The steam bridge (opens in a new tab) is incredible hardware, but the software behind it is equally impressive. From long-standing open source stalwarts like the Mesa graphics driver and Vulkan API to Valve’s own Proton compatibility layer, the Deck only works thanks to a lot of hard work from open source developers. Without them, the whole thing is just a big block of plastic.
Turns out Valve understands this, because in a recent conversation 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 software that powers the Steam Deck. Valve also has them working on things like Steam for ChromeOS and Linux (Griffais didn’t mention macOS though, which makes sense given how Steam seems to freeze in panic every time I launch it on a MacBook) .
Griffais said Valve’s grouping of open source developers was part of a “bigger strategy to coordinate all of these projects and put together some sort of overall architecture” for gaming on Linux. That is, Valve is using its technical and financial clout to bring the cats of open source development together in one direction, so that Linux works as a viable alternative to Windows for PC gaming.
I was surprised when I heard about it. Valve is obviously committed to the Steam Deck, but working with – and paying for – over a hundred developers to keep its open source innards running really puts that commitment into perspective. For people more involved in Linux and open-source development, however, this was less of a surprise. As various commenters in this Reddit thread (opens in a new tab) attests to this, Valve has participated in an incredible amount of open source technology at this point. Even Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds has publicly stated that Valve will “save the Linux desktop” (opens in a new tab). Although it’s worth noting that he was at least a little ambivalent about it.
That’s not the only Deck-related news we’ve heard from Valve lately. We also learned that the company wants to bring back the Steam Controller (opens in a new tab) (also, I have to speak my truth and tell you that the steam controller was awesome, actually), and the Deck Designers dropped hints on a revised Deck (opens in a new tab) with a bigger battery and a better screen.
Even though Valve’s dedication to Linux and open source software is more about having a Windows exit hatch than an unwavering dedication to free and open source principles, it’s great that so many developers get paid for their contributions to the company. Truly, 2022 has been the year of Linux on the desktop.