The price of convenience
I’m trying to love my Steam Deck. The bulky handheld is a great idea, but with only middling execution. Games, especially more graphically intensive affairs, need lots of tweaking before they run well, and the top end triple-A types sometimes need serious work before they run at all.
My biggest gripe has always been with the battery life. Mine lasts for four or five hours after an overnight charge, which is hardly enough to be considered portable. Sure, it’s enough for your daily commute – it might even get you to work and back two days in a row before it needs a charge – but I don’t have a commute. It’ll last for most of an evening in front of the telly, but won’t manage a long journey. My Switch OLED lasts longer, and that’s saying something.
This isn’t solely a Steam Deck problem. The ROG Ally, its closest competitor and a handheld PC that I slightly prefer due to its more user-friendly nature and non-Steam compatibility, also has major battery issues. Still, it’s a good concept and I love playing my Steam games on the move, if only for a little while. But I’ve recently encountered a new problem: the Steam Deck is actively costing me money.
I’m not talking about passive money here. I know it costs me a couple of quid in electricity bills every time I charge it, and some ‘rise and grind’ types would argue that any time spent playing games into the night is losing potential income because you’re not rising early and grinding some side hustle that’s nearly always exploitative. No, every month I just spend money on my Steam Deck.
The issue comes from the fact that it’s a right hassle to play non-Steam games on Valve’s console. I get why, the hardware is probably very expensive to make and the developer wants you to stay in Steam’s ecosystem so other companies that offer Game Pass for PC and Epic’s freebies don’t lure you away. Because I’m impatient and not a complete tech whizz, I’ll always take the easy route. I’d prefer to buy an old Pokemon game on my Switch rather than emulate it on my Deck. I’d rather play a Game Pass game on my Xbox rather than deal with streaming it on my Deck on the go. So I end up buying lots of games twice.
I already have access to the complete Dragon Age and Mass Effect series via Game Pass (my Ultimate subscription includes EA Play, if you’re here to pick bones). I played through the first two Dragon Age games last year, and although I fell off Inquisition hard, I fully intend on going back to it. But the road to your backlog is paved with good intentions and all that. I feel similarly about the Mass Effect series. I love science fiction, I’m reading a lot of it at the moment, I love RPGs, and I love BioWare’s other games from this era. I’ll get to Mass Effect soon, I promise. It’s even installed on my PC already, I just need to find the time.
So, when I saw that a BioWare bundle was heavily discounted on Steam, I jumped at the chance to buy it. 20 quid for six quality games and Andromeda (that’s a joke for you Mass Effecters that I’ve absorbed via TheGamer osmosis) is a steal, after all. But I already own them, in a way. At least, I have access to them while I keep up my Game Pass subscription. So why did I buy them again? Ease.
It’s easier to play these games on my Steam Deck if I own them on Steam. And, in my mind, I’m more likely to play them if I have access to them on a portable console. I can play them in the evenings, while my fiancé watches TV. I can play them on journeys (to an extent). So I’m more likely to play them, right?
The problem is, it’s become a pattern. It started with indies and classics: Limbo, Vampire Survivors, Jet Set Radio, and the like. Then it moved to double-As: Outer Wilds, Chained Echoes, etc. Now we’re into triple-A territory.
I have played these games on my Deck, so the spending is somewhat justified, but I wouldn’t have bought them twice had I not owned a Deck. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think, without a Deck, I would play these games on my PC eventually, but the Deck has sped up that process considerably. That’s a good thing. I like playing games, and the Deck has allowed me to play some bangers. But it’s also costing me money at an increasing rate. None of these games are expensive – I’m not buying Cyberpunk 2077s every week – but it all adds up. Just add a native Game Pass app please, Gaben. Is that too much to ask?
Next: Tears Of The Kingdom Gives You Freedom, But You Should Do The Main Quest First
Ben is TheGamer’s only Features Editor from the north of England. An award-losing journalist, his specialities lie in Pokemon, Warhammer, Apex Legends esports, and fantasy and sci-fi RPGs. You can read his work in Eurogamer, The Guardian, IGN, Kotaku, The Loadout, NME, or VICE. Or here.