I recently read an article by The Verge where Sean Hollister has to talk to Lawrence Yang and Pierre Loup Griffais, designer for the Steam Deck, on the handheld gaming PC gamers love. It’s a really good interview with a lot of things to take away from it, so I highly recommend going over and reading the whole thing. Meanwhile, Griffais and Yang talk about how Valve wants to work with other companies to bring SteamOS into their hardware, the potential for a Steam Controller 2, and more. The part that caught my eye, however, was when the pair discussed hardware upgrades their team is considering for the Steam Deck.
First of all, they talk about that the battery design currently implemented in the Steam decks is not ideal as it is difficult for users to replace it. The team have already made some changes to hopefully make this less of a problem. They also talked about the fans and how some Steam decks use a Delta Electronics fan that tends to whine during operation. If you’re having this problem, there seem to be a few fixes you can implement, including ordering a Huaying fan from iFixit or getting creative with using electrical tape (both at your own risk). However, Yang also explained that while Valve stopped using the Delta fans for a while, they are using them again because they developed a foam solution to mitigate the noise.
Those two tidbits are okay, but later in the interview I got really excited. Hollister asked Griffais and Yang about areas of hardware they would improve in a new Steam deck, and they responded on battery life and screen. The pair were pressured to improve handheld performance, and Griffais gave an incredibly insightful response:
Right now the fact that all Steam decks can play the same games and that we have a goal for users to understand what kind of performance level they can expect while playing and for developers to understand what to aim for… there is a lot of value in having this one specification.
I think we will choose to keep one power level a little longer and only change power levels when there is a significant gain to be made.
This sounds awfully familiar to me for some reason. The other major gaming handheld is the Nintendo Switch. The first hardware upgrade included an increase in battery life. Next was an improved screen. Neither included performance upgrades. Hm. Let’s sit with that for a minute. It’s fascinating how both companies seem to be thinking along the same lines when it comes to their hardware upgrades. Well, Valve and Nintendo are very different companies and their products are related but also different. It’s not a perfect 1:1 comparison. However, this nugget right here might give us some insight as to why we haven’t seen a more powerful Switch yet.
Nintendo has made some power upgrades in the past. Do you remember when they launched the New Nintendo 3DS in 2014-2015? It was more powerful but I’m not sure how well it compared to the original 3DS and unfortunately I can’t find those numbers. However, I’d be surprised if a lot of people who already had a 3DS went out and upgraded. The Switch is still selling like crazy and I imagine Nintendo saw that a mere hardware upgrade wasn’t worth it. They would likely have to charge more, which already irks many consumers; Consumers could easily get confused by a “Switch Pro”, “Switch U”, “New Nintendo Switch” or whatever they call it; and let’s face it, not enough people would upgrade to make it worthwhile. It’s most likely more important for Nintendo, like Valve, to see and understand the value of having a single set expectation for consumers and developers.
I know I ranted a bit, but I read the interview and it just clicked! Perhaps Nintendo will prove me wrong and will soon announce a performance upgrade for the switch. I think it’s more likely that we’ll be hearing about the Switch’s successor in the next year or two, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t just a more powerful Switch. Nintendo tends to do best when they really aim to shake up the gaming industry. What are your most important takeaways from the interview? I know that now I’ll probably wait until the better screen and/or battery before getting a Steam deck.