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The Steam Deck Saga: Part I

The Valve Steam Deck was released on 25 Feb 22. - Serenkonata - stock.adobe.com


If you're like me, a North American semi-hardcore PC gamer with disposable income, no impulse control, and a fiber internet connection, you likely have a Steam library with hundreds of games that have sat unplayed for years. Steam, for those who don’t know, is a very popular PC gaming service from Valve Software, the makers of Portal (2007) and Half-Life (1998). Steam is a juggernaut of the online gaming industry and, in 2021, had 133.0 million active users, with 69.0 million daily active users.[1] In 2023, Steam had an estimated revenue of $8.5 billion, which was down from its 2021 high of 10.0 billion.[2]


One method Valve uses to create this much revenue is the seasonal Steam sale. Steam Sales are a great opportunity for most gamers to get a discount on a game they have been waiting to play; for gamers such as myself, Steam Sales are a drain on my gamer wallet every time they happen. Almost every sale, I fall prey to the cute marketing art on the Steam store front page and those little green tabs advertising 75% or 80% off some critically acclaimed title I have yet to try. Oh, you didn’t play Death Stranding? It's weird, but good. Kojima, right? 50% off! Red Dead Redemption II was on Playstation, and you didn’t get to play it? How about now for $20?


Art for the 2023 Seasonal Steam Sales. - steampowered.com


Objectively, Steam Sales are, more or less, a pretty good deal. If you are interested in various games and genres, you can save a lot of money, which is a good thing for the consumer. Typically, a good Steam sale will contain major discounts on games that normally cost $70-80. These discounted games are good for gamers with finite resources and generate extra revenue for products that are nearing the end of their natural life cycle.


The problem with Steam Sales is that they are almost too good sometimes. Oh, are they discounting an entire franchise this time? What do you mean all Bethesda games are on sale? Skyrim, again? How can you not buy every game in the Resident Evil series for less than $15 each? It's one of the most incredible video game series of all time. You'd be losing money if you didn't. Capcom executives would be justified in showing up at your front door and guilt-tripping you on why you hate them so much, in Japanese, no less. Did you want every Dark Souls game on PC, and their corresponding DLCs you didn’t play for less than $50? Here you go. Now, you have a good time kicking yourself in the balls repeatedly, gamer. And remember how much Our Lord and Savior Gaben loves you.    


Gaben, Our Heavenly Father.


I have tried in the past to resist the temptation of these sales. Still, every year, I finance a no-small portion of Gabe's lavish island sex fortress hidden somewhere in the South Pacific with my hard-earned gamer dollars. (He's a billionaire. They all have them.) As sure as the tide comes in and out with the movement of our flat disc-shaped planet, I knowingly buy several games that I know I will not play.

For me, Steam Sales have gotten to where there isn't much that I can even buy anymore. For most sales now, see the blue "in-library" tag more than the green sale tag. Even during the vanilla weekly sales, if I filter out the garbage games with less than very positive reviews (I'm not playing a game with mixed reviews. I have some standards.), I have to scroll far until I see something that interests me and is not already in my library.


I see the blue "in library" tags more often during Steam Sales.


I am sure some of you are thinking, “This man has a massive spending problem, and his wife needs to disconnect some credit cards fast.” And, I agree... but not for the reasons you think. Yes, husbands left unsupervised with credit cards is never a good thing (There are plenty of reasons why my Amazon account should have parental controls enabled.), but buying games and not playing them is not bad because it wastes money. (We’re a double income and no kids couple. #DINKS4LYFE, baby!) No, the real problem that keeps me awake at night, that burns in the core of my self-centered, oblivious to the pain of other, self-gratifying, entitled lizard-brained soul with the power of a thousand suns set on fire by even more suns, is that I am being deprived of the one thing that sustains the reason I exist, my very essence. Yes, dopamine. And not getting my dopamine is fucking unacceptable!


To fix this problem, we first need to understand it. Specifically, I need to know how much time and money I spend on my gaming obsession and if any optimizations are possible. (‘Obsession’ is the right word here. This train passed ‘Hobby’ station about three decades ago and has not looked back. Full steam ahead!) Looking at my Steam summary for 2023, I played thirty-eight games and bought twenty-four new games. I played more games than I bought, which is good. However, I spent 95% of my  playtime on only two games: Hunt: Showdown and Baldur's Gate III. (I’ll argue that +700 hours last year on Hunt is justified because I main it for my content; and 500 hours on Baldur's Gate was because of… well... Shadowheart. If you know, you know.) While I am having more fun (i.e., dopamine) per dollar spent on a few games, there is much more potential fun locked away.


