Buying multiplatform games used to be a simple decision for me: I’d almost always get them on the Nintendo Switch because of how easy it is to play games both on a TV or in portable mode. The Steam Deck has thrown a wrench in that decision-making process. The handheld gaming PC might be heavier, have worse battery life, and doesn’t come with an easy Switch-like dock to throw my games onto a bigger screen, but because I feel like I can bank on Steam games being available much longer into the future, I’m having to make tough choices about whether I buy games on Valve’s storefront instead of Nintendo’s.
There’s one important thing I should state up front: I hadn’t owned a gaming PC of any kind until I got the Steam Deck in April. For a long while, I primarily played video games on Nintendo platforms, and I only really began to dig into the PlayStation and Xbox libraries in earnest with the beginning of the pandemic. (I got a PS4 just to play Final Fantasy VII Remake, and things escalated from there.)
While I’ve bought a lot of Steam games on sale or in Humble Bundles, I’ve only actually played a handful of them and only on old work laptops or my personal MacBook Airs. The Steam Deck, on the other hand, is a much more capable gaming device than any laptop I’ve ever owned. Once I got it set up, I suddenly had access to nearly 200 PC games that I had previously bought or claimed, and I could play them on my couch or connected to an external display. I knew that would be the case when I put in my reservation for the Steam Deck last year, but actually seeing the games on my very own device was eye-opening.
With Switch games, though, there’s no guarantee that they’ll work with Nintendo’s next major console. Right now, I just have to cross my fingers that Nintendo opts to make that console backward-compatible with my Switch purchases. Personally, I’m not counting on it — Nintendo loves to find new ways to resell old games.
I would have liked to have brought over Mario Kart 8 from my Wii U to the Switch, but to be able to play it with my colleagues during the pandemic, I had to cough up the full price for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Access to retro games is one of the primary perks of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription, but all of the Virtual Console purchases I made years ago aren’t available on my Switch. And Nintendo isn’t afraid to shut down storefronts.
With Steam, on the other hand, I can be fairly confident that just about everything I buy that works on the Steam Deck now will work just fine on any potential next Steam Deck or gaming-capable computer I buy well into the future (as long as the game supports whatever operating system I’m on, of course). I’m making a big assumption that Valve doesn’t get acquired or suddenly fall off the face of the earth — anything can happen in the video game industry, so maybe I shouldn’t tempt fate — but Valve seems to have a good thing going.
I should also say that on my Steam Deck, I’ve generally gravitated toward smaller and indie titles like Hotline Miami, Inside, and The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe. I suspect those are the types of games I personally am going to want to return to at some point in the future, and it will be a lot easier to just redownload them on PC instead of having to dig up my Switch once it inevitably loses its spot on my TV stand.
Despite how much I love the Steam Deck and the potential that the Steam platform will let me easily access games years and years down the line, I haven’t fully committed to Valve’s ecosystem just yet because it’s a hassle to play Steam Deck games on my TV. Part of the magic of the Switch is how effortlessly it switches from handheld to TV mode when you plop the device into its dock, and although the Steam Deck can connect to external displays, there’s still not an option that’s quite as simple as the Switch experience.
I had been looking forward to the official Steam Deck dock to see if that could come close, but since it was delayed, I’m going to have to keep waiting. But while I don’t expect the Steam Deck will ever be as easy to play on a TV as a Switch, it might be worth a bit of inconvenience to be able to play decades of PC games on the big screen at home and to know that anything I buy now will probably work on other PCs down the line.
Right now, I’m still picking the Switch for a lot of games. (And, of course, there are the big games like Zelda and Metroid that are only available on the Switch.) But what used to be a no-brainer is now something that I have to think hard about, and as Valve keeps improving the Steam Deck, choices in the future might be even harder.