A Nintendo Switch competitor? Valve is said to be planning to release a gaming laptop in late 2021

An early steam machine, the Gigabyte Brix Pro. (GeekWire photos/Todd Bishop)

Sources within Valve Software have unofficially confirmed that Washington-based Bellevue is working on a gaming laptop, codenamed SteamPal, for a release date planned for later this year.

The news broke on Tuesday morning via Ars Technica that you’re following Discover the SteamDB player Pavel Djundik From several references to a device called SteamPal in the code of the latest version of the Steam client.

SteamPal, according to Ars writeup, is a Linux portable gaming system that uses gamepad controls and includes a touch screen, putting it in the same general category as the Nintendo Switch.

Other rumored features include the ability to connect it to a monitor via USB, a thumb-sized touchpad, and a joystick. Currently it is being prototyped behind closed doors at Valve, which means that all details about it, including the name, are subject to change.

This appears to be the project formerly called “Neptune”, and references have been spotted to it in Steam code Early last September. This may also be what Valve CEO Gabe Newell was talking about two weeks ago, in response to a high school student’s question about Steam ports on the console.

Gabe Newell welcomes the crowd to The International, an electronic gaming tournament sponsored by Valve. (GeekWire Photos/Kevin Lisota)

At the time of writing, this is nothing more than a curiosity. Valve hasn’t announced anything about SteamPal yet, and despite Newell’s hints, it was well decided to finish the project in the near future.

This is also a very bad time for anyone To talk about the launch of a new piece of gaming hardware, as the worldwide electronics market continues to suffer from a shortage of chips, with the problem likely to persist for the next year and a half. The idea that any company, even a major player like Valve, could plan to release an entirely new electronic device for the first time in late 2021 is a startling display of optimism.

The project is entirely dedicated to the Valve brand, which has never given up on its dreams of bringing PC gaming to gamers’ living rooms. This is a lot of what motivated previous projects like SteamLink and Steam Custom Devices.

Nor is it alone in targeting the Switch, which remains the best-selling gaming console on the market and has a near-monopoly in its niche. Alienware showed off a similar portable device, the UFO, at CES last year, with plans to ship it to market a few months later, but then the pandemic spread and the project ended. There are also several Switch-like laptop projects from Hong Kong, such as ONEEXPLAYER, that are being made through crowdfunding efforts.

While it’s odd that Switch competitors are coming out of the PC market, of all places — you’d think Sony would have revived the PlayStation Portable brand now, if there was anyone — it suggests that at some point in the future, it could get into a fight. Nintendo has a battle between her hands.

Steam has got a lot of advantages in the mobile market, such as a well-established community, brand name, and various stimulus actions taken on the storefront. As “cross-play” between platforms becomes more of a standard going forward, something like SteamPal could in theory reduce the Switch’s market share.

It will also theoretically open up a new audience for Steam, as it continues to take on challenges from other digital storefronts in the PC space. Some analysts have positioned the console segment of the video game industry nearly twice as large as the PC segment, and a breakthrough at this end of the market could help Valve turn a profit.