Valve’s new Steam Deck has already attracted a great deal of attention. The company’s servers aren’t responding particularly well today, because they’re getting slammed with preorders. Would-be buyers should keep in mind a caveat that Valve didn’t prominently disclose when it announced the device: Unless something changes, it won’t be compatible with a number of Steam games, including multiple Top 10 titles, that rely on certain kinds of DRM.
Currently, PUBG, Apex Legends, Rust (for online play on standard servers) Destiny 2, and Rainbow Six: Siege are all incompatible with Proton, the Wine fork Valve developed for its own use. Other incompatible games in the Top 100 include Dayz, Dead by Daylight, Smite, Black Desert Online, Paladins, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, Hunt: Showdown, and Conquerer’s Blade. Players should also be aware that while Wine/Proton offers a ranking system of Native, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Borked, the categories aren’t as clear as they could be.
Native titles are games designed for or ported entirely to Linux. These do not require Proton in the first place. Platinum titles are games that are known to work flawlessly and are fully equivalent to their Windows versions. Everything below that comes with some degree of caveat. Rust apparently works fine if the server you are attempting to join has disabled anti-cheat software, but not at all under normal circumstances.
I have not attempted to game in Steam using Linux, but reading through the various bug reports in titles that do work, it’s clear that the experience can still be rough around the edges. Games like Team Fortress 2 don’t support official servers and play is reported as slower than under Windows.
Valve has stated that the Steam Deck will ship with an updated version of SteamOS and that it is “improving Proton’s game compatibility and support for anti-cheat solutions by working directly with the vendors,” implying that some of these issues may be resolved before launch.
One wonders if these sorts of issues are why Valve will also support Windows on the Steam Deck, even though the device will officially ship with SteamOS. Thanks to the integrated USB-C port, it should be trivial to connect a variety of peripherals to the device, including a thumb drive with a Windows image. Serious gamers will presumably augment their integrated storage with a microSD card, allowing for ample gaming storage even considering Windows 10’s relatively heavy footprint.
There’s reason to think the Steam Deck will work best in the hands of those willing to tinker under the hood. Valve’s battery life numbers specifically refer to the idea of limiting a game to run at 30fps as a means of extending playtime. This is a common trick for boosting battery life, and some of the third-party tools available in Windows (or within Windows drivers) allow gamers to force frame rates in games that don’t support manual adjustment. A willingness to tinker under the hood with specific game settings can also be very useful when attempting to get a title running on lower-end hardware — and an AMD APU is still that, even if it represents significantly more GPU horsepower in a handheld context than we’ve seen any company ship before.
The PC Switch Steam Deck also seems like it’d have some serious handheld emulator chops, though this doesn’t necessarily require Windows. It wouldn’t surprise us, however, if Valve ultimately leans on the idea that Steam Deck owners can install Windows themselves as part of its overall compatibility discussion. The advantage of a device like this is the long tail it offers for PC gaming, vanishing back into the depths of the Steam catalog. The less robust that back catalog is, the less robust the entire system.
Ergonomics, battery life, and compatibility are the three most important areas for Valve to nail in order to deliver a console-like experience. If it can do that, the Steam Deck paired with Windows could be one of the most compatible gaming devices on the planet. It would support Xbox Cloud Gaming, GeForce Now, and Microsoft Game Pass, alongside Sony’s PlayStation Now. Windows would also allow GoG and the Epic Game Store to run on the device.
We’re quite curious to see how SteamOS shapes up in the next 3-4 months and what kind of innovations or improvements Valve can bring to the table for Linux gaming.
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