Aperture Desk Job is Steam Deck’s first-party touch that Xbox Series X was missing

I went to bed last night thinking about what Valve’s new Steam Deck game would look like. This is almost entirely because I just read an interview with Gabe Newell in Edge magazine where he was asked about Valve developing their own game to showcase handheld hardware, and he said that Valve was thinking about it but decided to put their resources elsewhere – I like doing Dota and Counter-Strike better to work on the device.

So this morning, I was a bit surprised to see Valve’s announcement. Aperture Desktop, a free demo game/technology set in the Portal universe. There’s plenty of wiggle room here, so I’m not as worried about Newell’s comments being misleading – Valve, for example, calls it a “short” rather than a game. But it got me thinking about how important it is to have your own release along with the release of new hardware.

Go back a few decades and it was almost unthinkable not to have one. There is no world in which the Nintendo 64 does not launch with Super Mario 64 or Saturn with the virtual fighter. This began to change with the PlayStation and the ditching of console mascots, but most consoles still typically showed up with a custom launch game to help showcase the hardware and justify the purchase.

However, in recent years, the perception of the console has begun to change – especially at Microsoft, which constantly talks about its strategy of turning consoles into access points rather than isolated boxes. When Microsoft delayed Halo Infinite and ended up releasing the Xbox Series X without the main core game, it was disappointing, but it also seemed to go hand in hand with Microsoft’s strategy of not needing distinct hardware generations.

Ever since Valve announced the Steam Deck, I’ve mentally placed it in the same category. This is hardware designed for Steam games on portable hardware. This is a new access point to an existing library. So it never crossed my mind that the studios would develop custom games for him. There’s nothing you can’t do with a standard controller.

Aperture Desktop seems to be a game that will answer this question. The way Valve announced it – telling players to “lower their expectations” and giving it away for free – suggests it will be a small project, perhaps similar to its VR tech demo. Laboratory compared to something like Halo InfiniteI would guess that the investment is hundreds of millions of dollars less.

But there is something nice and comforting about people who make hardware, supplying custom software to demonstrate it.

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