Valve Steam Deck ‘Proton’ compatibility layer key to success of the portable PC with gaming capabilities?

Valve Steam Deck Proton
A software compatibility layer could decide the success of Valve Steam Deck. Pic credit: Valve

Valve Steam Deck is by far the most compelling handheld gaming console. While the hardware, and the price, are critical to the portable gaming computer, it is the Proton compatibility layer that could truly decide the device’s success.

Valve has a Nintendo Switch competitor. Given Steam Deck’s value proposition, it has no other competitors in the portable gaming segment. And, with the Proton layer, Valve can truly propel the console to success.

What is Proton, and why is it so important for the Valve Steam Deck?

The Valve Steam Deck is a large handheld computer with ergonomics for gaming. It has ample buttons to offer a truly immersive gaming experience.

The Steam Deck has an APU that has the same design architecture as that of Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5. There’s fast storage and ample 16 GB DDR5 RAM even inside the base $399 model.

The Steam Deck is essentially a full-fledged Linux PC with gaming-optimized aesthetics. Additionally, apart from the hardware, it is the software that should help the console stand apart.

The Steam Deck gains the most from the Steam account. In fact, the console will have direct access to a game and software library that will far outstrip other portable gaming systems.

Incidentally, Steam Deck runs on Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS operating system. Proton (via Steam Play) lets Windows games run on Linux.

Proton is essentially a compatibility layer. It could be compared to WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux), which allows Linux applications to run in Windows. Even Parallels, which allows Windows OS to run inside macOS, could be a good example.

Gamers have long relied on Wine, a compatibility layer, to play Steam games for Windows OS, on Linux PCs. It seems Valve has essentially taken the best aspects of Wine and incorporated the same inside SteamOS.

Valve has reportedly collaborated with CodeWeavers developers to build Proton as a fork of Wine. The company then integrated the technology right into Steam as part of Steam Play.

Valve’s “buy once, play on any PC platform” endeavor offers the entire purchased game library to function on multiple platforms. And soon, the same platform will work on Steam Deck.

Do Steam Deck buyers need to manually switch on the Proton compatibility layer?

The Proton compatibility layer isn’t exactly new. Valve introduced the same back in 2018 and has been steadily improving it.

The Proton layer also benefits from ProtonDB, a community-driven platform that tracks the games that work well inside Steam. It currently has reliable information on about 19,000 games. Interestingly, more than 15,000 titles from the database, claim to work on Linux.

It is perhaps this large number that compelled Valve to keep the Proton layer off by default. Strangely, new games titles are more likely to support Windows OS than Linux.

Incidentally, Proton does not play nice with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PuBG), Rainbow Six Siege, Apex Legends, and Destiny 2. Needless to mention, these are widely popular game titles.

Hence, it is safe to say Valve still has a lot of work, especially with the Proton compatibility layer. If the Valve Steam Deck gets a reliably working Proton layer, it will have one of the biggest game libraries right out the gate.

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