The Xbox handheld already exists (sort of) — why Steam Deck desperately needs a native Game Pass app

xbox game pass native on Steam Deck
(Image credit: Future)

The Xbox handheld is already here and you didn’t even know it! Well, it kind of is, so long as Steam Deck gets a native Xbox Game Pass app sooner rather than later.

Gamers have been dreaming of a portable Xbox for years now — creating fancy fake prototypes like imkashama’s Xbox Series Z last year.

@imkashama (opens in new tab)

♬ WUNNA - Gunna (opens in new tab)

But Microsoft could save itself a whole lot of money and time if the company partnered up with Valve and stuck Game Pass on the Steam Deck. And no, I’m not talking about Cloud Gaming. That already exists, but it’s such a long, drawn-out process to get that done.

I’m talking about a native app, through which you install the games directly to the deck and be able to play them offline. Not only would that be beneficial to Xbox, but Valve would also sell a tonne more Steam Decks, safe in the knowledge that their Game Pass library is ready for them to download and play.

Please play nice

Now I know the big red light here will be on Valve’s bottom line. Xbox Game Studios titles probably make a decent amount of money through selling them on Steam, so to remove those purchases in favor of a Game Pass subscription may not be in the company’s best interest. But allow me to propose a workaround. 

(Image credit: Microsoft)

I’m pretty sure that if Microsoft were to offer a Steam Deck-based upgrade to Game Pass, which charges a slight premium that Valve gets a cut of, I’ve no doubt that many people would opt for that over paying full price for games they already have access to. I mean, I certainly would, but I’d love to know your thoughts on Twitter!

Plus, if Steam is willing to allow emulators like RetroArch onto its store, then anything is possible. 

Cloud gaming is good, but not quite good enough

There’s no denying that Xbox Cloud Gaming is a fantastic initiative, but given the inconsistency of network speeds, it’s not quite ready for a prime time spot — especially on Steam Deck.

(Image credit: Future)

The steps to get Xbox Cloud Gaming onto your Steam Deck (opens in new tab) involve dipping into the Linux desktop mode, installing Edge, doing a bit of coding in udev, adding it to your Steam library, and adding artwork to make it look nice on SteamOS. It’s such a pain!

Plus, it’s a pretty inconsistent experience at the moment. Yes, for slower, more tactical or casual games, it works incredibly well. But when you start to get into games like Forza Horizon 5 or Halo Infinite, the controller lag is a noticeable disadvantage in competitive moments.

For these AAA experiences that Game Pass prides itself on, surely you want to present them in the best way on this handheld powerhouse. While I get that these games will be built to run on the more powerful hardware of the Xbox Series consoles, the Steam Deck does share a similar Zen 2 architecture that would make migration a little easier.

Outlook

(Image credit: Future)

Xbox’s mission is a simple one: to “bring the joy and community of gaming to everyone on the planet.” Sure, they are stepping up to PlayStation by snapping up studios and launching Xbox-exclusive titles, but this library of games is certainly more accessible across many devices.

That ethos is what makes the rigmarole of adding cloud gaming and the lack of a native app kind of confusing. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like it would be an easy thing for Valve and Microsoft to agree upon, and the Steam Deck would become a must-buy for all kinds of gamers beyond nerds (like me) who love to tinker with it.

So whether it takes some sort of deal to give Valve a piece of the Game Pass pie, or whether you can present the numbers on just how many more Steam Decks Valve would sell off the back of this move, please make our dreams come true.

Jason England
Content Editor

Jason brings a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a writer at Laptop Mag. He takes a particular interest in writing articles and creating videos about laptops, headphones and games. He has previously written for Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.