In my mind, money spent on a game is justified if I get one hour of game time per dollar spent (I would love to say one hour of ‘fun’ per dollar spent, but given the current state of modern gaming, you can spend a lot of time having something I like to call ‘negative fun,’ but that’s a discussion for another time. Looking at you, Diablo IV.). Over the past thirteen years on Steam, I have spent $3,339 on games, which is all things considered (not bad). That equates to roughly $250 per year on gaming, which is quite reasonable. Now, if I include microtransactions or in-game purchases as Steam lists them, then the total comes to... $10,947. That’s $7,608 on microtransactions alone.


(…I already deeply regret writing this article.)


Moving quickly on to any other topic, I have roughly 10,805 hours played on Steam. This makes my current dollar-per-hour-played ratio $1.013, or about a dollar an hour, which is on target, but since it is my duty to min/max everything, this could be much better. (It’s a gamer thing. If you know, you know.) Of the 417 games in my Steam library, 118 (or 28%) remain unplayed. There are also about 50 or so other games with under an hour of playtime that could also be counted as unplayed. (I go where the ADHD tells me to, folks.)


In all, there are thousands of hours of quality gaming to be had without the need to spend any additional money. (In-game cosmetics aside, cause baby needs that drip in Guild Wars 2. Again, if you know, you know.) So, there's a lot of room to drive down the dollar-per-hour-played ratio; the only real issue is how. How do I find a time-effective way to play all these unplayed games while maintaining my marriage, friendships, and work commitments?


Guild Wars 2 Shop outfits are totally worth.


Thankfully, on a quiet Christmas morning late last year, I found the solution. Or, more accurately, Mrs. Death did. “What is this solution?” you ask. First, a little context. Besides being amazingly sexy, super successful, and highly intelligent, Mrs. Death has one other quality that sets her apart from every other woman: she is a gift-giving god. Mrs. Death has an uncanny ability to know what you want before you even know you want it. Being a literal Saint, Mrs. Death uses this superpower for good, specifically, the good of spoiling her loving and adoring husband, who just happens to be me.


I will agree that her power is a little scary. I could be browsing Amazon, looking at some item that is tangentially related to something else I want, and, like magic, Mrs. Death will have that very same item months later when I least expect it. Sure, her ability to know you better than you know yourself is like living with an NSA agent who is constantly profiling you, and, yes, I should probably clear my browser history more often. But, even if my marriage is similar to living in a dystopian surveillance state, should I really care if I receive the perfect present every 4 to 6 months for years on end?


So, on a quiet and cozy Christmas morning last year in the Democratic People’s Republic of Marital Bliss, I was completely caught off guard as I unwrapped a brand new Valve-made Gaben-approved, nay Gaben-blessed, Steam Deck with a 1TB of internal storage and a state-of-the-art OLED screen. And when I say “off guard,” I really had no idea. I still don’t know where she got the idea from. I think I mentioned in passing that the Steam Deck looked cool, but other than that I have no idea. Putting aside that mystery, it was a pretty special Christmas morning. That was until the initial surprise wore off, and I was sitting on the couch, new Steam Deck in hand, wondering, “What am I supposed to do with this thing?”


The OLED version of the Steam Deck . - Serenkonata - stock.adobe.com


As a PC gamer, I don’t equate handheld gaming with real gaming. (Sorry, not sorry, mobile gamers.) For me, the true peak of gaming is sitting in front of my 1440p 240 mhz ASUS ROG monitor, Logitech G502X mouse in one hand, and a Corsair k70 tenkeyless keyboard holding up the other, eagerly waiting to suck down all the juicy visuals that my GIGABYTE AERO 4090 can shoot all over my wanting face. By their nature, handhelds are not capable of delivering graphically intense experiences similar to what a PC can. (Not to mention how awkward that would be in public.)


I have always thought of handhelds as stand-ins for real gaming while traveling; the methadone to the real smack, if you will. Handhelds are for disgruntled teenagers in the back of mom’s minivan who want to be anywhere else, or for sedating iPad kids on airplanes who clearly have no clue what the hell they are doing in Super Mario Bros. Wonder. (How is this 8-year-old kid going to survive life if he can’t even hit the first Goomba?)


Or better yet, they are for introverting in the corner of your in-law's living room as your wife tries to justify her marriage to your mother-in-law, who openly ponders whether or not you are on the spectrum somewhere. (I may not make eye contact, but I do have ears, Susan.) Truly, as someone who has not ventured beyond the end of the driveway in over two months, why would I want any handheld, let alone something that could make me spend more money on Steam?


For a while, I thought that this gift, like all those games sitting in my Steam library, would turn out to be a huge waste of money. But, as will be covered in Part II, after using the Steam Deck for a little over a month, I could not have been more wrong.


End of Part I.  Coming Next Week – The Steam Deck Saga: Part II.

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