The moment Valve announced the Steam Deck, comparisons to the Nintendo Switch became inevitable. After all, they’re both hybrid handheld devices with similar user interfaces and ergonomics. We even did a specs comparisons between the two earlier this week.
Valve, however, is shying away from such comparisons. In an interview with IGN ahead of the Steam Deck’s official reveal, Valve designer Greg Coomer called the Switch a “great device,” but pointed out that Valve is squarely focused on high-end PC gaming — an audience that is necessarily different from the one Nintendo is seeking.
“We tried to make all the decisions really in Steam Deck that targeted that audience and that served the customers that were already having a good time interacting with the games that are on that platform, on our platform. That really was how we were making our decisions,” Coomer said. “We’ve ended up with a device that cosmetically shares some traits with a Switch, but that just was… it’s kind of an artifact of how we’ve proceeded down the design direction.”
Despite Valve’s assertions, comparisons between the two have been rampant throughout the internet, taking the form of memes, comics, and jokes about the Steam Deck being the true “Switch Pro.” It’s irresistible to compare the two simply because, on a basic level, they seem so similar. Comparisons also tap into a broader hunger for a more powerful Switch, which has remained largely unchanged since its launch in 2017.
In a separate interview, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell pointed out that there have been attempts to provide mobile gaming platforms “for a really long time,” but that such devices have always had compromises. Newell said the difference between the Switch the Steam Deck can be seen in the design philosophy behind the device itself.
“So I think Nintendo does a great job targeting the audience they do with the content that they have. And that’s going to be different. Like when you pick this up, it feels much more like the ergonomics for somebody who’s used to playing with an expensive game controller, right? Because it’s bigger and it’s bulkier than a Switch. And if we’re right, that’s the right trade-off to be making for the audience that we’re going after,” Newell said.
Since 2007, Nintendo has prioritized casual audiences — what the late Satoru Iwata referred to as “the blue ocean.” This approach continues to be evident in the success of Ring Fit and Animal Crossing, as well as more offbeat projects like Labo. Valve, for its part, remains heavily focused on technical innovation, its efforts defined by projects like the Index VR headset.
Newell was quick to point that Nintendo has had plenty of success doing things its own way. “[O]bviously, I mean, I think they’ve sold 85 million Switches.”
In the end, whether someone prefers a Switch or a Steam Deck is down to trade-offs, Newell said, referring to the “supernatural feeling” of being able to play Resident Evil Village on Valve’s device. Valve programmer Pierre-Loup Griffais added that Valve is focused on providing the “best solution” for enhancing how players engage with Steam’s library.
“Let me put it this way,” Newell said. “If you’re a gamer, and you pick up a Switch, and you pick up one of these, you’re going to know which one is right for you, right? And you’re going to know it within 10 seconds.”
For more than a few gamers, the answer could very well be “both.” We’ll see for ourselves when the Steam Deck begins rolling out in December. In the meantime, check out our full Steam Deck hands-on preview as well as all the rest of IGN’s exclusive coverage of Valve’s new handheld.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN.