Don't get too excited about Steam Deck playing every game, at least not yet
Valve saying the Steam Deck can handle "the entire Steam library" doesn't mean it actually can.
The Steam Deck continues to cause excitement, and that's unlikely to slow down. There's plenty of official information out there now, though much is by way of interviews with a single media outlet. Skeptics might say Valve is keeping a tight lock on the narrative around the Steam Deck, and they may have a point, but the company has at least been pretty vocal about its forthcoming handheld.
One of the latest stories doing the rounds is about how Valve hasn't found a game yet that the Steam Deck can't handle. Which might well be true. But with the current state of Proton, Valve is getting a little ahead of themselves, or simply hasn't revealed how far Proton development has come.
I've got a Linux gaming PC and I can tell you with absolute certainty I cannot use it right now to play every game in my Steam library. So there's still work to be done.
Why Steam Deck probably can't play every game on Steam...yet
Two words: Anti-cheat. Proton currently cannot handle the most-used anti-cheat software baked into Windows games. It's not a secret, it's one of the biggest frustrations Linux gamers have. Proton is really good at what it does, but the anti-cheat software is junk when it comes to compatibility.
This hit me when I saw an Apex Legends fansite tweet about playing Apex Legends on the Steam Deck based on what Valve has said. Here's the key part that's getting people excited (kindly transcribed by the fine folks at PC Gamer):
It doesn't take long to pick holes in this. Go to ProtonDB and look at Apex Legends. Then go look at Destiny 2. And PUBG. All broken, and all because of anti-cheat incompatibility. In the case of Apex Legends, there are even reports some players have been banned after the game freaked out when it couldn't launch the anti-cheat.
Halo MCC is a good example, also. The single-player campaigns actually load up and play pretty well on Proton, getting a gold award on ProtonDB. But the multiplayer doesn't work at all because it uses anti-cheat software. Popular multiplayer games with this software built in just won't work on Steam Deck. Not without Proton-compatibility being developed.
So is Valve lying about how many games Steam Deck can play?
While Valve has been forthcoming with information about Steam Deck, make no mistake, it's in full marketing mode. It wants to sell a ton of these (and by all accounts, it has so far), so the spin is going to be as positive as possible.
As a piece of hardware, the Steam Deck probably can handle every game they've thrown at it. Sure the GPU isn't exactly a monster, but it's limited to 800p in handheld mode and as they're shooting for 30 FPS, it's probably not far from the truth. Maybe don't go expecting a good time in Cyberpunk 2077, though.
Games like Apex Legends will absolutely be able to play on the Steam Deck hardware. It plays really well on lower-end hardware, as evidenced by a 60 FPS experience on the GPD Win 3. But the GPD handheld runs Windows 10, so the anti-cheat works. Conceivably, you could remove Steam OS and put Windows on the Steam Deck and get around this issue, but that's hardly a solution.
What needs to happen before the launch
For these Valve statements to hold water, one thing needs to happen before the Steam Deck launch. This is where the latter of my initial statements would come in, that Valve is further along with Proton than they care to tell us. For anyone hoping to play games like Apex Legends, PUBG, and Destiny 2 on the Steam Deck, it has to be true.
Anti-cheat support needs to be available through Proton. That's it.
The good news is that Valve has already outlined that they're working with the main offenders, BattlEye and EAC, to get their respective anti-cheat working in Proton "ahead of launch". But that's about it. There's no commitment and there's yet to be any sign of it working.
If anything is going to finally bridge the gap, the Steam Deck is probably it. Valve has completely sold out of its initial reservations of the handheld PC and let's face it if any platform will make this a reality it's Steam. The benefits extend beyond the Steam Deck if they can pull it off, too.
But don't get too excited. Not yet. Until we see it working, no, you can't play every Steam game on the Steam Deck. But we're five months out from the first hardware shipping, so there's still every hope it'll happen. And remember, as good as Proton is, it's not perfect. My advice is to do your own research and avoid some of the potentially misguided hype.
An ultimate PC handheld
Play your Steam library anywhere
Wanted more places to play your Steam library? Now you'll be able to with the Steam Deck. This machine comes in three iterations, each allowing you to play your games locally and portably.
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Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine