James Ramey and His Thoughts on the Steam Deck


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Eki From Boiling Steam: James, it’s again a pleasure to talk to you. I think we’ve been having conversations with you for several times now – maybe like five or six times I guess – and always great to know your perspective as a president of CodeWeavers and developers of Wine and all related projects, working closely with Valve on everything we experience with Proton and so on. So this time around it’s very clear that the big news over the past few weeks has been the Steam Deck which has been unveiled by Valve and just to get started… What was your impression of the Steam Deck and how much did you know about the initiative before everybody else?

James Ramey: Well, I don’t think we knew a lot about the specs of the device before anyone else did. Valve does a very good job of keeping their internal projects internal and classified information classified. We had access to the same leaks everybody else did that were out there on the Internet. [There was] a lot of speculation because we were compartmentalized in working on SteamOS and on Proton. We had a an understanding of what the device might spec out as, but we had nothing definitive. We did know that there was an announcement coming.

It came actually sooner than we thought it was going to. So we were a little surprised! We weren’t expecting something to be announced until mid-August. But when it came out we were very pleased with what we were seeing and hearing and the specs of the device are incredible! I mean, it’s flat-out a gaming computer in the palm of your hand and it’s so intriguing that myself and a number of employees actually went out and put in our purchase orders for them on our own. So I actually went and I put my credit card – my own, personal credit card – down on buying my own Steam Deck, and hopefully it arrives in December. I literally was on edge trying to get into the order process about an hour before it actually opened.

So we were all very excited – we’re all gamers too and we think this device is going to be…

Eki: A game changer!

James: Yeah, it is revolutionary!

I think it’s going to be a revolutionary device and it’s interesting to see how this is going to manifest and how it’s going to grow and the capabilities that it will provide. So we’re excited, we’re very excited, but we did not have a lot of advanced insight into the device prior to its announcement.

Proton - Did CodeWeavers Know Valve Would Ultimately Create the Steam Deck?

Eki: Maybe while you did not have a direct insight about the device specs and so on, one thing I was interested to ask you is in the beginning when you started to work with Valve on Proton, [did you think] that ultimately the goal of Proton was to deliver a hardware device that would be developed by Valve?

James: Yes and no. I think when we first started we thought the end game was going to be a device that was more going to be a set top device that you might have at your television set, so they might be building a box that you would plug into your television. I mean, Orange in France did something like that. [LMAO] A number of companies had built streaming boxes – they had the big picture project that was kind of still in the works when we first started this project. So it seemed like the natural progression is that Valve was going to build kind of like almost a console that you would connect to your television that was going to allow you to run AAA title Windows video games.

But we did not realize that the project was eventually going to scale more into the Steam Deck and that was something that we had kind of thought, “Well, that would make sense,” especially with the success of Nintendo and the Nintendo Switch. But we did not necessarily think that that is the direction that Valve was going. For the Steam Deck to be successful, it’s got to have the RAM, it’s got to have the hard drive space, it’s got to have a high-end video card, and when we first started the project, putting all of that into a device that could literally fit in your hand was optimistic at best.

And over time, as technology continued to improve and the gaming platform continued to improve, then it became more of a reality. But when we first started we thought it was going to be a console – we thought that they might do something more along those lines. And maybe someday they will. But we definitely like the way that the Steam Deck looks – we really think that might be the better platform, the better form factor for computer gaming going forward.

Valve as a Hardware Company - James’ Thoughts

Eki: A few years ago Valve had [its] first experiment with a console format using the Steam Machines initiative, and it did not go very well. Mostly because Valve was not directly involved. I mean, they launched the standard but they did not come up with their own machine. So this time around by what time did [you think] that Valve was actually going to be involved directly into the hardware versus just designing a system that anybody could use?

James: We’ve known probably for a while, maybe not directly, but indirectly had a strong suspicion that Valve was going to take a greater role in the production of the hardware, and I think exactly based on the experience with the Steam Machines and with making sure that they had a form factor that not only met their specs, but met the spirit of what they were trying to accomplish. That really involves you having a very strong hand.

Steve Jobs has taught everybody that if you want to build a device the way you envision that device, then you have to be the ones that are producing the hardware. Other people have kind of come to the conclusion that Steve was right – that if you want to build a beautiful device, if you want to build the perfect device, then you can’t just say, “These are the specs” and leave it for other people to come up with. You actually have to go out there and build that device, and that is what Valve did, is they’ve essentially said, “this is the platform we want to build on; these are the hardware specs,” and then went out and actually built what looks to be an incredibly beautiful device. I mean, it just looks like a great device. I haven’t had my hands on it so I can’t validate that, but I can tell you from everything I have seen and read it just looks like a great device.

Eki: Right, yeah, we’ve all been very impressed by it! It was not just the specs but the overall design; how well thought everything was for a first device from a company like Valve, which is more well known for its software development. It was really impressive to see [how] they could come up with a system that’s very advanced in terms of overall concept.

James: And into that point, I think the timing on Valve’s part was quite good because Nintendo had just made the announcement about the OLED Nintendo Switch, which in many ways was a disappointment for a lot of Nintendo Switch users. Now, I too own a Nintendo Switch; I have been very happy with my Nintendo Switch. But things like Bluetooth and things like higher resolution and things like the ability to more easily and readily play online and the ability to game with friends – those are aspects of the Switch that I would have hoped would have been improved with the new release [of the OLED] model and none of those really came to fruition.

So when Valve then announces the Steam Deck shortly after Nintendo announced the update to their Switch, everything a person was hoping for and wanting in that new Switch now is becoming available on the Steam Deck. You look at it and go, “wow, this is a device that has ample amounts of RAM, this is a device that has the ability to [use] Bluetooth connectivity, this is a device that has the ability to be more than just a great gaming platform. This could actually be a fairly decent Linux computer and that I could use [it] in a variety of different ways, and I am not bound or having constraints. Wow, this is incredible!” So I thought the timing of what Valve did was quite good. I really think [it] opened up a lot of people’s eyes as to what’s possible after Nintendo said, “this is what we’re willing to do.”

Eki: I have been also following the market of handheld gaming PCs, similar to the Steam Deck, but earlier versions of it, like the Aya Neo and… GPD has been well-known in making Intel-based hardware as well. Valve has definitely the upper hand in terms of overall design and concept with the integration between software and hardware, which the other companies don’t have. So there is definitely a plus for where they are headed, and as you mentioned the Switch, [it] was in a way demonstrating how large the market for this kind of device is, and what kind of potential you could have if you come with the right proposition on the market with a handheld PC gaming device.

James: Yeah, it is really interesting because I do consider the Switch to be in many ways kind of the trailblazer, the forefather to all these other handheld devices that are either on the market today or coming to the market including the Steam Deck. What the Switch has shown is that 80 million people around the world are willing to do handheld gaming. If you look at all the blogs and all the posts that are out there regarding how the Switch is being used, you see it used on television sets using the Switch dock, you see it being used in computers, you see it being used in cars, you see it being used in a variety of ways, which is not what Nintendo had intended, but people are taking that up.

Now I think you take something like the Steam Deck and now you have the second iteration, version two of a handheld device that can provide that same functionality, but then provide additional features and additional games and additional connectivity, and now you’re starting to see that grow. So it’s important to note that Nintendo proved that the market is there and now it’s really going out there and building devices that span that market, but then also kind of grow the idea of what handheld gaming is like. The thing I find most appealing about the Steam Deck is that [it’s] a full-featured Linux computer – I can literally take that with me when I am on the road traveling for work, use it for gaming, but I can also use it as my Linux computer. I can plug it into my hotel television set, I can get a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and I can use that for email, and other things. So there’s more possibilities, and as people continue to get these in their hands and they see what the potential is for these types of devices, that excitement is just going to grow.

There is going to be people that are going to find new and exciting ways to use these devices that span probably even what Valve is thinking is possible, so that is the real excitement about this, is that it’s not just Steam Deck but it’s these steps into making Linux better, making Linux more game-friendly [and] building devices that are specific for Linux. Building devices that are great for gaming and you keep growing and building on that – it’s exciting to see where we might be five years or ten years from now.

Eki: Oh yeah, it’s probably going to change forever the market of handheld devices, I would say.

James: I would agree – this is the very start of what should be a very kind of golden age for Linux and Linux gaming, is that people are actually going to see the power and the performance and to some ways the elegance of the Linux platform and do that in ways that people would never have thought of 10 or 15 years ago. From a command line and trying to use Linux to do very simple things to where we are today, and I am excited to see where it goes from here.

Has The Steam Deck Changed CodeWeavers’ Goals?

Eki: Coming back on the mission of CodeWeavers, you’re all working on Proton for a long time now. How does the Steam Deck alter or change your short term or midterm goals versus what you had expected in the first place?

James: Well, I don’t know if it necessarily changes our goals. Our goal is to make Proton as robust as possible to support as many Windows games as possible. So that goal in that mission remains unchanged. What I think it does largely for the gaming community in general is it provides a targeted platform now for a variety of game developers to build towards – that the biggest issue and maybe the biggest complaint people have regarding Linux is twofold:

One, there is no native games – there is just very few native games out there. No one’s building native games. People are ignoring the Linux community, and in the Linux community – the small, vocal Linux community – is very adamant that they are being ignored. That is one aspect.

The other aspect is if you’re a game developer, you have no platform to build for. There is no dominant Linux distro that you would say, “oh, if I built for Ubuntu 20.04, or if I built for Arch Linux, or if I built for Fedora, I can capture X percentage of the Linux gaming market.” It’s too fragmented. Well, the Steam Deck comes out and says, “Okay, this is a platform, this is a build point that you can actually build towards, this is going to have X amount of devices out in the marketplace” and whether that moves the needle for [the] total number of Linux gamers or not, we’ll see how that progresses. But it gives people the opportunity to say if you’re [working for] Bethesda you can say, “I can build a native Linux game to these specs, and I can get it to this user base and I can get my product to market, and build a native game now versus having to port things.”

