Steam Deck Won't Kill the Switch, Experts Say

But it has a solid shot at carving out its own space in the market

Key Takeaways

  • The Steam Deck promises to be a powerful handheld gaming PC with a massive library from day one.
  • It’s very likely the Steam Deck will find popularity in the PC gaming market.
  • Despite all its promise and probable success, it won’t be able to overtake the Switch’s mass-appeal.
Valve Steam Deck on a white background

Valve

Valve’s new console has created a lot of excitement—with some calling it a "Switch killer"—but the Steam Deck is much more likely to thrive with its own audience.

When the Steam Deck was first revealed and preorders were announced, a lot of people started speculating that it would usurp the immensely popular Nintendo Switch. It’s an easy comparison to make as the two devices do bear a resemblance to each other, with Valve even revealing a dock that can connect the console to an external display. Given how popular Steam is as a digital platform, the Steam Deck also offers a massive library of games right from the start.

"I don't think the Steam Deck will do serious damage to Nintendo's market, but it won't be a flop either," said Patrizia Pisani, editor at VionixStudio, in an email interview with Lifewire. "The Steam Deck is already being considered a great console, and it has a huge library of games on the Steam store."

Stacking the Deck

Launching with a pre-established and gigantic games library would give any console an advantage, to be sure. Steam sees thousands of game releases per year, and the constant store discounts make it easy to create a digital backlog very quickly. The Steam Deck’s other big draw is that, despite its size, it’s still a gaming PC.

black and white line art of the Steam Deck

Valve

The hardware uses a custom AMD processor Valve claims is "more than enough performance to run the latest AAA games," displaying them on a 7-inch multi-touch screen. It offers between 64GB and 512GB of on-board storage that can be expanded with a microSD card, so you can have a whole lot of games ready to play at a moment’s notice. The 40 watt-hour battery also will let you keep playing for an estimated seven or eight hours.

All of this makes for an enticing video game console—especially a portable one—but the Steam Deck’s biggest advantage is that, as a gaming PC, you can customize and modify its software.

"The greatest advantage Steam Deck has is that it is a full fledged PC," Pisani said, "You can install other [programs] on it. And for anyone familiar with Windows gaming, there are tons of native games, plus the ability to emulate consoles."

"I don't think the Steam Deck will do serious damage to Nintendo's market, but it won't be a flop either."

Even Valve is encouraging this, advertising the ability to "browse the web, watch streaming video, do your normal productivity stuff, install some other game stores, whatever," on the official Steam Deck hardware page.

So the Steam Deck has a lot to offer as a handheld—or not, if you connect it to a dock and use peripherals and a larger display. It probably will sell extremely well with Steam users and PC gaming enthusiasts. It might even become a juggernaut in the PC gaming market. However, there’s one major factor that likely will prevent it from destroying Nintendo’s console: the fact that it’s not Nintendo’s console.

No Need to Switch

Nintendo has spent decades solidifying its position as one of the most well-known and beloved video game companies, and barring the occasional exception, its hardware is extremely popular. This also holds true for the Switch, which has had somewhere over 80 million lifetime sales since 2017. Both the company and the console are pretty firmly entrenched at this point.

Nintendo Switch w/ kickstand and Joy-Con controllers resting on a bed

Nintendo

"The most important thing that safeguards Nintendo Switch's market is its library," said Pisani, "Exclusive gaming franchises such as Mario, Pokemon, and The Legend of Zelda have huge fan bases across age groups."

The Switch’s other big advantage comes from its mass-appeal. It’s a console that even the average consumer buying games for someone else is likely to have heard of. It isn’t easily moddable like the Steam Deck, but it provides the same general user experience for everyone right out of the box. The Switch is, for lack of a better term, easy. It’s easy to identify, easy to remember, easy to set up, and easy to use.

"Nintendo also has an edge when it comes to parents gifting their kids a gaming console," said Pisani, "[Its] marketing really taps into the ‘best console for kids’ market."

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