One of the most surprising announcements of 2021 was that Valve wanted to get into the console business. Valve has explored the hardware and platform business in the past with incredibly disappointing results. The company's Steam Machines project failed. The company also launched the Steam Controller, which was loved by no one. However, the success of the Steam Deck has been so great that Valve is looking to expand its hardware offerings.
Hardware failures and their Steam Deck results
For sure, Valve's hardware offerings have not gone well. Their direct entry into the console or living room gaming business was with the Steam Machines. These computers were intended to be built on the SteamOS platform - a gaming-centric operating system that is integrated with Steam. The interface was designed to be used with a controller on nearly any screen, as opposed to standard Steam which is more focused on the mouse and keyboard. Of course, the company's failure to get SteamOS put together in a reasonable timeline led to partners like Alienware abandoning SteamOS and launching the hardware running Windows instead. However, SteamOS got a new life when it was reused to power the Steam Deck.
The Steam Controller was another strange entry into hardware for Valve. This controller was shaped oddly, with odd choices for controls placed in places that were uncomfortable to use. It was as if someone had been told about a controller over the phone and then tried to replicate it without ever having seen one in real life. They were not popular, and the company discontinued them. Valve did learn from this disaster, making the controls on the Steam Deck fantastic. Thumbsticks and directional pads were used as the primary controls, with trackpads added as bonus controls, rather than trying to muddle them together into a single control scheme.
A second-generation Steam Deck
With the success of the Steam Deck, it was inevitable that a second generation would be considered. While popular and fantastic, the Steam deck does have room for improvement. The company could look at two places to improve the existing hardware: improved performance and improved amenities. It appears that the company has decided to focus on the second. For example, a console that is designed to be used as portable and docked does not have world-class battery life. This is one of the main focuses of enhanced hardware. In fact, the designers said that maintaining hardware specs could be a benefit for gamers and developers,
Right now, the fact that all the Steam Decks can play the same games and that we have one target for users to understand what kind of performance level to expect when you're playing and for developers to understand what to target - there's a lot of value in having that one spec.
Steam Controller 2?
This one is a little scarier than enhancing the successful Steam Deck - a second-generation Steam Controller. Trying to relaunch a failed hardware project is a rough prospect. It would be like Amazon trying to relaunch the Fire Phone, or OnlyFans trying to change course. The brand is already harmed - it might not work.
In Steam's case, though, it has some potential for success. The company did prove that it learned a lot from its previous failure by making great controls for the Steam deck. If the team can bring that learning to a new version of the Controller, that could expand their reach with the Steam Deck as a true console replacement device.