So there is a lot of power in this for a lot of other game developers that have been sitting on the sidelines saying, “well, it’d be interesting to have a Linux game or a Linux version of our game, but it’s just not practical to do that, it’s not cost advantage to do that.” It’s something that they would want to then just wait and see. Now they have the Steam Deck, now they have specs, now they have a hardware device that they can build towards. I think you are going to see more gamers take advantage of that and start putting games out there specific for this device. So this changes the game for a lot of other people; it doesn’t necessarily change the game for us [though], we are still going to make Proton as good as we can make it. We are going to make it as robust as we can make it. We are going to allow it to support as many games as it’s possible to support. We are going to put all of our effort and energy into that.

But I think a lot more people are going to start coming beside us now and building towards these specs, building towards this platform, building towards Linux gamers, and giving them what they have essentially craved from day one is kind of the same respect on par with Windows gamers, and Mac gamers by getting their own native games.

Will Every Game on the Steam Catalogue Be Playable on the Steam Deck?

Eki: One thing we’ve seen during the announcement of the Steam Deck by Valve was that they announced that the whole Steam library would be playable on this device from day one. I don’t know if it’s day one, but it wasn’t clear whether you could play right at the time of the launch all the games that you want from this device. One of the big question mark for everybody in the Linux community is: we know Proton is not there yet. There is no way we can play 100% of all games right now with Proton, or even with native solutions, but Valve seems to hint at a development version of Proton that is aiming at doing that. But they are not very specific in what they announced or declared. So is there anything you can tell us about this?

James: Well, I think there are two messages that have been kind of mashed together when people focus and talk on this. The first message is when Pierre-Loup (Griffais) made his announcement and stated that the Steam Deck can support any and all games. I think what he was referencing is – and this is my opinion; this is my perception, this is not something I have talked to him about – but I think he was trying to state that the device itself, the hardware specs on this device, can support any game. I don’t necessarily think he was referencing supporting that game in Proton – I think he was referencing that the device has the horsepower, the video graphics, the RAM, the hard drive space to support any game out there.

People have kind of taken that and they have said, “well, that means it can support the entire Steam library.” Well, I don’t necessarily think that is true because not every game runs in Proton as of today. Now I do think that because Proton is a living, breathing project, it’s not something that is static in any way, shape, or form; that there is a lot of effort being poured into Proton to support a broader range of games even that is available then currently today. So you’re going to see that when the Steam Deck is released and Proton is put on the Steam Deck that there is going to be a greater number of titles that are supported.

Now, I don’t have anything specific where it says that. I just know that there is a lot of different groups right now that are working on improving the many aspects that [make up] Proton and packaging that for the Steam Deck. Our job, our mission, is still making this as robust as possible. I think other people are tweaking it and doing things to further enhance the platform, but it’s a combination of a lot of different people that are involved, and it’s all spearheaded by Valve. So I would expect that when the Steam Deck is released and made available in December it is likely more robust than people are anticipating or expecting as of today.

Eki: So assuming that not 100% of games would work on day one, do you think Valve has a plan to indicate the compatibility of the game with Proton on the device or it is going to be “try it out and [see] whether it works or not, we don’t know”?

James: No, I think because Valve is as customer-centric as they are and their focus are on the customers and the experience that there’ll be a curated list of games that people will know they can run on the Steam Deck. I wouldn’t expect Valve to be putting people out there where there is a lot of trial and error – that just has never been their style. They’ve been putting fairly customer-focused, customer-friendly solutions to the market, so I would expect that to continue. I don’t expect them to change that.

Now they may have, as you mentioned earlier, a developer version where you can try things that aren’t necessarily [on] the curated list and see how well they work, but I think they are going to be very practical about that so that people understand these are the things they are going to work great right out of the box. And these are the things that will work in the future and these are the things you can try if you want to see where they are today.

Eki: Does that mean that they have now a robust, I would say, QA team working on this kind of thing, or is that is kind of a separate question?

James: No, they have always had robust QA on Proton and supporting games from day one. They’ve invested a lot of time, energy and resources into QA, and that is not just specific to CodeWeavers; they actually are working with QA companies out there to test games and to make things better. So I don’t expect that to change. I would expect, if anything, to increase their effort. But they’ve always invested a lot of resources into the testing aspects of gaming and that, to a large extent, is why Proton has evolved as quickly as it [has], and that is why games run as well as they run today. There is a lot of testing in the background that is taking place, bugs are being identified, issues are being identified, and those things are being squashed through various rounds of development. So there is a lot of work in the process, and that is really what’s different between, to a large extent, Proton and in a large extent even Crossover or Wine, is that we just can’t afford the resources to do all that testing that Valve is pouring into Proton today.

I mean, that is really one of the bigger differentiators between the Proton and Linux or Crossover Linux or Proton and some of the other projects that are out there.

Windows Gamers - What if they Cannot Play Some of their Games on SteamOS?

