At this point we’ve sent hundreds of dev-kits out to developers around the world, and are still shipping out more - but we unfortunately will be unable to serve the entire Steam developer community. There are ways around this though, and it is possible to develop for Steam Deck without a dev-kit, with the hardware you have available to you.
As an aside, the dev-kits that we are sending out are just prototypes of retail units. There isn’t anything special or different about them, no extra hardware or software that make them easier to develop for. So you really can just use available hardware to get a pretty accurate idea of how your game will run on Steam Deck. So let’s go through testing methods point-by-point using the main items our Deck Verified testers will be looking for.
Your title should have full controller support, use appropriate controller icons, and automatically bring up the on-screen keyboard if the player needs to enter text.
Testing this is simple. Just plug a controller into your computer, and play your game from startup. Using a PS4 or PS5 controller will give you the best coverage for the kinds of input Steam Deck includes (as it has trackpad and gyro). That said, an Xbox controller, Steam controller, or Switch Pro controller will work as well. While playing your game, take note when there are moments where you have to reach for your keyboard or mouse (launchers, for instance). These are places where our testers will note that controllers are not fully supported.
If you don't already have a default controller configuration, we recommend you make one. One good starting point is to look at the top community controller configurations for your game and try them out. You can use these as templates for setting up your own default configuration with intuitive controls. For more information about Steam Input, check out the documentation
Your game needs to support Steam Deck's default resolution (1280x800 or 1280x720 works) and have legible text on its 7-inch display.
There are a couple very low-tech things you can do to test these bits. First, try setting your game to 1280 x 800 to make sure it works. Next, try resizing your game window down to 7” across on your monitor to see how legible the text is. Bonus points if you can figure out how to do both of these things at the same time on your monitor.
Alternatively, you could (if you want) purchase a small monitor that has similar specifications to Steam Deck’s display. We were able to find this 7", 1280x800 baby monitor on the internet for $73 on Amazon. (we couldn't find a banana, so here's a can of pop for scale)
Any monitor around this size that supports 720p will give you a good idea how your game will look at this size and resolution. And again, buying a monitor like this is not a requirement - just an option should you want to test your game this way.
This is the most involved part from the 'homemade' standpoint, because the best way to know how your game will run on Steam Deck's Linux based OS, is to test it in a Linux environment.
At a high level, you'll need to install Linux on a machine, install Steam, and run your game using Proton (or not, if you have a native Linux build). You don't need to run out and get a new PC - it's possible to do this on a partition of your existing dev box. That said, it is easier if you do have a separate Linux system. If you use your existing dev box, you’ll have to boot back and forth between testing and developing.
We’re going to be installing Manjaro, which is an Arch Linux distribution, similar to what’s on Steam Deck. This version comes with KDE Plasma, which is the same desktop environment that will ship on Steam Deck – all in all it’s very close to the Deck OS environment, and a great way to test for system support.Step 1: Create a boot disk
Step 2: Install Manjaro
- First, we need to make a boot disk to install Manjaro. Go to this website and download the official KDE version of Manjaro (it’s free). The first download link works great.
- Next, you’ll need a piece of software to create a boot disk. I used Rufus (also free).
- Last, you’ll need a USB drive (4GB or larger). Plug it in, start up Rufus, and use the Manjaro ISO file to create a boot disk.
Step 3: Install Steam
- Plug the boot disk in (to your dev machine or other PC) and restart the PC into boot options. This will vary by system - on the PC I was using it was F7, but you'll have to look it up for your system.
- Boot from the Manjaro USB drive
- Follow the instructions to install – it’s a pretty straight forward install wizard, and it will give you options to partition your drive if you need to.
- Once that’s done, you'll drop into KDE desktop. It will look pretty familiar, with a taskbar, a start menu, windowed applications, etc.
Step 4: Turn on Proton for all games
- Almost there, just have to install Steam. One bonus of Manjaro is that Steam is pre-installed.
- Just open the Start menu and find Steam under Games.
- Run Steam, let it update, and log in
Step 5: Test your game
- We’ll need to turn on Proton, which is in a single switch in Settings
- Go to Settings > Steam Play and turn on Steam Play for all titles, and make sure it defaults to Proton Experimental
- Download your game from Steam, install it and play it.
- If testing with a controller (which you should) you should go into Big Picture mode to get access to the in-game overlay and configurator.
- Play your game to test Proton support.
Updating and downloading builds from Steam is not a great way to iterate, so we’ve created some software to help with this. That said, to use this software you will need to have a Linux test machine that’s separate from your dev PC.
What we’ve made available is the SteamOS Dev Kit Client and SteamOS Dev Kit Service. These tools are now free to download on Steam. With these tools you’ll be able to upload builds, grab logs and traces, debug your build, and overall iterate much quicker than trying to work entirely through the SteamPipe.
All you'll need to do is download the SteamOS Dev Kit Client to your development PC, download the SteamOS Dev-Kit Service to your Linux box, start them both up, and connect your PC to your Linux box. You can find links to download and learn how to use these tools here
Last up is performance. If you are really interested in finding a PC for testing that will perform similarly to a Steam Deck (again, not required for testing), there are a few options out there. The team looked around and found this mini-pc on Amazon, which has roughly similar specifications to a Steam Deck. It has:
- AMD Ryzen 7 3750H
- Radeon RX Vega 10 Graphics
- 16GB of DDR4 RAM
The team agreed that if a game runs well on this mini-PC at 1280 x 800, it will definitely run well on Steam Deck* - compared to Steam Deck, this system's GPU is weaker and there's less memory bandwidth, but the CPU is a bit stronger. It's underpowered compared to Steam Deck, but is the closest system we could find that is still generally available for purchase.
This mini pc was $660 on Amazon, and there are definitely other options out there. Just look for ones with similar CPU / GPU specs, ideally using an AMD chip and Radeon graphics to be closest to Steam Deck. *edit - Previously this article stated that performance would be comparable - this has been updated after discussing more with the team.
All TogetherFinally, if you’d really like to test everything at once, you can put everything we’ve talked about above into one package. Install Manjaro on a similarly spec’d PC, hook up a mini-monitor, plug in a controller, and you have yourself a little hackendeck. With a set up like this you’ll be able to test input, display, system compatibility and performance all in one shot.
(picture taken at a time when there were still bananas around for scale)
Again, you don’t have to do all of this to test your title for Steam Deck – you can test just as well with hardware you have available without having to go buy new stuff. Just understand that there may be some differences with performance and display.
One caveat about the Linux boxSteam Deck is running a different OS than Manjaro - and with the setup we've just shared, things specific to Steam Deck’s OS like gamescope and gamepad-ui cannot be tested for. We will be following up soon with an image you can use with your test machines that will incorporate these things. Once this is released, you’ll have an even more accurate test environment as compared to a Steam Deck.
That's it. You can let us know if you have any questions, and collaborate with other developers at the Steam Deck developer forums.