July 20, 2021
This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: Valve enters the portables market with Switch-like handheld, Tencent dominates the investment news cycle (again) and Xbox sales outshine the competition.
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Valve's latest piece of gaming hardware, the Steam Deck, takes more than just a few pages out of the Nintendo Switch playbook. In a surprise launch just a week after Nintendo did the very same for its new Switch OLED model, the Half-Life developer presented the world with an interesting proposition: What if you had a Nintendo Switch with a PC chip, and it played all of your existing Steam games?
The announcement was met with enthusiasm and sold-out preorders. It's a testament to the power of portable gaming, and in particular the draw of being able to play the diversity of indie games available on Steam on a screen you can take with you. While the Steam Deck can run more powerful software, the device's middling battery life suggests it's more fit for the wealth of smaller, cheaper and less demanding experiences you can find on Nintendo's handheld.
The tantalizing offer is arriving at an opportune time. The game industry is experiencing a major growth moment, thanks to a surge in consumer spending on new hardware and strong investor interest. There's no better moment to sell the gaming public a new kind of hybrid device, and the Steam Deck fits the bill.
Valve wants its indies back. Indie developers have long preferred the PC platform thanks in part to Steam's generous self-publishing tools and the ease of developing for Windows. But the Nintendo Switch has become a formidable contender in the indie scene thanks to its portability, drawing sales away from PC and locking customers into Nintendo's closed ecosystem.
The Steam Deck doesn't seem like a viable replacement for the Switch Pro, despite the many jokes at Nintendo's expense last week. The two devices, though sharing the same form factor, don't have a lot of meaningful overlap. It's likely they can coexist without severely dampening demand for one another.
Valve is competing for a different kind of customer. Sure, there is the lapsed PC gamer that might skip out on a new Switch and opt for a Steam Deck instead, and they may now transfer their Switch spending over to Steam. But that's a small niche and far away enough from the mainstream not to threaten the type of player that sticks with the Switch. For now, Nintendo is likely safe playing in its own world.
When it comes to hybrid work, let's be honest: People don't know what to think. Are two or three days a week in the office the sweet spot? Are five days a dealbreaker? We repeat what we hear others say or go with our gut, but how do any of us really know?
Join Protocol's Jamie Condliffe for a conversation with Zoox's Ashu Rege, Qualcomm's Alex Vukotich, Luminar Technologies's Christoph Schroeder and Verizon's Jyoti Sharma
during our upcoming event: Sense, Perceive, Locate:
How Robots Can Find Themselves
July 21 at 9 a.m. PT / 12 p.m. ET
This year's all-virtual Game Developers Conference kicked off yesterday, but we're already onto talking about 2022. Events like GDC thrive on in-person networking, and digital conferences are tough sells to a world weary after more than a year of pandemic whiplash. That's perhaps why the organizers of GDC have already said next year's event will be the standard live gathering in San Francisco.
PAX West is slated for September in Seattle, and it'll be the first major in-person gaming event since the start of the pandemic, while board game convention Gen Con later that same month will experiment with a mask mandate for unvaccinated attendees. Expect many more gaming events to strive for that live component, so long as rising case numbers and the spread of the Delta variant don't interfere.
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