There are many reasons to be excited about the Steam Deck, a portable PC console Valve announced last week. One of the main reasons to get excited is that it could be the Xbox portable console we never got.
Only a few years ago, everyone was calling out for a portable Xbox console. The thought of playing something like Halo or Forza on the go seemed almost too good to be true and honestly, it was.
There are numerous occasions when a portable Xbox console seemed like the most logical step. In Microsoft’s defense, it does not have the best record with portable devices- we’re looking at you, Windows Mobile.
Even with its past failings in the rear windows, there’s something utterly tantalising about the prospect of Xbox games on a portable console. The Steam Deck could absolutely fulfill that fantasy through just a few steps.
Game Pass, on the go
Honestly, the most exciting prospect with the Steam Deck is the potential for Game Pass on the go. Xbox Game Pass is the Netflix of video games. Offering players a vast library of video games for a reasonable cost per month. As impressive as this offering is glued to a console or PC, it takes on a whole new meaning when tied to a portable console.
The best way to describe it would be a Nintendo Switch, which gives you access to well over 100 games on a monthly basis for £10. Essentially paying the cost of a Netflix subscription for games that provide hundreds of hours of entertainment.
Now, Xbox Game Pass will work on the Steam Deck. For those who wish, the new PC handheld will allow anyone to install Windows instead of the Linux-based Steam OS. However, it would be a much simpler experience if Microsoft brought their video game subscription service to Steam natively.
It’s not an unrealistic proposition as Microsoft has already expressed its interest in launching Game Pass on as many platforms as possible. Some rumours even hint that we could see it on the Nintendo Switch at some point in the future, so Steam Deck feels like a natural progression. Valve and Microsoft could even work together to sell the consoles with a free period of Game Pass. I would wager a lot more people would consider a Steam Deck if they knew Game Pass was an option on it.
Legacy hardware & software
Considering Microsoft’s design philosophy on backwards compatibility, an official Xbox handheld would likely have a large collection of classic software. While Microsoft doesn’t have the best first-party lineup at the moment, it's got a near unbeatable back catalog. Legacy software is a major pull and would have likely served as the primary marketing push on an Xbox portable.
Fortunately, the Steam Deck is likely going to be a great portable console for running emulators. Valve has confirmed that players will be able to run emulators on the console, opening it up to decades of past titles. While there aren’t specifics yet, we can at least expect the Steam deck to handle up to PS2 and GameCube based on the power it has. Unfortunately, Original Xbox emulation isn't quite as smooth as the aforementioned consoles, but it should be playable.
Regardless, the concept of having emulators on the go is an exciting one, and makes the Steam Deck feel like it could be the portable Xbox console we always wanted. This is especially important when you consider how Nintendo has dropped the ball with retro games on the Nintendo Switch. There’s a limited selection of games available through its Switch Online service, but many Gamecube, N64 and 3DS titles are simply not available on the console.
There’s still some time to go, but the Steam Deck could revolutionise the industry in a way no hardware has done for some time. Sure, the Nintendo Switch brought consoles and portable gaming together in a way no other machine has. However, the Steam Deck could bring PC gaming to the masses, with Xbox’s Game Pass service in tow.