The Steam Deck isn’t the best handheld console on the market. Or, at least, it is not the most powerful. I’m knee-deep in a review of the Ayaneo 2S, which edges out Valve’s console in the performance and design categories, as does the Asus ROG Ally. But Valve has something that the other companies can’t quite match: excellent customer service.
Valve gets the kind of free, seemingly organic marketing that most companies dream of. If you scroll through Twitter and the r/SteamDeck subreddit, which is the most active handheld console subreddit, there’s a constant stream of stories about Valve customer support going above and beyond to help Steam Deck owners when it’s not their duty on him. .
The bar is low for high-tech customer support. Since Valve has contact people, who will get back to you quickly and they are likely to rule in the beginning, created some devotees on the sub. There are stories, now common lore, of out-of-warranty fixes, free accessories and free repairs for devices that have been opened and tinkered with by users. A common theme of posts on the subreddit right now is how Valve is partially refunding people who bought the Deck shortly before it went on sale two weeks ago.
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There are several more posts in a similar flavor. What seems clear is that the very image of Chhla taking care of its customers makes up for the obvious flaws in the device. The Steam Deck still has compatibility issues, especially for some multiplayer games, there is no native support for huge platforms like Game Pass Ultimate and the OS is still buggy. Customers also can’t call Valve, or visit a store for help like other tech companies. You have to send a message through Steam and it may take a few days to get a response.
There are also more technically advanced devices on the market. The Ayaneo 2S is a visually more impressive console than the Deck – my review unit has received praise from non-gaming friends. Unboxing it my first impression was that the 2S looks like something Apple would make if it ever entered the handheld console market.
The Steam Deck design, which is almost brutal, has its own appeal. But the lighter, smaller and slimmer profile of the Asus Rog Ally looks better to my eye. Under the hood the Ally and Ayaneo 2S have taken a big hit with the Steam Deck. This is not news, but it is matter.
Windows also makes life easier if your games and accounts are distributed across multiple platforms. Windows on handheld consoles has been criticized for being more bloated than Steam OS, buggy and the respective proprietary software from Asus and Ayaneo not as slick as Valve’s product. But there are clear advantages. It’s easier to emulate, install mods, access files on my local network and play non-steam games on a Windows machine. There is no additional process required to play Diablo 4, and I don’t need to find a complicated solution to play my old Windows games.
But none of that matters if the console doesn’t work properly. Steam Deck users have faith that a valve will help if something goes wrong, which means they are willing to ignore the disadvantages of the device. We can talk about the price difference between something like the Steam Deck and more expensive models from Asus and Ayaneo ($649 vs. $699 and $950 respectively). But what’s more expensive is whether the company will fix your device for free, or even respond.
Some users in the Ayaneo subreddit have complained about the company never responding to emails. For devices that cost up to nearly $1000, being left in the wilderness with a partially functioning device is scary. I asked Ayaneo about this and the company admitted that there were “some post-sales issues that were not handled properly” earlier this year. The company also explained that “the customer service team is now trained and is constantly optimizing the post-sales process.”
Valve’s acts of generosity cement his longstanding good guy image. The limitations of Steam Deck seem a lot less daunting when you know that Valve’s safety net means your money won’t be lost if something goes wrong. Even if that image is not accurate (there are many Steam Deck owners who say otherwise about valve customer support) the perception is powerful. For Valve, a freebie here, or an out-of-warranty fix there, means nothing to the bottom line. The good guy image it creates, however, is extremely lucrative, especially against better hardware from competitors. One Redditor said they won’t buy “anything from them again” after a recent run-in with Ayaneo customer support. New Steam Deck challengers should look here instead of settling on specs.