Valve has always claimed that the Steam Deck is closer to a traditional PC than a handheld console and, as such, should be able to run your existing library of games on Steam. But while the official Steam Deck Twitter is full of videos showing that games work well on dev kits, the compatibility status of many more games remains in the air. This could simply be due to a lack of confirmation, or it could be deep-seated technical issues related to hardware requirements or anti-cheat services that required tweaks to work on the deck’s Proton-based operating system. Ahead of the scheduled launch in December, Valve revealed its plan to provide clarity on whether certain games can run (and run effectively) on the Steam Deck.
It’s an ambitious plan too: Steam games, of which there are tens of thousands, are manually reviewed by Valve itself and assigned to a category that indicates how well they work on the Steam deck. This verification process focuses on four key attributes: input support, native screen resolution support (with readable text), general hardware compatibility, and compatibility with Proton, including middleware like anti-cheat.
Games that meet all of these criteria can be found in the « Verified » category, while some go into the « Playable » category if they work for the most part without the user having to change some settings. The « Unsupported » category includes games that are not sufficiently functional on the Steam Deck, and the final category, « Unknown », includes games that Valve has not yet reviewed. When you browse Steam on the Steam Deck, games will display a badge that indicates their category (and therefore the level of compatibility), which will hopefully make it a lot easier to know which of your collections will work on the portable PC. The Steam Library section will also have a new Great on Deck tab that will only contain Verified games, and even before the Steam Deck is released, Valve wants to show Steam users which of their games will be compatible at launch.
To learn more about how the review and category system will work, I sent a few questions to Valve and were jointly answered by Steam Deck designers Greg Coomer and Lawrence Yang, who previously spoke to Katharine about the Steam Deck at its first reveal have spoken. Here’s what they had to say about the newly announced compatibility program, the criteria for Verified Status, the collaboration between Valve and other developers to bring games to the Steam Deck, and a sadly hypothetical Gordon Freeman writing coach.
Steam has a lot of games. What resources will be used for reviewing the entire catalog and how much will be used for reviewing future game releases?
Steam has a lot of games and Valve is putting a significant effort into this review program. We have hired an additional group of testers specifically for Steam Deck compatibility and will continue to hire additional staff to support this group. It will take some time to review the Steam catalog (in addition to the new titles that are constantly being released) and we see some versions of this process being rolled out for the foreseeable future.
How has the review process been going so far? Are you satisfied with the number of verified and playable games?
The review process is going well and we’re generally happy with the spread of the compatibility ratings we’ve seen so far – especially given the fact that developers have not yet had any specific goals to aim for.
Some examples of this include titles that require a player to manually select a community controller configuration, manually access the on-screen keyboard to enter text, or use the touchscreen to navigate a launcher.
In terms of Proton support, we know that some games use compatible anti-cheat, like Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye, but their developers haven’t been fully committed to making sure their games are ready for the Steam Deck when they launch . What is the mechanism to recheck games that may not be playable initially but are fully compatible later?
It is really important for customers to know that the compatibility information is correct throughout the life of a game. We assume that some games will be checked multiple times – for example when the developer releases a major update, fixes previous compatibility bugs to move their game to the verified category, or when Valve fixes a Proton bug. There will also be a re-examination if there is community feedback that our rating is incorrect. With that in mind, we absolutely consider Proton support issues to be bugs that Valve needs to resolve. All Proton errors that occurred during the compatibility test are tracked, logged and assigned to the tested game. If we fix these errors, we can automatically retest all affected games.
How does the review process rate overall performance? Most likely a game would not get verified status if it was running at 12 fps on the lowest settings.
Our team primarily tests for a good experience with the default settings. In terms of frame rate, the minimum value is 30 fps to achieve the Verified bar. To make this easier for developers, we’ve provided an API that allows them to see if their title is running on Steam Deck – so they can adjust the default settings as needed.
Problems like Proton support seem to be more within Valve’s control than resolution support or text size, for example. Will Valve encourage or support developers in overcoming these other potential hurdles?
Certainly. In addition to these guidelines, we’re continuing to add new tools to the Steamworks API to make life easier for developers on both deck and PC. Legacy APIs like Steam Input are constantly being updated to make it easier for developers to support matching controller glyphs across devices. We also recently introduced new developer APIs to more easily support on-screen keyboards, suspend / resume functions, and other deck technologies. We assume that we will continue to expand our support here in the future as the developers tell us how we can be most helpful.
Similarly, do you work with the developers on the review process itself? Or is it not necessary for games that work well out-of-the-box?
To be successful, this compatibility check process must serve both customers and developers. We have worked extensively with both groups to ensure that the results of the testing process, as well as the process itself, help make shopping and playing games on deck more enjoyable for everyone. As for the involvement of the developers in the review process itself, they are involved in every step. They can initiate a review, receive feedback and notes when a game is reviewed, and request a re-review whenever they make major updates or improvements to their Steam Deck compatibility.
Can users try to play « unknown » or unverified games on their Steam deck? Will there be a warning or is it « at your own risk »?
We want customers to be informed, but basically the deck is a gaming PC and Valve doesn’t want to tell customers that they are not allowed to do things on their own device. So yes, they can buy, install, and run games that are categorized as « Unknown » in the Compatibility Checker and we will make sure they know the state of the game before we do.
Will the compatibility badges be visible when viewing games on PC or on the Steam mobile app? It would be good to see if a game is working well on the Steam Deck, even if you’re mainly playing on a desktop or laptop.
We plan to make the Steam Deck Compatibility Badge visible on PC for players who own a Steam Deck. Additionally, the team is currently working on a new feature that will be released ahead of the Steam Deck launch that will allow players to check the compatibility category of each of the games in their own library.
With the Deck Verified status criteria evolving, is it still Valve’s intention that every game on Steam be playable on the Steam Deck? In other words, is that still seen as a workable result?
We will get as close to 100% as possible. However, it doesn’t make sense to bring every game to Steam Deck – we are all proud of Half Life: Alyx, for example, but it’s not a game Steam Deck was intended for. The same reasoning applies to a game like Gordon Teaches Typing (not a real game, don’t try to look it up). Sure, you could plug a keyboard on deck, but that’s not the standard experience so we wouldn’t call such a game a verified title. Additionally, there are a few factors that are beyond our control that can determine a title’s compatibility – anti-cheat is an important factor. We’re working with major anti-cheat vendors to have Proton support to get started, and while we’re at a great point with BattlEye support, Easy Anti-Cheat is a little more complicated.
James retired from writing about Dota for RPS to write about hardware for RPS. His favorite water cooler radiator size is 280mm and he always takes advantage of RGB lighting by putting everything on a solid light blue.
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