It seems that all gamers are interested in the Steam Deck gaming laptop, but Valve simply can’t make enough devices to keep up with the demand. Long waiting lists are the norm for the Steam Deck, but clones could soon ease the tension.
Do you remember steam engines?
Before we explain why Steam Deck clones are likely to come, we need a quick history lesson. In 2015, Valve launched its Steam Machine platform. These devices were pre-built PCs that looked like consoles and ran an older version of SteamOS.
While Steam Machines wasn’t a success for a number of reasons, it tells us a lot about Valve’s mindset. Valve did not make its own Steam Machine, but instead published a set of specifications that third-party manufacturers had to meet in order to use the Steam Machine name. Valve wasn’t interested in making hardware, but rather in bringing Steam into more living rooms, expanding beyond the typical space of PC gamers.
SteamOS, Valve’s custom Linux-based operating system for Steam Machines, was certainly not ready at the time. Ultimately, the idea of Steam Machines didn’t catch on, but Steam Deck essentially follows the same business model and philosophy. The key difference here is that Valve has pushed the market forward by releasing an actual product that players can buy.
The Steam Deck is a reference model
One way to view the Steam Deck is as a reference model. It’s an example of what the standard Steam Deck experience should be. From its physical ergonomics to architecture and GPU and CPU performance, the Steam Deck sets a certain standard at a certain price.
Valve has done all the hard work of research and development; other manufacturers simply have to use the Steam Deck as a starting point. Valve has even released the Steam Deck CAD files under a Creative Commons license, while details of the AMD CPU and GPU used on the deck are open to anyone.
SteamOS is an open platform
What makes the Steam Deck special isn’t just its hardware and design; is the SteamOS software. Valve has spent a lot of time and money making Windows games work on Linux through Proton. This work remains open source and benefits all Linux gamers. SteamOS is available for anyone to download and install under the “Build Your Own Steam Engine” banner.
This means that nothing stands in the way of third-party companies releasing their own Steam Deck clone, running the same software as Steam Deck. These clones could be higher or lower specs than Steam Deck, change any other aspect of it, or copy it exactly. Anything is possible, and from Valve’s point of view, every SteamOS device sold is a positive development for their bottom line.
Other gaming laptops aren’t great
Steam Deck is far from the first portable PC marketed towards gamers. The GPD Win and Aya Neo series of computers are good examples of these devices. While most of them are pretty impressive, they tend to have a number of common problems.
The first is that these devices are meant to run Windows, which lacks the SteamOS optimizations that make it much less resource-hungry and less cluttered with non-game apps and features. These devices also use off-the-shelf hardware that isn’t designed for gaming, but instead is designed for use in ultrabooks. They are also significantly more expensive than a Steam Deck, in some cases more than double the price, and cannot offer the same quality of gaming experience. Not to mention that the price of a Windows license is part of that price!
We expect existing players in the gaming laptop market to want a piece of the Steam Deck pie, and they already have an established hardware manufacturing capability. It’s also a tantalizing opportunity for hardware manufacturers outside of the gaming mass market to enter without significant R&D or software development work.
The market has spoken
Valve is no stranger to trying out new ideas with hardware, even if they end in failure. For most companies, something like the Steam Deck would be a long shot, but for Valve, it’s the kind of side project where the potential benefits far outweigh the risks.
For third-party players who might be in a position to bring Steam Deck clones to market, Valve has provided hard data that there is both excitement and demand for the product. Any competent clone of the Steam Deck would almost certainly have no problem selling in the market segment that Valve cannot supply. With more competition in this new category of products, we can only see good things for portable gaming enthusiasts as competition drives down prices and encourages innovation.
RELATED: steam cover vs. Switch: Comparison of the best gaming handhelds