Eki: One of the biggest concerns that we have in the Linux community is this machine is going to ship with Linux by default, SteamOS 3.0, or whatever they want to call it, and it’s going to be a in a way the endorsement of Valve to what a Linux system, a Linux gaming system should look like. It should behave right and one of the potential concerns is what if maybe only 90% or 80% of games work and you have Windows gamers buying this device and realizing that, “okay, I am missing 10 games that I really like playing with and they don’t work on this device, so I am gonna erase SteamOS and go back to Windows.” Apparently it’s possible with the device because it’s completely open. Is there anything Valve can do about that or to mitigate this kind of behavior? Is there anything that SteamOS will do better than Windows in any case in terms of integration of, I would say, hardware support, those kind of things?

James: Well, the question really boils down to the differences between Windows and just Linux in general. So Linux is a more efficient operating system than Windows, so your performance on the Steam Deck running Linux is likely going to be superior than the same performance of running Windows on that Steam Deck, just because of the way that Linux allocates resources and utilizes RAM and the speed of the backbone on the bus. I think you’re looking at a better experience, so that’s one.

Two, I would expect that Valve is going to optimize SteamOS for the Steam Deck. So what that means is you’re going to get not only the best experience but the best resources utilization. So the graphics are going to be optimized, you are going to get games that side-by-side running Windows on Steam Deck versus Linux on a Steam Deck – if you run the same game I think you’re gonna see a better experience with the Linux game than you are on Windows. So I think there is just inherently going to be some of that. I also think that they’ll always be people that will take a device like that and I will say “break it” with air quotes but “break it” and install Windows on it just to show people that they can install Windows on it.

But the same thing was true with the Chromebook; you can take a Chromebook [and] essentially wipe it, you can try to install Windows on it. You can try to do some of these things and in the end there is nothing novel about that. I mean, there is nothing novel in doing that now. I do expect is there is going to be people out there that are going to put different [operating systems]; they are going to “break” their Steam Deck, put different versions of Linux on it, they are going to put different emulators on it, but that is part of what is exciting about this type of device, is that the capabilities are still unknown.

So you’re going to have people that are going to try a lot of different things and some of those things are going to be wildly successful. So some of those things are going to be like, you’re going to install a different version of Linux potentially on this and it’s going to run great, you’re going to be like, “oh my gosh, this is awesome! I am going to run an emulator on it,” and it’s “oh my gosh, I can play my entire Nintendo Switch library,” which, by the way, is with all the legalese that is out there right now regarding people and ROMs and stuff like that – I don’t know how wise that is, but you’re going to get people that are going to do a lot of things like that.

But the thing is that right now Valve’s goal is to get the Steam Deck in as many hands as possible. So building that excitement, even if it isn’t necessarily for SteamOS, is still exciting. I just think that by and large people are going to look at this device and say, “wow, the experience [as far as] the way it’s set up and configured out of the box is great, and I like it, and maybe I can’t play every game I want to play on day one, but it’s still a good enough device that I don’t want to mess with it and break it in a way that maybe lets me play more games, but not at the same fidelity as I have right here in my hand today.”

EAC - Where Is It Heading?

Eki: We’ve also heard about easy anti-cheat (EAC). So EAC support [is] being worked on by Valve and also other partners [and] developers were working with Valve on that. There was Gary Newman, who is developer of Rust, mentioning that he has EAC working on the Steam Deck – apparently he has an earlier version of the prototype. Is CodeWeavers working on EAC support, or is that a totally separate effort by Valve or other partners?

James: That’s primarily spearheaded by Valve, but I believe we’re building hooks to support that development, so that when it is available and ready, it will work in Proton. So there is a lot of effort around that. Obviously, that is a headache in regards to the experience, and there is a lot of people that want to make that better from day one, so that is something people are focused on. The message around that is no one wants to get around anti-cheat; that is not the experience that anyone wants to curtail. We want everybody to play by the rules; it’s making sure that when we implement anti-cheat that we are able to do so on the Linux platform in a way that still provides the benefit without the bugs and headache around it.

So a lot of anti-cheat is tied back in directly into Windows, so it’s trying to tie that into the Linux kernel versus Windows. There is work on that, but it’s never been work that anyone was really willing or interested to do, because there was no financial gain in doing that. [That] part of the equation has changed dramatically now that there is financial gain and okay, we’re opening up anti-cheat to all these Steam Decks. We need to do it in a way that makes sense that still prevents people from cheating so that the experience for all the users is great. But now there is an incentive to do that.

Now we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of devices, not just 30 devices spread out all over the world. I think by and large too that the gamers want that same experience they want to be able to play on a fair platform where no one is able to cheat. I mean, whether you’re playing Fortnite or whether you’re playing any of your favorite games, you want the experience to be good, and to be good it’s got to be fair. So there is a lot of incentive from people to work with the game developers as they curtail that experience so that they they are able to participate. I don’t think there is any friction on any side now to prevent this from working; it’s just getting the code to conform to the new environment.

