Steamdeck's Nonsensical Hypetrain
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
We live in the age of multi-gig wifi 6, multi-gig ethernet, multi-gig 5G and broadband to our homes, our Oculus’ can wirelessly stream 1920x1836 (times two) at 60fps+ from our desktops without a hiccup, we casually stream 4K video content and even 4K games with near-unnoticeable lag across the world through stuff like GeForce Now, Stadia, etc. and almost a decade ago, we had the Steam Link which streamed our whole library anywhere we wanted for about $50. Even our cellphones have native Steam, Playstation and Google apps made specifically for streaming games to our devices from the cloud, negating the need for more horsepower from our local computers and portable devices. Yet the Steamdeck doesn't just exist, but is being praised as some kind of perfect device from all corners of the tech journalism industry.
I've written a couple articles about this modern phenomena of hyping tech up for the sake of it before. Usually, whenever a group with as much 'street cred' and genuine, knowledgeable, and for the most part- honest- enthusiasts start hyping things up such as LinusTechTips. It boggles my mind in a similar way otherwise level-headed, normal friends started believing and following Trump and conspiracy theories in recent times. Well, Valve's unbelievably hyped up Steamdeck is one of these new examples.
No matter where you turn, you'll find praise for this behemoth of a gizmo, ignoring everything in front of our faces that we would otherwise have laughed off the planet for the past 30 years. "Features" such as:
-Screen size and resolution
-Desktop-class specs (correlating to battery life)
-Overengineered and over-spec'd chipsets pushing all of Windows into quirky, niche physical dimensions
-Sub-par battery life
-All-purpose chipsets on limited, restrictive platforms
-Aim at markets that already have far superior techniques and gizmos to do the same thing
We've laughed ahead-of-their-time machines like the Atari Lynx and Sega Nomad out of the market, killed off incredible palmtop machines incorporating absolutely insane specs into tiny footprints, and have seen inordinate amounts of tablets and multifunction devices like the N-Gage, netbooks, and Windows/Android tablets for decades. But now strap some joysticks to one, shrink the screen, include massive bezels, and thicken it right up to where even a DMG gameboy looks tiny in comparison... and you've got a hit.
I know Windows has been optimizing its OS for portable chipsets (aka on ARM architecture) and touchscreen devices for a looong time- since the advent of Windows CE in the 90's, to Windows Mobile, to Windows Phone to what we have today. It's great stuff, REALLY great for the future of traditional computing devices. But this weird relatively young market for portable emulation machines is going off into crazy directions. Open-mindedness from the market is great for the most part, if we just look at all the innovation and fun, unique things Japan has had in the technological era, we can see that clearly. But as I said before, none of what the Steamdeck brings to the table is new, innovative, or even modern. Every single aspect is a total step back.
Here is what we currently have available to us in 2022:
-Full powered desktops/gaming rigs: For top tier and upgradeable gaming at home even without great internet speeds.
-Powerful laptops with eGPU extensibility: For extreme gaming and the ability to travel or game with everything you need on-board, with the added perk of having a built-in pseudo UPS (aka unplug them and they keep running until you shut them down).
-Game streaming services like Stadia, Luna, Playstation Remote, and GeForce Now: For affordable gaming when comparing to desktops/laptops as you pay a small monthly fee to essentially 'rent' top tier desktop hardware and game with easy to use user interfaces. The only drawbacks are the requirement for high speed internet, and the possibility of input lag to/from your controllers to the servers and back.
-Purpose-built affordable gaming devices such as: PiBoys powered by Raspberry Pi's, AnberNIC RG552s, Retroid Pockets, and even Miyoo Minis if you want extremely small form factors. All of which are Android or Linux-based and make gaming on the go as easy as loading up a MicroSD with ROMs
-iPhones and Android phones/tablets that double as gaming devices and have enough modern spec horsepower to game and emulate anything you want, with high quality accessories like the Razer Kishi and Backbone that turns your device into a full fledge gaming system. These devices are also compatible with all those game streaming services mentioned above so you can game even with a low spec phone. These all fit in your pocket, do multiple duties (phone, game console, PDA, etc), have bigger, higher-end screens and can even cost less than a Steamdeck.
-Other purpose-built AAA-class devices like the Nintendo Switch that are smaller and better designed/not just a hodgepodge of general purpose chipsets crammed into a gigantic frame.
-Game consoles and even Android-based televisions that can run general purpose apps (like the Xbox Series X), that you can sideload or just download from the Play Store that allow you to emulate retro games on the big screen without issue, with the power of a desktop but ease of use of a console for that old-school TV gaming.
But we want to go back in time and play on things that dwarf Game Gears and get about the same runtime, stick bigger battery packs and heatsinks to mini PC’s, all to play on a hot, heavy, tiny little screen? I don't get it, and I really don't like it. Not because it is simply a giant backstep, but because we as a customer base are putting this at the top of the "what we want in 2022" chain to encourage the entire market to take steps back and take us into the 1970's of physical technical "well, we've just gotta deal with it" issues again.
Maybe the new age of young gamers just doesn't remember all the reasons we disliked bulky, unoptimized devices in the past and that's why everyone is overlooking the truly ridiculous specs devices like this are coming out with. It feels like the market is heading to a place of being "so preoccupied with whether we could, we didn’t stop to think if we should."
And it's all good with me, the Steamdeck does have some cool features, but I wish the ones old enough and knowledgeable enough (like Linus Sebastian himself) could hype stuff like this, or the Ryzen CPU's from 2020-2021 while bashing Intel, and other examples like that- to at least provide verbal asterisks to viewers that explain "in the grand scheme, this argument is nonsense (aka the Steamdeck is redundant and absurd, or Ryzen's horsepower is marginally more powerful at best but probably doesn't warrant switching out your entire chipset if you've already got an Intel, etc)- but in a vacuum let's focus on the cool stuff this does today", I'd be pretty happy. Maybe one day I'll finally muster up the courage to start providing these opinions on Youtube in similar formats and make a dent in the current trajectories of "nonsense hypetrains" in this industry. Until then, this is pretty cathartic anyway.