Report: Valve hints at plans for on-the-go PC gaming (Ars Technica)

According to new details slipped into Steam's code, Valve has been working on a Switch-like portable gaming PC.

Ars Technica has revealed that video game and hardware developer Valve have been working on a portable PC, which would be able to play Steam titles via Linux. handheld console--codenamed “SteamPal”--is rumored to be on track for release by the end of 2021.

Ars Technica’s sources indicate that the handheld has been in development for a significant amount of time, and this week Valve itself implemented new code into its online games store Steam that would pertain to the new hardware. Previously, people had found code within Steam referencing something called “Project Neptune” and details regarding some kind of controller, which now seems to be in reference to the controller peripheral for SteamPal. The all-in-one portable gaming PC will include a touch screen and gamepad controls.

The name “SteamPal” is, at this time, just a rumor. Data miners found the term inside Steam Code, but it has not been confirmed by the developer as any kind of official branding.

Earlier this month, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell made what might now be seen as a veiled reference to this project, when, after being asked about Valve’s plans for future console releases.

“You will get a better idea of that by the end of this year... and it won't be the answer you expect. You'll say, 'Ah-ha! Now I get what he was talking about,'” he said while speaking to students at Sancta Maria College in Auckland, New Zealand.

No price has been announced or uncovered for the SteamPal at this time, and its development timeline is still up in the air. Valve as a company is no stranger to taking their time on new projects, so trying to nail down a timeline for the new handheld could be a futile endeavor.

Comparisons to the Nintendo Switch are of course inevitable. Nintendo’s combination handheld and home console, which launched in 2017, has essentially cornered the market on mobile gaming, supplanting Nintendo’s own Nintendo DS/3DS product line and Sony’s PS Vita. Phone games are largely the only other challenger to the mobile gaming throne, though the combination of console streaming technology and peripherals like the wireless Backbone controller, also present means of playing console games with more flexible access.

SteamPal also calls to mind Valve’s previous forays into hardware, particularly the Steam Machines, a line of prebuilt gaming PCs that were initially released in 2015, and the Steam controller, a gaming controller designed for use with games both designed for controllers and for keyboard-and-mouse controls. The Steam Machines line failed to take hold in the industry. Valve’s foray into VR, the Valve Index, represents another example of Valve’s interest in developing different corners of video gaming hardware.

Valve’s choice to take aim at the portable gaming market will likely be seen as them desiring to compete with the Nintendo Switch. In actuality, the development of the SteamPal might suggest Valve’s desire to present a new means of play for longtime PC players who might be enticed by the idea that PC gaming doesn’t need to be chained to a single stationary machine. The subtle, but crucial, difference between PC Gamers and Nintendo fans will likely influence the handheld’s success or failure.

This could mark a shift within the gaming hardware market as a whole, as other developers smell an opening for alternative mobile gaming platforms, and the SteamPal broadens the possibilities of what can and can’t be taken on the go. Valve’s SteamPal may represent a fundamental change in how PC gaming is marketed and made.

For more stories like this one delivered straight to your inbox, please subscribe to the GameDailyBiz Digest!

News Writer

Ryan Stevens is a writer and games journalist based in Chicago, IL with a soft spot for janky game design. They have an MFA in Playwriting from UCLA, and host the cartoon book club podcast Nation of Animation and actual play podcast Blank City, Nowhere.