into a full purchase. Despite somehow successfully rationalizing that the $649 512GB version was the only one worth considering, it would always seem like a completely unnecessary indulgence for an unfinished doodad when my finger was hovering over the buy button.

I finally caved and picked one up at the end of last year. I’m not sure what finally pushed me over, I think maybe I’m just weak when it comes to handhelds. It could have been that we gave it our Best Gaming Hardware of 2022 award. Or maybe it was the Steam sale, and the accompanying realization that I had literally hundreds of games in my library that I’ve never played. A pile of shame that big eventually becomes too big to ignore. Regardless, it has since completely changed how I play games.

I’ve always loved handhelds – from all the different flavors of Game Boy, the Game Gear, or the Atari Lynx (both the silly wide one and the fat one). I loved the PSP dearly, and there’s a huge box in a closet somewhere full of those cute little UMD discs with everything from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to Lumines, Patapon, and Syphon Filter Dark Mirror rattling around in it. I still think the Vita is one of Sony’s finest achievements, and truly believe that abandoning it is one of the dumbest things the PlayStation division ever did. I have never, ever played with my Switch plugged into my television.

Honestly, my biggest peeve has been Valve’s aggressively-conservative listings for games that run properly on the thing.


My wife and oldest son are sports-crazy. During football season, playing a video game on a Sunday is virtually impossible in my house because the TV is always occupied. At other times of year there’s a constant rotation of baseball, basketball, tennis, and other things with incessant crowd-noise throughout the week. Handhelds allow me to be in the same room and give the illusion of being sociable while they’re screaming at the TV. It’s certainly better than disappearing into another room to play on a PC hunched over a desk. After all these years, the Steam Deck is the ultimate solution for this. The library is vast, and the capability of the thing never fails to impress me. I successfully assassinated the first 15 targets in Hitman while the 49ers lost to the Eagles, and marveled at how gorgeous the game looks on the Deck’s impressive little screen while everyone else in the room was screeching something about quarterbacks.

It’s now nearly a year since the Deck launched, and Valve has shipped more than 100 updates that have made the device more dependable, stable, and…well, let’s be kind and call it predictable. It’s still very clearly a work in progress, and I don’t think we’ll ever know with 100% certainty whether games will run as reliably as they do on a PlayStation or Xbox, but in the two months I’ve had this thing it has become my favorite system, my near-constant companion, and the device I’ve almost exclusively played games on. I am mostly happy to forgive the thing for its relentless wonkiness: like the fact that you can’t download anything without leaving the screen on; or that the fan just mysteriously roars to life for no discernible reason when the device isn’t really doing anything; or that it’s battery life is wholly unpredictable.

Honestly, my biggest peeve has been Valve’s aggressively-conservative listings for games that run properly on the thing. Steam telling you a game is “unsupported” doesn’t always actually mean that – so you end up hunting through Reddit to find out what’s up, or just downloading the game and trying it. There’s a classification for games that notes them as “playable” which feels like it should be crowd-sourced rather than just relying on Valve’s internal testers, and a game’s status on the system can change without any kind of notification. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition appears to have bounced between multiple different statuses even in the short time I’ve had a Deck, but the whole trilogy has always been perfectly playable.

That brings me to why I bring the whole subject up to start with. Valve has seemingly sold a lot of these things, and given it topped the Steam charts for over 30 weeks (it has certainly sold over a million units, and no doubt many more than that) I'm curious whether it’s at the point yet that it’s starting to change our relationships with our Steam libraries. In general, I think we’ve had a tendency to prioritize console games over PC games at IGN – and I believe it’s time for us to rethink that a bit. While I’m working with my team on this, I’m curious to see if the Steam Deck is yet at the point where it is influencing your decision to buy a game on Steam, or even your choice of platform for multiplatform games. This question is mostly informed purely by some self-awareness that I’ve been choosing differently since getting one, and I’d just be interested to see if I’m alone in that or not. I’ve put some polls on the page to make it easy to answer some basic questions, but I’d also love to hear more about your PC gaming habits and feelings about the Steam Deck in the comments.


John Davison is the publisher and editorial lead, and has been writing about games and entertainment for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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