Handheld games consoles have been around for a long time. Starting in 1976 with the release of the Mattel Auto Race, they wouldn’t pick up steam and achieve mass market success until the 1989 launch of the Nintendo Game Boy.
And really, Nintendo have arguably always had the upper-hand in the handheld market. From the Game Boy to the DS and eventually the Switch, all of which have sold in large numbers with game lineups that have appealed to all age ranges and have brought people together through communal experiences like Mario Kart.
Basically, Nintendo knows how to do handhelds right. Other companies like Sega and Sony have a history in this area, with Sony releasing the Playstation Portable, PSP Go and Playstation Vita. The PS handheld range have had some strong successes, but going up against Nintendo’s offering and hampered by niche technology like UMD (Universal Media Disc), and in the case of the PS Vita, a huge lack of marketing support post-launch partnered with flops for some of it’s biggest named games, led to the console fizzling out almost as if it never existed.
Sony have since announced that they have no interest in making another handheld console, meaning Nintendo are the only major name in the field.. though that may be about to change.
Valve have recently announced a brand-new handheld PC gaming console called Steam Deck, and it’s already drawing comparisons to the Nintendo Switch. One of the most interesting factors of the new console is that it will launch with a library of literally thousands of games, as it’s designed to play any game on Steam.
With the ability to plug the device into a TV or monitor, watch streamed video and install apps and software including other online games shops, this really is a portable PC.
The Steam Deck throws up the first truly viable competitor to Nintendo in a long, long time. While not a direct competitor, the Steam Deck offers enough unique propositions to make it a worthwhile consideration for handheld buyers. The Switch provides the classic Nintendo experience of great communal and solo gaming with a strong library of Nintendo owned and third-party games, and an established reputation that has made it one of the most in-demand consoles of the pandemic and incredibly popular with families and casual gamers.
The Steam Deck appeals to the existing PC gaming market with a strong potential to pull in customers that want to be able to play some of the most well-known titles anywhere. With a comparable base-model price and stats as the Switch and a wide range of titles for all ages, it has enough of an offering to chip away at Nintendo’s customer base.
Most of all, if this new entry is successful, it has the potential to bring further competitors into the handheld arena that could challenge Nintendo’s control over the market. Having more options for consumers can be a great thing, as it pushes established companies to innovate and release bigger and better games.
The future is unknown at the moment, but with the release of the Steam Deck in December, it will be interesting to see if Valve can have a successful launch and what that means for handheld gaming in the future.