Eki: I have two questions on EAC. First one is: do developers or Windows developers have to change anything to their EAC integration for it to work into the Steam Deck? The second one is: when you mention you want to still get the benefit of the anti-cheat technology, does that mean that Proton builds will have to be signed and certified whenever you want to use them on the Steam Deck going forward to make sure that nobody is modifying anything within the Proton code?

James: The answer to both questions is: I believe so. I believe [in regards to] the latter question builds are going to have to be signed eventually. I believe that is part of what’s going to have to happen in terms of the security pieces. And I think on the initial aspect is that developers are going to have to potentially modify the code so it runs on the Steam Deck.

Now to both of those questions I will add the caveat that what Valve is trying to do is make this process as painless as possible. I believe they are trying to do all the heavy lifting so the Windows developers don’t have to do any lifting, so I think Valve is trying to make the anti-cheat work without developers having to change any code. I would firmly and truly believe that. So the goal is to take what everyone has and make it work, but in terms of trying to expedite this, there may have to be some tweaks and things in order to make that work. And honestly, for the game developer, there is some incentive now [that] you have a hundred-thousand or two-hundred-thousand or five-hundred-thousand devices to build for that. [It’s] potentially a significant amount of revenue right in a place where you’re not getting revenue. It makes sense to maybe make those steps in to spend some resources accordingly.

To the latter point, I would suspect that in order to maintain support for EAC, you’re gonna have to have signed builds. Now it’s likely something that Valve has already put a lot of mind, effort, energy, and resources into thinking through how to make that as painless for the consumer as possible. So you have the developers on one side trying to make it painless for them and the consumers on the other side trying to make it painless for them, and you have Valve in the middle absorbing all that pain trying to make this work!

So there is likely going to be some compromises in order to kind of meet expectations, but Valve historically has made those compromises, those differences as small as possible so that everyone’s able to participate. And up until now, granted we’re not doing a lot of the anti-cheat [work], but up until now the experience has been quite good. I mean, they’ve made this relatively painless for both developers to be on the platform and for consumers to use the platform on their Linux boxes at home. So they’ve kind of they’ve already shown in good faith that are they are willing to do that, and I would expect that to continue.

Valve - Their Decision to base SteamOS on Arch with KDE

Eki: There were several things we also learned about the Steam Deck – first, that it was going to be based on Arch Linux as a base system and using KDE as a [desktop] environment, and second, apparently it will use Wayland for the gaming session itself. Are you aware of why those decisions were made or can you provide some background?

James: I think it turned out to be kind of the best targeted platform for the best experience, and I believe Valve has looked at a lot of different backbones for their platform and found that this was kind of the best setup and configuration. So by that I mean it allows the most games to play and play well; it fits the device quite well. Arch Linux – it’s one of those bleeding-edge Linux distros that is always kind of pushing the boundaries, but it oftentimes has the best support for graphics drivers. So it kind of in a lot of ways makes sense that you look at that and go, “well now you’ve got the Linux distro that essentially has made it’s reputation on being the most graphics driver compatible” and now you’re utilizing that for a gaming platform.

That makes a lot of sense, and Wayland and KDE – those make a lot of sense too. So I think as they went through the process and they were narrowing things down that the obvious choices became obvious, like that this is the right platform, this is the right backbone, this is the right integration, these are the right components. So I don’t think that if you looked at those choices and you built a Linux box at home and you put those on your box that you would think that those are the wrong choices. I mean, there is nothing obviously wrong about where they ended up and where they are moving forward from and you just kind of look at it and say, “yeah that does make a lot of sense.”

Eki: I also think especially for AMD hardware going for a rolling-release distro is very important to ensure you have the latest Mesa versions, for example. That would probably ensure you have you are fixing the bugs as you go as much as possible, but at the same time would expect on a fixed hardware on the day of the release, that the drivers’ situation will probably be more or less stable by then. So yeah, I am kind of wondering ultimately what was the benefit of going for Arch on a configuration that is more or less stable for the next couple of years at least? But we’ll see what Arch brings there.

James: And the other thing too, is if the rumors about the device are true and the device is a little more modular, meaning that you can upgrade different components and pieces having the choices that they made on the software side, makes sense too. So, I mean if you’re going to upgrade your graphics card sometime in the future years down the road then you’re going to want kind of a Linux distro that is likely going to best support that. So again I don’t think they were just thinking as a release date 2021 but I think they are also very future looking in terms of what is going to be best for the customer one year from now, three years from now, five years from now. And how do we incorporate that into day one, so I think you’ve also picked open-source projects and distros that makes sense in that regard too. So I think there was a lot more thought behind that than maybe people even give Valve [credit] for.

How Well Will the Steam Deck Sell?

Eki: Throughout the conversation you’d be mentioning some kind of sales numbers that you expect from the Steam Deck. Like a hundred-thousand, two-hundred-thousand, five-hundred-thousand… ultimately let’s say within [the] next two years, what’s your kind of bracket expectation as to how many of these devices would be sold to the market?

