Valve published this video to YouTube today demonstrating how to open up a pre-production Steam Deck, replace the custom analog stick modules, as well as the SSD, and very much warning against doing so:
I’m not sure how I feel about the warnings. In the past I’ve definitely felt bad about breaking or inadequately modifying things that I’m working on but that is also a necessary part of learning how to modify, fix, and build electronics. The parts in modern electronics are delicate and often made to be unserviceable by the companies who design them, this is “for our protection” as users but it is also clearly for their benefit. The longer things are usable and repairable, the less money these companies make on new sales.
That also doesn’t mean the executives at these companies want users to have a bad experience. I can’t be sure of this, but from my experiences my understanding is that these decision makers want users to have a great experience and be motivated to upgrade by new features as well as repairs that are so expensive they make recycling broken hardware a better option.
Valve is also not in a great position with regard to supporting the users of their hardware but may be getting better. It’s one thing for a huge company like Apple who has physical retail stores to lock users out of repairs, there is an argument there that I disagree with from Apple that Apple can provide the best support. Valve has none of that retail presence to repair, replace, and even just troubleshoot hardware near their users. I think that’s why they made this video, essentially arming the more experienced hardware repair technicians to have access to repair these devices when they start breaking down. Valve even makes a promise in the video about upcoming Steam Deck part availability for people doing repairs.
As an example, according to a friend in Australia all Valve hardware sales and returns are done through the local EB Games chain. Apple does the same thing. In several countries where Apple does not have a physical retail presence they train third parties in how to service iPhones, iPads, and Macs. I once started but did not complete that training before my life took me elsewhere.
There are also still criticisms I have about Valve’s attitude regarding Linux porting which, to the best of my knowledge, is still putting people who are in the business of porting games to Linux natively out of work as well as advising developers not to port games natively and instead relay on Valve’s Proton Windows API compatibility layer/emulation to make games run under Linux.
The one “bright spot” in the Steam Deck’s software support is that Epic’s Easy Anti-Cheat middleware is promising Linux support. Previously, anti-cheat middleware locked out some Linux users running games under any Windows API Compatibility layer/emulation like Valve’s Proton and simply wasn’t available for native ports. Now, Epic has promised that Easy Anti-Cheat is available for both Native Linux and Mac game ports, including the Linux-based Steam Deck, and will be supported in WINE and Valve’s Proton. Unfortunately the decision to allow WINE and Proton to run these games is still only in the hands of developers and publishers who may not be interested in providing any support to Linux and macOS, quoting Epic:
To make it easy for developers to ship their games across PC platforms, support for the Wine and Proton compatibility layers on Linux is included. Starting with the latest SDK release, developers can activate anti-cheat support for Linux via Wine or Proton with just a few clicks in the Epic Online Services Developer Portal.
This makes it more likely that games using Easy Anti-Cheat will be able to support WINE or Proton, assuming business interests about support costs and other middleware doesn’t get in the way, but when those games get that support the compatibility is a coincidence that can disappear with any future updates.
Valve is still the wrong company to be making hardware and software decisions that affect the rest of the game industry. Valve are presumably, by majority of their income, a store for third parties. The people running stores have different motivations from places that exclusively make and sell hardware products and what software decisions are best for developers. Although I think the people who work at Valve clearly are trying to make the Steam Deck as open as possible and often do make the best decisions for developers and users, the motivations of people running a store are to sell things, maximize their own profit, and not to make good products for the overall health of an industry of developers who are still overworked, abused, not organized, and ruined by the success of the wealthy who are making decisions for the rest.
There is nothing the workers at Valve can do to change that unless they are organized to reject the false non-hierarchical model of Valve’s workplace, gain equal decision making abilities, and their independence from the store business.
The first Steam Decks are still supposedly shipping before the end of the year. Valve has never responded to any of my requests for comment. If you’re a game developer who is interested in commenting on this story please feel free to comment below or get in touch over E-Mail. My address is firstname.lastname@example.org.