Just last week, Valve announced the Steam Deck – their gambit on merging PC gaming with a handheld experience without relying on streaming. The Steam Deck has a variety of features seemed almost targeted at people’s gripes with the Nintendo Switch OLED, such as customizable modes to focus on performance or visuals, as well as the ability to play most PC games by being what’s basically a portable PC.
We asked 279 of our readers what they thought about the Steam Deck, particularly their interest in the console. The findings seem to paint an interesting picture in that people are generally excited for the console – and that previous notions about the target audience not being PC gamers might not be as accurate as we’d thought.
Brand Loyalty, And Making The Jump From PC To Console
As always, the most important question to ask was the status of our readers. Of the respondents, more than half described themselves as not owning a handheld gaming console. 55% of the respondents said they didn’t own one, even taking into account lesser-known handhelds like the NVIDIA Shield.
That being said, 74.5% of respondents described themselves as owning a gaming PC. 55% of the respondents described themselves as wanting to get the Steam Deck.
This gives us an interesting snapshot at the kind of thinking process that might go on with handheld gaming- previous suggestions that PC gamers were rooted in their use of a PC aren’t quite accurate, and are actually more than willing to get into handheld gaming. Non-PC owners who want a Steam Deck also made up 19% of the respondents, showing that the Steam Deck’s marketing is reaching more than just people within the Valve ecosystem.
Another interesting comment brought up was a rebuttal at the thought of any kind brand loyalty. 46.8% of respondents who already owned a handheld said they would still pick up a Steam Deck, also raising interesting questions about the notion that consumers would be locked in after purchasing one option.
Interestingly our own hypothesis that respondents would grab a “Why play this when I can just do it on my own PC” attitude wasn’t quite reflective of reality either. 54.3% of respondents said that they’d still get the Steam Deck, despite knowing that the same games and more would be available on their PCs.
Similarly, many respondents (51.8%) said that playing PC games on handheld was a concept they were interested in. Regrettably, we missed the window for a follow-up with questions about stream-based cloud gaming, but the Steam Deck seems to prove that this market does exist, in more than a minority stake.
Of course, our readers had plenty to say about the Steam Deck as well. In an open form for comments on the console, many readers left comments highlighting one of two details-
- Their distaste for the Steam Deck’s design
- The fact that, ultimately, the console would be underpowered compared to a gaming PC or laptop.
With regards to the design, it’s not just a matter of accounting for taste. Many respondents commented on the console’s button placement, saying that it was a bit too high to press comfortably, especially given the Steam Deck’s bulkier design. Considering the different types of inputs the Steam Deck has to account for, it’s not surprising they’d have to make that kind of design choice- but if accommodating its huge potential library comes at too much of a cost to user experience, this whole endeavor could be for nothing.
As for the Steam Deck’s performance, it’s a bit of an idealists’ nightmare. Handheld consoles are always going to be underpowered, and comparing the Steam Deck to a machine that doesn’t have to worry about fitting into someone’s handbag or scorching your hands with hot air is very much an apples-to-oranges situation.
The fact the Steam Deck is touting its performance at all is an interesting vote of confidence by Valve, and given we had no way of gauging the actual knowledge and experience of our readers it’s safe to assume that hoping for a way more powerful console that’s also easy to carry around is just a matter of wishful thinking.
There’s also the issue of the Steam Deck’s price. Converted from its US price at a 1:1 rate, the Steam Deck can go from the price of a Nintendo Switch all the way up to the price of a PS5, with the only change being the storage capacity.
Our readers were almost split down the middle on their opinions on the price, with the majority (37%) arguing that the 512GB model’s price wasn’t justified. That being said it was still one of the most popular models, next to the 256GB. Considering Valve later updated the site to say these would be the two models to use an SSD, it’s unknown if that had any effect on the popularity of the two models.
Analysis And Reflections
Interestingly enough, this whole exercise also presents a new way to look at the Steam Deck’s direct competitor, the Nintendo Switch. As a handheld console with no exclusives and a much higher price tag, the fact people are still interested in the Steam Deck shows that locking down games for exclusivity isn’t necessarily the best way to get people on to your ecosystem.
The other thing this whole survey has taught us is that there’s no monolithic PC gamer mindset. Players are just as aggressively defensive of their gaming PCs as they are looking for higher-powered handhelds, and I think anyone looking into doing market studies should probably take that into account going forward.
Admittedly, there are some flaws in our research- for one, 279 is a small sample size, and largely doesn’t account for the average consumer. Considering the popularity of games like CS:GO and DOTA 2, the likelihood that the Steam Deck would prove a hindrance in playing either of those high-precision games well could ultimately hurt the “PC Games, anywhere” message.
One thing for certain though, is that if the Steam Deck launches without a hitch, it looks like the handheld market will be in for a good shake-up. While the higher specs of the Steam Deck are definitely better for the average consumer, the idea that Handheld gaming would no longer be a cheaper alternative could hurt the market in general- more research would need to be conducted as to just how much gamers see portability as a tangible benefit worth paying for, rather than a crutch that keeps specs down.