James: You’re probably going to see an adaptation that is maybe in parallel to the Linux Switch. So you’re gonna see a very strong adaptation [from] day one. So, for example, to base that conclusion, you look at the fact that Valve had the pre-sale and the pre-sale sold out and now you’re looking at people that are buying the devices or putting their orders in for a device; they are being told that your lead time is the end of 2022. So I think whatever initial runs of these devices they’ve had they are already on their second or third run; you figure a run is at least maybe 500,000 devices total.

Well maybe they’ve already gotten 1, 1.5, 2 million devices sold that are sold up front in anticipation of the release. I think once the product releases, it’s going to be the must-have device people are going to be clamoring for. You’re going to see a lot of second-hand sales where people are selling and marking these things up and trying to make bank. I anticipate that type of demand for it and wherever you have that kind of demand then you’re really limited by your capability to produce as many devices as Valve can sell. Granted that number is constrained by COVID, by whatever factories they are utilizing to build the devices, it’s probably constrained by the screens and by the hard drives. There is a lot of things that are probably going to dampen that number, artificially push that down.

But you’re going to see that based on the price point, based on the capabilities, based on the specs, literally we are talking a full-fledged Linux gaming machine for the price that is less than a Switch. A lot of people would say just the components inside the device alone are worth more than the device itself. The graphics card, the hard drives that they are using, the RAM… you look at the screen, you say to yourself, “wow, that is just a great computer, not even a gaming device, just a great computer!” There is going to be a demand for that because it’s already at a price point that is pretty sweet.

Now you kind of look at that the next level and say “okay wait a minute, now I am getting all the gaming and I am getting something that is optimized for this” so I expect that the demand is going to be very strong initially in the first two years. And then at that point in time just like any other device there is that moment where it’s really a game changer like in the case of the Switch. It turned out to be a game changer and went from selling 10 million devices to 80 million devices. That moment will happen too for the Steam Deck where people are going “okay, am I really utilizing this? Is it really cool? Does it play the games I want to play? Has it moved from a novelty now to something that really is part of my gaming experience going forward?”

And if the answer to that turns out to be yes, if Valve checks all those boxes, then I think you can definitely see the potential for this being on par with maybe not at the same level as this the Switch, but definitely being at a level where you can make that comparison.

Will the Steam Deck Attract Console Gamers?

Eki: Right. Do you think at some point this will also attract console gamers? I mean, I would say not necessarily because by default you need to be aware of Steam, you need to be using Steam so that you can actually access all of your games without having to purchase them again, for example. But do you think at some point people will realize, “well, for this kind of value that I get from this device actually I am better off purchasing this Steam Deck and buying my games on them from the get-go instead of buying a console,” or do you think it’s going to remain more of a PC gamer device?

James: That is is a very interesting question, and you can probably answer that in two ways. One, I think at the price point that the Steam Deck is at and the ability to [use] with the dock, which has been discussed but has never been elaborated on or released or priced – if at that price point you’re essentially a little less expensive than an Xbox or a PlayStation. So you may get the console player that is looking at it going, “well, for a little less money I get something I can actually put in my back pocket, carrying with me wherever I go, it’s a little easier to transport than my Xbox,” for example.

So you may get those end users. I don’t think this is the type of device that a hardcore console gamer is gonna look at and go, “yeah, I am gonna give up my entire library of Xbox or PlayStation games to have a a Steam Deck,” but it’s interesting. So I don’t think you’re going to ever change that core group; just like if you had a Nintendo Switch, doesn’t change the hardcore PC gamer. They may find it interesting and they may purchase one to kind of play things on the side – the portability – but yeah, at the same point in time I still play it I would say 80% [to] 90% of my gaming experience is PC. That is just kind of where I have lived so that is what I enjoy.

So I don’t think you’re going to change those hardcore users. But I think the people in the middle are going to kind of take a look at it and say “yeah, this is interesting” and they may actually start making changes and people that haven’t invested in Xbox or PlayStation, they are going to look at this and go “this is interesting, this is something I would like.” And if the dock for the Steam Deck becomes a must-have device, then you have essentially got something that people can at least compare to a console. So if you are in the ballpark and you are less expensive, you are going to get some of the market. You’re not going to get the lion’s share but you’re going to get some of the market.

Microsoft and Sony - Opinions

Eki: What do you think of Microsoft and Sony? The Switch has been around for a relatively long time now, Sony used to be a big player in the portable console market with the PSP a long time ago, and Microsoft has all the PC knowledge in the world to actually make this kind of device as well. Why do you think neither Sony nor Microsoft jumped in this kind of market following the success of the Switch?

James: Well, I don’t know if their experience necessarily lends itself very well to that type. I mean, people are used to sitting on their couch and having their gaming controller in their hands and playing on a big screen TV set. I don’t necessarily know if their market has shifted to the point where playing on a seven-inch screen is appealing. So I think they are probably reading the market correctly.

