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The Steam Deck is not a flop

The Steam Deck is not a flop


Selling well, and getting better every week

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The Valve Steam Deck gaming handheld sits on a reflective table, with an orange background.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Valve’s Steam Deck handheld gaming PC has been the #2 top grossing product on Steam for five weeks in a row, according to SteamDB.

I am vindicated — because that means it’s not a flop.

Early estimates suggested over 110,000 people put down a $5 deposit for the unproven Linux handheld in the first 90 minutes after it went on sale last July, but there was always a chance they’d change their mind. I figured many would after reading critical reviews like mine! And while I have seen a handful of people in r/SteamDeck reclaim their five bucks... almost every other sign suggests to me that it’s selling well.

While we don’t have official sales numbers for the Steam Deck, here is some context that might put things in perspective:

The Elden Ring banner art, depicting a knight below some glowing rings of fire.
Elden Ring is the context.

The Steam Deck launched the same week as Elden Ring, currently one of the most popular games in the world. For four of the past five weeks, the Steam Deck was second only to Elden Ring in revenue according to SteamDB. But this past week, the Steam Deck sold better than Elden Ring.

True, these are top grossing numbers, not unit sales numbers, so you can’t weigh them the same. At $60 each, it takes 7 copies of Elden Ring to match the amount of revenue a single $400 Steam Deck brings in; 11 copies if we’re talking a $650 512GB model. It’s also possible that Elden Ring saw the bulk of its sales pre-launch and during launch instead of in the weeks since — Elden Ring preorders did chart back in November and January as well. But I doubt the game’s truly trailed off given the incredible word-of-mouth that’s been following it since its February 24th debut.

Either way, we’re talking about a game that had already sold 12 million copies as of March 16th; where — at least in Europe — almost half of those sales were on PC; and where “PC” effectively means Steam because it’s not on Epic or the Windows Store. So those #1 and #3 top grossing numbers for Elden Ring on Steam probably represent a lot of copies.

If the Steam Deck, at #2, is selling even a sizeable fraction of Elden Ring while batting away everything else save Lego Star Wars, it’s going to be real hard to call the Deck a flop.

Valve’s Lawrence Yang said in February that the company would ramp up to produce “hundreds of thousands of units” in its second month, and keep going from there. “If we’re doing this right, we’re going to be selling these in millions of units,” Valve president Gabe Newell told IGN last July.

Are we there yet? Valve hasn’t said, and probably won’t say, having mostly gone back to its traditional quiet mode since the Steam Deck’s launch.

If crowdsourced data can be trusted, it sounds like the Steam Deck’s sales won’t be tailing off anytime soon, though. Yes, Valve’s first-come, first-served reservations are currently backed up to “October 2022 or later,” so anyone putting down $5 now probably won’t be counted as a buyer for many months.

But also, the r/SteamDeck community has figured out that Valve is still working through the first fifteen minutes of pre-orders from the very first day you could reserve one: July 16th, 2021. Some queues have been moving faster, but the US only just made it past hour one, and only with the 64GB model.

In other words, Valve’s Steam Deck has been the #2 top grossing product on Steam for five weeks because of a single day of preorder reservations, and anybody who put down an order since then — heck, almost anyone who made their decision after taking the time to read a few reviews — haven’t yet been counted towards that gross.

I pre-ordered 1 hour and 35 minutes after launch because Valve’s store was having issues. Unless Valve is playing things fast and loose and counting “reserved” units as already sold, it might be weeks before my 64GB unit is counted toward the total.

Incidentally, estimates that 994,000 Steam accounts, give or take 10 percent, have put down a $5 deposit.

There’s another reason to think the Steam Deck isn’t a flop, though: people are loving it. I know I do, and my friends and colleagues who lucked out with preorders tell me they feel the same.

I know I said it was a mess, because it was, but Valve and developers have been cleaning up that mess week after week since launch, and it’s getting better all the time. I’m mostly playing Elden Ring and Vampire Survivors right now, but I haven’t had a crash in a while, and games that didn’t work before are opening up — games I complained about like Back 4 Blood and Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Duck Game are either fixed or in the process of getting fixed, even if Fortnite and Destiny 2’s owners are refusing to bite. I played a bunch of Duck Game last night.

I hear Amazon’s New World might even be working now, though I haven’t yet tried.

Update, April 18th: The Steam Deck just became the #1 top seller for the week ending April 17th, leading that chart for the first time since its debut.