SteamPal

Valve’s SteamPal feels like a play at something larger

Valve may be setting up a second crack at the Steam Machine.
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According to Ars Technica, Valve — the company behind the PC games marketplace Steam — is creating a handheld gaming PC to take on the Nintendo Switch. This portable is being referred to by many as SteamPal, based on a name found in the code of the Steam app. On its face, this seems like Steam making a play at a market Nintendo’s been owning without much effort for years.

I happen to think there’s more to it than that; that Valve isn’t interested simply in competing with Nintendo while continuing to do what it’s always done — sell PC games. What do I think? Valve has home console ambitions. It wants that autonomy over hardware and market that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony currently enjoy on their respective platforms.

But it has to start somewhere.

Steam Machines were a flop, but the SteamPal can fix it

Valve has tried to make console-like devices in the past. They were called Steam Machines, and the initial pitch for them was pretty sloppy. They were basically Linux desktops you could use Steam Big Picture on. A number of different companies made them, which made acquiring one a bit more confusing than it had to be. Oh, and did I mention they ran Linux? An operating system that has nowhere near as many games as Windows?

Steam Machines were a tough sell. With something like a SteamPal, though, Valve can start to build a better foundation for a home console-like experience down the line.

Valve can create the hardware itself and control the messaging on the sales end. It can get developers to adapt their games for that hardware, and make their software more friendly for gamepads (since that’s all the SteamPal will have).

And by challenging Nintendo, Valve stands a much better chance at having its new system make an impact. The portable market is ripe for a competitor. It’ll have those who make games chomping at the bit to get on board. And those developers will be putting their games on a Linux-based platform.

And then… boom

Just like that, Valve will have righted every wrong it committed with Steam Machines a few years back. Should the SteamPal take hold, Valve will suddenly have a whole bunch of Linux games on hardware it created and on a platform it controls.

From there, the leap to the home console market is as easy as “create a home SteamPal.” One that isn’t just the portable docked, but is capable of really challenging the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Or whatever other consoles Sony and Microsoft put out down the line. Maybe Valve won’t push into that space for a few more years.

At any rate, I’m eager to see how this all shakes out.