Why You Shouldn’t Worry About FPS on the Steam Deck

Experts say it shouldn’t be as noticeable as you think

Key Takeaways

  • Valve has revealed that the Steam Deck’s primary goal is to hit at least 30FPS in most games on the handheld.
  • However, Valve has also said that 30FPS is the low end of the bar, and it hopes to hit higher FPS on games when possible.
  • Experts say that while FPS is a concern on the Steam Deck, 30FPS will be less noticeable on the smaller display the Steam Deck offers.
The Steam Deck from Valve.

Valve

If you’re worried about Valve’s goal of hitting 30 frames-per-second with games on the Steam Deck, don’t be. Experts say it won’t be that big of an issue on such a small screen.

The Steam Deck has had much of the gaming world’s attention since Valve dropped the official news earlier this month. Now all eyes are turning back to the massive publisher following news that it would be striving to offer 30FPS as the bar for what it considers "playable" on the Steam Deck.

There are some caveats to that bar, and experts say that even at 30FPS, most games should be more than playable on the Steam Deck’s smaller screen.

"Games are certainly playable at 30FPS (anything above 24FPS successfully conveys fluid motion), but the reality is that many gamers are used to playing games at 60FPS or higher. That said, Steam has clarified that 30FPS is actually the minimum allowable frame rate for games on the Steam Deck," Scott Willoughby, chief operating officer at Brainium and a veteran of the gaming industry, told Lifewire in an email. 

"Many—if not most—games that would benefit from it will likely have the option to use a higher frame rate for smoother motion if the player wants it."

"The reality is, for a lot of games, a frame rate above 30 FPS isn’t really going to matter much..."

Setting the Bar

One of the biggest factors experts cite when it comes to the overall FPS seen on the Steam Deck is the smaller display size. The screen on the Steam Deck is only seven inches, and the display only offers up to a 1200 x 800 resolution.

That means your games are going to be locked at 720P when playing them on the handheld. This is a good deal smaller than the resolution you’d see on most computer monitors—which range from 1920 x 1080 to higher resolutions like 2560 x 1400. 

Willoughby says the smaller display means that games will naturally offer a smoother experience, even at 30FPS, as there isn’t as much screen real estate to account for. Because the Steam Deck runs games at a lower resolution, it also means that the system will have to push out less power, which could mean a better chance of higher FPS runs in more intensive games.

Despite the smaller screen, some still have written off the Steam Deck because of its lower-than-expected performance.

"30FPS is the minimum allowable frame rate for games running on the Steam Deck, as it is for games on the Nintendo Switch," Willoughby explained. "The reality is, for a lot of games, a frame rate above 30FPS isn’t really going to matter much, and even for fast-moving action games, 30FPS would be adequate most of the time, especially on a small, portable screen."

Why FPS Matters

While it might seem trivial to be that concerned with what FPS a game is hitting, especially if you’ve been playing on consoles for years, the fact of the matter is PC gamers have come to rely heavily on higher FPS in games. 

"PC gamers care more about FPS for a variety of reasons," Willoughby noted. "Higher frame rates do equate to a smoother gaming experience with better transitions and less blurring."

"It’s kind of like comparing a modern TV show shot on digital video with an old show shot on film," he added. "The modern video will be smoother, with less blurring and motion artifacts, especially during scenes of action or rapid camera movement."

Closeup of someone using a Steam Deck.

Valve

Many current monitors offer anywhere from 60-144Hz, which allows between 60-144FPS when running a game. The closer you are to the FPS your monitor provides, the less screen tearing and other visual artifacting you’ll see. These visual issues can be extremely distracting when playing games, and avoiding them is a high priority for many gamers.

"While the FPS may be an issue, I think the biggest hindrance to Steam Deck’s performance will be the battery life. Lower frame rates extend battery life. In fact, Steam has mentioned that there will be an option for users to selectively cap frame rate in order to gain more battery life," Willoughby said.

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