I think where a lot of of these technology companies are missing out is that there is a whole generation of gamers now that are used to playing on their phones and are used to playing on tablets. And those gamers are looking at a Switch saying “well this makes sense because it’s what I am used to playing, but now I have also got a controller built into it, this is perfect!” And I think those types of people are going to also look at the Steam Deck and say “oh this is perfect, this is a perfect device for what I am used to!”

I turn 50 next week; people like me that are kind of set in our ways. I am always going to go to a keyboard and a mouse and play on my PC. That is always going to be my first go-to. But now when I am traveling, I will have a Steam Deck with me and I will be using that when I want to play some casual games. I will probably turn on my Nintendo Switch and play that [too]. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time for gaming as I would like, so I don’t have an endless supply of [time], but I will find use cases for all three. Going forward I think if you’re talking to gamers that are between the ages of 8 and 14, the Steam Deck makes just a lot of sense to them. I don’t necessarily know that is where Xbox and PlayStation’s market is. I think Xbox and PlayStation markets even older [gamers, and] PC gamers are even older than that. So they probably read their market correctly; that it’s just not a good fit for them.

Now, I will say this, because there is always that me-too kind of enthusiasm about the market. If Valve knocks it out of the park with the Steam Deck, I would fully expect Microsoft’s next Xbox to have a handheld component to it. I would say the same thing for the PlayStation and to some extent you can say the PlayStation tried. Sony tried the handheld device with the PSP and the Vita and because of how closed off they are and how difficult they make it for customers, I am not surprised that they have failed.

I do own a PSP. I have a PSP that was my original handheld gaming platform way back when, and I burned through two of them. But when you try to put something on a new device and nothing’s compatible from generation to generation… again, you got to make things easy for the customer, and thatss just where Valve and to some extent Nintendo have just hit it out of the park. They just make it easy. That is not necessarily how Microsoft does things, [and] definitely not how Sony does things. So that would definitely be a change in their culture to build a device that provided the flexibility and usability that someone like Valve can. But my guess is that they they’ve considered this but they’ve read their market and said, “it’s just not the right fit for them.”

Eki: Right, yeah, but I would expect as you mentioned if Valve makes it big with the Steam Deck that they would definitely look at it again probably.

James: Yeah, a lot of people think that what Nintendo did was a fluke, like they thought that was kind of very flukish, like it’s a lot of casual gamers, and I gotta be honest, for some of the games it’s not a great fit, it’s not a great experience to play Fortnite on a Switch. But for a lot of other games they’ve done a very good job of optimizing the games for their hardware platform. So a lot of the Switch-specific games are quite good, and that is really what people wanted, was a good experience.

Now whether you can say that the funky colors and the screen size and the fact that it doesn’t have all the features and functionality, aside, that they built a great experience. I think if Valve goes out and tries to build the same type of experience, they are going to show that it’s not a fLuke; this isn’t a one-off, this is something that really is part of where we are as a culture, as a people in the gaming community today. And again, we’re having a whole generation of gamers that are playing on their phones and are playing on tablets and playing on other small handheld devices that haven’t had necessarily great controllers and haven’t had a great library of games – I think you give this device to them and they knock it out of the park! They not only find ways to play games the way they want to play and have a great experience, but they are also looking for new [ways of] pushing the envelope and doing new and unique things with these devices. You’re gonna see that growth, you’re gonna see that this isn’t a one-off, that this is really kind of a good fit for not only gaming today but gaming five years, ten years down the road.

Steam Deck as a New Platform With Upcoming Competition

Eki: That’s a great transition, because my next question was that Valve is envisioning the Deck, not as a single device, that they are the only one developing or releasing, but as a platform. So in a way it’s kind of a rebirth of the Steam Machines idea where actually any manufacturer can go out there, make their own Steam Deck-like device, and they could re-use SteamOS, they could re-use whatever Valve has built around it to make it work as well on their device. It would be kind of a Android-like model where the OS and the hardware as long as compatible is ready for you to use, and it’s up to you to build the greatest platform for it for everyone. So what do you think [of] that?

James: I think that is largely correct. I think they are making this foray into hardware to prove that it can be done and be successful much the way that Google introduced very high-end Chromebooks to show people that yeah, there is a market for this. You build a device that [has] a dedicated graphics card, people are gonna buy it. Don’t be afraid of the $1,200 price point when Chromebooks are selling for $200, because there is a market for it and what you’ve seen now in the years since is that there are more and more high-end Chromebooks that are coming to the market. And the generation now will have dedicated graphics cards, kind of what Google’s always envisioned; bigger hard drives, something that they’ve never yet perceived as being necessary five years ago but now are becoming part of the experience; more dedicated RAM – again they are building better devices.

I think in a large way what Valve is trying to do is much the same in that we’re going to show you that if you build a really good hardware device, a good device specific for SteamOS, that it’s going to do really well, that it’s going to launch well, that is going to sell well, that people are going to enjoy the experience. I think what it also does is it sets a bar that if anyone else wants to come into this market, you’re going to have to be at least as good as the Steam Deck, if not better. You’re going to have to if you’re going to reinvent the platform, then you’re going to have to grow that by putting out a device that ups the ante a bit that isn’t just status quo, that is better than if you want to gain market share. And at the end of the day, if Valve sells games on Steam Deck or Valve sells games on a competitor’s Steam Deck, they are still selling games.

