"The Steam Deck quickly sold out, receiving over 100,000 preorders during the opening frenzy."
In July, Valve made a big splash in the gaming industry with the announcement of the Steam Deck. The new portable console boasts impressive specs, multiple models at varying price points, and a direct tie to the consumer’s Steam library. The Steam Deck quickly sold out, receiving over 100,000 preorders during the opening frenzy. While comparisons are quickly being made to the Nintendo Switch, the arrival of the Steam Deck might signal greater changes in the industry. With Microsoft pursuing mobile gaming in their own way, the Steam Deck might encourage Sony to make similar choices when designing their next piece of hardware.
"...a sleek device with an interesting disc-based system."
How the Steam Deck Could Prompt Sony for a Change
To understand how the Steam Deck might nudge Sony towards a portable (at least partly) gaming console, let’s jump back to the wild year of 2004. In the early-2000s, the console war was raging between the Nintendo Gamecube, Microsoft’s Xbox, and the Sony PlayStation 2. As these three companies looked toward the future of the industry, both Nintendo and Sony saw value in the handheld market. After establishing themselves years prior with the mega-popular Game Boy, Nintendo saw massive success when they launched the Nintendo DS in 2004. Just a few months later, Sony answered back with the PlayStation Portable, a sleek device with an interesting disc-based system. While the Nintendo DS outsold the PSP by a hefty margin, fans were mixed on the devices.
While the Nintendo DS offered a simple and enticing portable experience for all types of gamers to enjoy, the PlayStation Portable was strictly aimed at the more hardcore crowd. The graphics were better, the controls felt more responsive, and the big-budget game franchises that fans loved were available on the go. This attitude persisted, with Sony also releasing a PSP successor called the PlayStation Vita in 2011. While both the PSP and PS Vita were seen as products that were ahead of their time, the Vita failed to live up to sales expectations, with the product being mostly discontinued. Now with Nintendo in a similar position as in 2004, offering a successful but underpowered console in the Nintendo Switch, Sony might see this as a good moment to reassert itself as the dominating brand for gamers.
"The Steam Deck boasts enormous compatibility with hundreds of tested PC games, but it still can't play Sony exclusives like God of War and Returnal."
Is Now the Right Time for Another Portable PlayStation?
It’s no secret, gaming is moving towards a future where the power of high-end gaming doesn’t necessarily need to come from a huge box. Both the Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch use docking technology to attach to traditional gaming setups, but the biggest advantage is their portable nature. As Microsoft pursues its cloud-streaming concepts through the Xbox Game Pass subscription service, PlayStation could play to its strengths and outwit the competition. PlayStation 5 consoles are still in high demand, so it’s not likely we’ll see a brand new PlayStation console very soon, but a modified PlayStation 5 with portable capabilities could be a strong play.
Historically speaking, Sony has had no problem taking a financial hit on selling physical hardware, as their main focus is providing compelling, big-budget titles exclusively on their platform. By elevating their digital storefront and offering exclusive games only found on PlayStation consoles, a new portable PlayStation device could have the weight to overthrow the Steam Deck. The Steam Deck boasts enormous compatibility with hundreds of tested PC games, but it still can’t play Sony exclusives like God of War and Returnal. These Sony-exclusive franchises were also a major driving force for the PSP and PS Vita, featuring series like Uncharted, Jak & Daxter, and Killzone. If it worked before, there’s a good chance it’ll work now.
Currently, the Steam Deck will be shipping out to pre-order customers throughout 2021 and 2022. Unless Sony has been working on something in secret, we probably won’t see a PlayStation equivalent in the next few years. However, Sony has been spending a lot of time on their next iteration of PlayStation VR, hyping it up as a must-own device for virtual reality fans. With the exception of high-end PC-only devices, Sony has mostly cornered the console VR market. Once they finalize that product, they might set their sights on the emerging opportunity of high-end portable gaming. Using their past experience, knowledge of current market trends, and learning from competitor’s mistakes, Sony could absolutely nail a comprehensive portable gaming solution that satisfies the cravings of every PlayStation fan. If anything, the release of the Steam Deck should be a sign to Sony that the market might be ready for their next big attempt at portable gaming.