Steam Deck is the new handheld gaming PC from Valve that plays your entire Steam library on the go; like a Nintendo Switch but without its exclusive library of games. But since the announcement, all I can think about is how this is such a missed opportunity for Xbox.
Thanks to the optimised Steam OS, Steam Deck's interface is pleasantly console-like, and the entry-level model's price tag is just $399/ £349 (approx. AU$538). That's just $50 away from the Nintendo Switch OLED – which is already five years into its lifecycle, and the news of its price tag is causing problems of its own. But considering the Steam Deck is basically a PC – and can be used as such – that's not too shabby at all!
In fact, you can load third party programs and game launchers on it, like the Epic Games Store, Origin, and uPlay. You can even wipe the OS entirely and install Windows, which means access to Xbox Game Pass and all of your Xbox Series X games. It also means you can play those titles on the go using a device that's a significant step up from a smartphone.
Your Steam Deck can be turned into a portable Xbox, is what I'm saying, so why has Microsoft been so reluctant to enter the handheld space when such an addition to its console family would be the perfect delivery system for Game Pass?
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Microsoft seems to have put its Xbox Game Pass eggs in the mobile gaming basket, doubling down by partnering up with Samsung on a Game Pass Ultimate promotion for the Galaxy S21 series launch. And let's not forget the Designed for Xbox mobile gaming accessories range revealed last year that includes Bluetooth and mobile gaming controllers. Microsoft has apparently washed its hands of the notion of making its own handheld, and spent it's efforts perfecting its cloud gaming service instead.
I'm not saying it hasn't been worth the effort, by any means. Xbox Game Pass seems to be going from strength to strength, and I don't doubt that it's had an integral part in the surging sales of the Xbox Series X|S. Just last month, Xbox hit a home run by becoming the best-selling console in the US; although that was on dollar sales with the Switch beating it out on units, and the continued shortage of the PS5 has most likely contributed as well. But it's an impressive feat nonetheless, setting a record high for Xbox console sales that last peaked in June 2011 (via VentureBeat (opens in new tab)).
The stellar success of the Switch has proven that gamers are very much into handhelds, with some clamouring for a PSP 5G even now. This is the perfect time to strike with a handheld console – or hybrid – that's powerful, and has a price point that makes it a legitimate contender to the Nintendo Switch.
Valve's handheld PC has generated a huge buzz and has already sold out within 24 hours of Steam Deck pre-orders going live. It's not too late for Microsoft to jump on the bandwagon but after Nintendo has dominated the space for so long, it's a shame that Xbox and its 'play anywhere' mantra hasn't translated to a proprietary portable gaming device of its own.