Apr 13, 2023 3 min read

Microsoft experimenting with Windows gaming mode on Steam Deck

Could an official 'Windows Handheld Mode' be coming to Steam Deck? Some Microsoft employees sure hope so.

Microsoft experimenting with Windows gaming mode on Steam Deck

Could an official 'Windows Handheld Mode' be coming to Steam Deck? Some Microsoft employees sure hope so.

A recent leak from an employee hackathon at Microsoft reveals that folks within the company explored a possible Windows Handheld Mode for portable devices such as Valve's Linux-based Steam Deck.

The "rough and ready" hackathon project (from September of last year) was shared recently over on Twitter by user '_h0x0d_' — the tweet shows a brief video presentation from a Microsoft employee explaining the potential feature.

In the video, it's explained that the informal project was established to take "some of the first steps" towards "creating a truly optimized Windows experience for the handheld PC market", noting that this space is "really just starting to grow" thanks to devices like the Steam Deck.

The employees behind this undertaking are clearly fans of Valve's portable device, as during this video 'pitch' they add that the Steam Deck has been a huge success, saying that "people love it" and it offers folks "the Switch experience, but with all the PC games they love".

Of course, due to the Steam Deck being a Linux-based device, the Windows experience is currently far from ideal — as mentioned in this video, "it's been pretty rough [..] the drivers are pretty basic, and it's not ready for prime time".

This forms the basis behind why such a project was explored by this team at Microsoft.

In the brief leaked video, it's highlighted that those working on this wanted to address a variety of issues to improve the Windows experience on Steam Deck — such as controller support, touch screen issues, various UI and UX elements needing attention, onboarding, app launching, and more.

A demo of their efforts is then shown, revealing the results of the hackathon — a working 'minimal viable product' run-through of this Windows Handheld Mode running on Steam Deck.

Windows Handheld Mode on Steam Deck

It's then suggested in the September 2022 video that this project should see wider support within the company and should be developed further:

"Windows and Xbox app users deserve this, need this.

A Windows gaming experience, dialed-in to handhelds, represents a new revenue stream in multiple ways, as well as being a goodwill gesture to the PC gaming community (further improving Windows/Xbox's image and cred).

Let's build incrementally, let's release previews, let's build excitement, and let's get serious about handheld gaming on Windows."

Following the video leaking on Twitter, the Microsoft employee supposedly behind these Handheld Mode efforts took to Reddit to share additional details, noting that they "didn’t have the right engineers" to achieve a lot of what was desired in the short hackathon project timeframe.

The Reddit user, AndrewMT, also noted that Phil Spencer personally is aware of the project, adding that he was "very nice and tried to drive me to some people that could help, but everyone was tied-up at the time".

Of course, as this was work carried out at a hackathon, it is very much considered an experimental effort and something of a proof of concept. It may never see the light of day and actually ship, but it's a good sign all the same to see folks internally at Microsoft making a push for improved Steam Deck support like this.  

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