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OLED Switch vs Steam Deck: The (Not) Battle of New Handhelds

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Hardware announcements are few and far between, yet we’ve seen two major stories emerge in the span of less than two weeks.

First, Nintendo dispelled the Switch Pro myth by introducing the Switch OLED model; almost the same as the standard version, but with a larger and higher quality screen mainly for those who play in portable mode.

Then the day pre-orders for the OLED model went live, Valve dropped the bombshell that the rumored Switch-type gaming laptop did indeed exist. The firm announced three versions of the Steam Deck, which will begin shipping in December, though you may have a long wait if you’re just registering your pre-order today.

Having already shared our own thoughts, we reached out to several analysts to find out their thoughts on each new machine and the strategies behind them, and those who were able to comment agreed on one thing: Despite the similar form factor, the two devices They are not compatible. in direct competition.

“[Steam Deck appeals to] a considerable audience when including Steam users who have gone down and who could be revitalized with this new product ”

Piers Harding-Rolls, Amp Analysis

“Steam Deck is for hardcore Steam users who want to access their library on the go, and possibly PC gaming beginners who want to be on Steam but with the convenience that only consoles provide,” said the CEO and founder of Kantan Games, Dr. Serkan Toto explains.

“The OLED model is for Switch users who have mainly been using the standard model in portable mode and now want to upgrade or new buyers who opt for the high-end model from the start.”

In terms of its business prospects, Toto believes that “there can be no doubt” that the OLED Switch will switch more units, given that it is the more conventional of the two products. But he adds: “This is not to say that Steam Deck will fail, it won’t, but the audience sizes the two companies look at are very different.”

Ampere Analysis head of game research, Piers Harding-Rolls, agrees, adding that he doesn’t even expect the Steam Deck to attract a lot of non-Steam games.

“I see this less as a device to reach entirely new audiences and more as a device that enables a new way to play for existing or expired Steam players. Judging by the leaked pre-order numbers, stock availability is this year will be small: – much smaller than Switch OLED, for example – and I think that can be partially explained by the general supply chain problems that are happening in the technology markets. In that context, the preorder process that Valve has implemented to try and stop resellers buying devices and reselling them is great for consumers. ”

Let’s move on to the Switch OLED model first. While it’s not the 4K-enhanced version many expected, it’s a potential boost for the Switch in this year’s all-important holiday season, especially at a time when both Xbox and PlayStation still suffer from global component shortages when launching their new consoles. (just like Nintendo, up to a point).

“The Switch OLED model makes sense for Nintendo, and my interpretation is that it is one of several different iterations that we will see during the life cycle of the device,” says Toto. “I am aware that now I sound like a broken record, but I think Nintendo will still release a truly beefed-up Switch, ahead of a completely next-gen device.”

“The Steam Deck’s biggest selling point is clearly the price, and that’s always extremely important in our industry.”

Serkan Toto, Kantan Games

Since speaking with Toto, Nintendo, in an extremely rare turn of events, has commented on unverified reports on the cost of making the new device, adding that it “has no plans to release any other models at this time.”

Harding-Rolls considers the OLED model to be Nintendo’s “sound move” and in line with their previous product strategies.

“Upgrading the flagship version of the Switch will add more momentum to the platform and refresh it for the next few years of the cycle,” he says. “The small price difference compared to the current flagship means that many of the subsequent users who were considering the Switch will now go for the OLED version.

“I think the larger screen, its improved readability, and better audio in the context of in-person social gaming will propel these mainstream adopters into action. It will also prompt some existing Switch users to upgrade, particularly those who use the Change a lot. in portable mode and that’s what the original Switch has before battery improvements. ”

He predicts that the OLED model will sell around five million units by the end of 2021, after which it will “slowly replace the current flagship.” [model]”over the course of 2022. Ampere Analysis expects this to contribute to an increase in sales of the Switch family of devices, which it expects to sell over 155 million units by the end of 2025. If Nintendo achieves this, it would make Switch the console. best-selling of all time, just ahead of the lifetime sales of the PS2 and a million ahead of the DS family, the current record holder for Nintendo.

Harding-Rolls also thinks another Switch is still in the works, but he doesn’t expect to see it anytime soon: “I don’t see the OLED Switch as an interim release before a more powerful version of the Switch hits the market. – I don’t expect a ‘Pro’ Switch in 2022 and I think it’s probably too late in the cycle to introduce that kind of device. I think Nintendo will wait to introduce more power to its next-gen console, which I currently expect to launch in late 2024. “

Meanwhile, Steam Deck is perhaps the most interesting proposition. Even if limited to just the Steam market, it would offer a library of titles unmatched by any console, but the ability to access other stores and streaming services makes it one of the most open gaming devices to date.

But, Harding-Rolls reminds us, it is not the first gaming notebook PC to be released, but probably the one with the best chance of commercial success.

“Valve has succeeded in delivering a product at an attractive price for the specs and is sacrificing hardware profitability to launch what it hopes is a new category of PC gaming devices,” he explains. “I hope this appeals to the majority of Steam users who are interested in having a companion device to play games in different use cases outside of their main gaming PC.

“However, this represents a considerable audience when you include Steam users who are no longer there and who could be revitalized with this new product. While only a subset of Steam games will be available on the Steam Deck, those that are compatible with Proton, which acts as a compatibility layer between SteamOS and Windows games – potential buyers will be happy to see that it acts like a normal PC and how open the platform is. ”

“I don’t see the OLED Switch as an interim release before a more powerful version of the Switch is released.”

Piers Harding-Rolls, Amp Analysis

No doubt Valve will hope that enabling portability will lead people to spend more time, and therefore money, on Steam, helping to offset the company’s hardware costs. But Harding-Rolls emphasizes that the Steam Deck is an experiment, making it difficult to predict long-term demand and therefore “commercially quite risky.”

“The previous gaming hardware that Valve has developed has been unpredictable, but the company is very profitable because of its showcase, which gives it the ability to place these commercial bets with higher risk,” he says.

“While Valve aims to establish a more widespread appreciation for handheld PCs, it will be difficult for PC OEMs to enter this market and compete with Valve on price, especially as these companies will not have access to content revenue to compensate. hardware material costs … I think that could hamper the emergence of this new third-party form factor. ”

Toto is particularly excited about the Steam Deck – “[it] it looks amazing, “he tells us, although he adds that the design of the buttons and levers” looks a bit busy and out of place to look at. ”

“Their biggest selling point is clearly price, and nailing that is always extremely important in our industry,” he says. “Sure, the idea is for users to stay on Steam longer and buy even more games, but such a low price can only be achieved by a company as scaled as Valve.”

The ghost of Steam Machines has emerged since Deck’s unveiling, and commentators are already arguing whether Valve can avoid the mistakes it made earlier by bringing PC games to more accessible devices. But Toto is more optimistic about the possibilities of the new handheld.

“It’s true that Valve has been struggling to build a hardware business, but it makes sense that they would use their tons of cash to find ways to expand the reach of the company and try to keep users in their ecosystem with their own devices. ” he says.

“Steam Deck is different from other Steam hardware in that there aren’t many portable PC gaming machines on the market right now. Valve seems to have identified a niche among its user base that is large enough to put resources to develop Steam Deck.

“Compared to Valve’s great VR system, it doesn’t take much imagination to predict that the Steam Deck will be more successful due to extremely aggressive pricing, a wider audience, and fewer competitors to contend with.”

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