The Steam deck (opens in a new tab) is an incredible piece of hardware, but the software that underpins it is just as impressive. From longtime open source stalwarts like the Mesa graphics driver and Vulkan API to Valve’s own Proton compatibility layer, Deck only runs thanks to a lot of work from open source developers. Without them, the whole thing is just a big block of plastic.
It turns out Valve understands that, because in a recent chat with the Verge (opens in a new tab), Steam Deck designer Pierre-Loup Griffais mentioned that the company pays over a hundred open source developers to work on the various pieces of software that keep Steam Deck ticking. Valve has them working on things like Steam for ChromeOS and Linux too (Griffais didn’t mention macOS though, which makes sense given the way Steam seems to freeze in panic every time I launch it on a MacBook).
Griffais said Valve’s unification of open source developers is part of “a larger strategy to coordinate all these projects and set up some kind of overall architecture” for games on Linux. That is, Valve is using its technical and financial clout to herd the cats of open source development in a single direction, to make Linux work as a viable alternative to Windows for PC gaming.
I was surprised when I heard about it. Valve is obviously committed to Steam Deck, but working with – and paying – over a hundred developers to keep the open source content going really puts that commitment into perspective. For people more involved in Linux and open source development, however, it was less surprising. Like various commenters in this Reddit thread (opens in a new tab) confirms that Valve has had a hand in an incredible amount of open source technology at this point. Even Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds is on record saying Valve wanted to “save the Linux desktop” (opens in a new tab). Although it’s worth noting he was at least a little ambivalent about it.
That’s not the only Deck-related news we’ve heard from Valve recently. We’ve also learned that the company wants to bring back the Steam controller (opens in a new tab) (I also have to speak my truth and tell you that the Steam controller was amazing, actually), and the deck’s designers hinted at a revised deck (opens in a new tab) with a bigger battery and better screen.
Although Valve’s dedication to Linux and open source software is more about having an escape hatch from Windows than a staunch dedication to free and open source principles, it’s great that so many developers are getting paid for their contributions to the company’s projects. Indeed, 2022 has been the year of Linux on the desktop.