Valve is reportedly developing a portable gaming console. Dubbed the SteamPal, the product would be akin to Nintendo’s Switch but play PC games available in Valve’s Steam storefront. Ars Technica reported exclusively on the development, which has not been confirmed by Valve.
The company publishes popular video games including Half-Life and Portal, and runs the Steam platform where it distributes PC games from other companies.
Cost — There exist some portable gaming PCs on the market, like the GDP Win3, which has received strong reviews, but that product costs nearly $1,000. The Switch starts at $199 and uses an Nvidia Tegra X1, a mobile processor first revealed in 2015 that’s well past its prime. PC gamers are going to expect much better performance. It’s unclear whether Valve will offer various models of the SteamPal, which it’s reportedly being called, with different specs.
There’s also little else known about the SteamPal except that Ars describes it as “quite wide” compared to the Switch. This is said to accommodate a slew of control options, including gamepad buttons and triggers, as well as joysticks and one thumb-sized touchpad. Like the Switch, it is supposed to be capable of docking to a large monitor or TV via a USB-C port. The SteamPal runs on Linux, not Windows.
Hardware failure — The development of the hardware product is said to be in the prototyping stage, so there remains the possibility that it will never see the light of day. Valve has a history of launching hardware products only to kill them in short order.
In 2015, for instance, it launched Steam Machine, a line of prebuilt gaming computers designed to run Valve’s own gaming operating system. The computers came with a dedicated Steam Controller and were meant to make it easy for anyone to get into PC gaming. But only around 500,000 machines were sold in the first seven months. By 2018, most Steam Machines models were no longer for sale. Valve also launched and shortly thereafter killed off the Steam Link, a set-top box that streamed PC games to a TV.
The company has found better success in virtual reality, where its Index headset is considered one of the best on the market, albeit coming in at a premium price.
Steam Machine failed in part because it was a line of gaming PCs panned for offering lackluster performance. SteamPal may be lower powered than a desktop, but it has the allure of being an all-in-one portable machine that would let gamers play from anywhere. And it could appeal to gamers who want to play PC titles but wouldn’t otherwise build their own PC.