They are not losing in that process. It’s still a very profitable process for them, but I think what they are gonna do is they are gonna set the bar, and they are gonna show people how it needs to be done. Then you’ll see competitors that are going to want to get in there and there will be a number of them. But they are going to have to have great integrated controllers, they are going to have to have great RAM, they are going to have to have great video cards, they are going to have to have great battery life. They are going to have to have some of those specific features and functionality that people crave, as opposed to putting out something that is the lowest cost denominator that barely checks these boxes or checks half the boxes.

People aren’t going to tolerate that, and I think that is the best part about the Steam Deck; it’s gonna create an entirely new device market that will be much the same way that 15 years ago gaming laptops became a thing. I think by setting the tone and setting the bar, what they are doing is they are getting people excited and they are showing people how it needs to be done.

Is CodeWeavers Helping Bringing Steam to Chromebooks?

Eki: All right, one last question, because I think we are running out of time. You were talking briefly about ChromeOS earlier and we’ve been following that situation very closely in the past few months, and it looks like more and more that Google is preparing for an official Steam integration into ChromeOS in the very near future. Is that something that CodeWeavers is helping with or that is something completely outside with your scope?

James: That is completely outside of our scope. We again are focused on the Proton pieces and making Proton as robust as possible. The interesting thing is – and a credit to Mr. Andrew Eikum, who has been spearheading the efforts on our end – it’s robust enough that it is device-agnostic. You can put Proton on just about any device, and you can get results. So putting Steam on a Google Chromebook is not outside the realm of possibility. It’s something we did kind of day one on the Linux partition; we were able to do that, now it’s become better and better. I imagine and envision that it’s going to continue to improve, because Google is now working towards – again you have a platform and a target can you can build towards it. You can make the experience as rich as you want to make it right, and that is kind of what Google has been planning.

But it all comes from the fact that Proton is not limited or constrained in any way that makes that change difficult. So the fact that Valve wants to put Proton on Chromebooks is great. I own a Chromebook that would gladly accept a handful of my of my Steam games on that. I can play when I go and get great battery life, and have a great experience. So I am looking forward to that personally. But it’s a testament to how good Proton is, that it’s portable in a way that allows a lot of devices to participate and play.

If you think about the limited specs of a Chromebook – the fact that people are even considering this just tells you how good that platform is getting and how good Proton is to be able to run on that. Once you see it run, you will be like, “oh yeah, I get it! This is good, this is better than I expected! Maybe not perfect and maybe not brilliant, but it’s very functional.” For people that have been running Chromebooks for years and years they’ll tell you flat-out that there is not a lot of functional gaming on Chromebooks. So they’ll be very welcome to the opportunity to have an actual gaming library that is much better than average, especially in the wake of how Stadia underperformed. This is probably a very welcome announcement from Google.

CodeWeavers Is Hiring

Eki: Alright, thank you very much James again for your availability! One more question regarding CodeWeavers. I have just seen yesterday on Twitter that you guys are apparently recruiting new people. Do you want to say something about that quickly?

James: I would love to say something about that, and thank you for that opportunity. We are looking for developers if you have good C developer skills and you’re looking for a home, we would love to talk to you! We have a lot of different projects out there right now. If you’re familiar at all with Wine and WineHQ, if you’re familiar with Proton and you’ve always said to yourself, “I would love to develop on that platform. I would love to work with a lot of really great developers that are rock stars in their own right!” and have that opportunity, we would love to talk to you.

No matter where you’re located in the world, whether it’s in the United States, Japan, throughout Asia, Europe, South America, Australia… we have developers on six continents right now and we’re able to incorporate their skills and their contributions into Wine and into Proton. They are doing great and we would love to add more people. So if that is something you’ve always said to yourself, “I wonder if there is an opportunity out there for someone like me,” give us a call! We would love to talk to you.

You can go to codeweavers.com jobs and you’ll see our job posting. You’ll find us on Hacker News; we have a job posting out there as well, and you can read up more about our company.

Eki: Great! I hope you find some great candidates to help you with your projects.

James: Well, thank you very much for that opportunity. I was amiss to not bring it up and I am sure our marketing person is much happier now that I did. We’re in the process of making another major announcement to hire more developers. We’re looking to hire three or four developers here in the next couple months, so again if your listeners have C skills and feel like they’d be a good fit and enjoy that type of development work, are familiar with Wine, familiar with Proton, please reach out to us. We’d love to talk.

Eki: We’ll pass the message, and hopefully this will be spread on different channels as well, so somebody will be able to see it at some point.

James: That’s great, thank you.

Eki: Thanks again James, always a pleasure talking to you and I guess we’ll be in touch and whenever something interesting comes around again we will be happy to talk to you again.