Playtron: the startup hoping to Steam Deck-ify the world

Handhelds are the future of gaming, but there are reasons why this category hasn’t exploded yet. The Nintendo Switch is locked down, Windows can be cumbersome, and Valve’s pick-up-and-play SteamOS hasn’t escaped the Steam Deck yet.

What if there was an Android of gaming?, an operating system that you could install on any suitable hardware to get a controller-friendly PC experience? Imagine an “Epic Deck” that could actually play Fortnitea “5G Deck” for mobile carriers, or perhaps a “PlayStation Deck” for Sony’s growing PC ambitions.

“If Valve can do this with Steam, we can do this with anything,” said Playtron CEO Kirt McMaster.

Today, Playtron is emerging from stealth mode with $10 million in funding, about 18 employees, and a plan to challenge Microsoft, Valve, and Apple for the next hundred million gamers. And after seeing a stack of internal planning documents, talking to Playtron’s allies, and trying an early alpha, I’m cautiously optimistic.

It starts with a Linux-based operating system that plays Windows games, just like the Steam Deck, except this one isn’t tied to Steam. Games purchased from the Epic Games Store are also first-class citizens.

Nowadays that is not the case in the early alpha form Look all so exciting: a lightweight operating system that replaces Windows or SteamOS on your existing one portable gaming PC, with fewer features and compatible games than its peers. While it certainly played out Death stranding, Dave the diver, and hours of Balatro as well as my Steam Deck, not all games that work there will necessarily work here.

But within a year, Playtron expects to compete with Windows the Operating system for gaming handhelds. “We are in discussions with numerous OEMs and mobile operators to build and deploy Playtron devices around the world in the 2025 timeframe,” says McMaster. He adds that Ayaneo plans to ship a native Playtron handheld by the end of 2024.

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Playtron will cost companies like Ayaneo a fraction of the price of Windows, he says, about $10 a head, instead of the $80 that OEMs tell him today. And he says games like Fortnite And Roblox should not fear hackers reverse engineering their anti-cheat solutions, because the Fedora Silverblue base has an immutable file system. (I also thought SteamOS was immutable, but I’ll let more knowledgeable Linux users debate that.)

Playtron doesn’t just look at handhelds; it imagines every laptop, tablet, phone, TV and car becoming at least a part-time gaming machine. Remember Apple’s journey to bring big games to its own Arm-based silicon? McMaster says he’s hired the developer behind Box86 to bring Windows games to efficient Arm-based silicon, potentially breaking us out of the rut where current portable PCs only get a maximum of two to three hours of AAA gaming battery life.

They already have it The Witcher 3 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 smartphone – albeit under 30 fps with somewhat potato-like graphics.

But while Qualcomm has made a big play about its Snapdragon ‘Have I seen faster? Yes. Have I seen better battery life? Yes. I can’t point to a single example with either,” says Knapp.

If you’re wondering how a brand new startup is convincing hardware manufacturers and mobile carriers with what seems like a glorified games launcher and a few big ideas, you’re not alone. Even Playtron’s allies aren’t trying to claim this is a sure bet.

“It’s a game of conditional probabilities; There are ten different things that need to happen and each of them has a very low probability of success,” said Carlos Castellanos, an investor at Samsung Next who led Playtron’s first round of funding. Game publishers, hardware manufacturers, mobile carriers and the community all need to be involved.

But Castellanos and former PlayStation CEO Shawn Layden, a friend of the project, think this team has a chance to win at a time when few others want to take the lead. “We’re not going into a world overrun with portable gaming platforms,” says Layden. “There is room for someone who can make the right proposition.”

And Castellanos suggests that Playtron might just have the right “conductors” to play that particular symphony.

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McMaster helped set up the US arm of Boost Mobile and was CEO of Cyanogen, the company that produced custom sideloadable versions of Android and helped OnePlus launch its debut phone. Playtron Chairman John Lagerling knows a thing or two about spreading an Android-like operating system: He was Google’s director of global Android partnerships and helped Google strike deals with chipmakers and companies like LG, Asus and Samsung to make Google Nexus phones and tablets . ‘I understood that [Playtron] have closer partnerships with potential suppliers of the chips and hardware,” says Castellanos.

  • Some of the company’s seed funding comes from blockchain companies including Polychain, Circle, Sui, Mysten Labs and CMT Digital. It is thought that players might buy games with cryptocurrencies.
  • Playtron plans to promote some games in the launcher itself.
  • But Playtron isn’t sure if it will have its own store; it wants to be the distribution platform.
  • By the way, you can’t currently buy games through Playtron; stores must first be integrated.
  • Playtron wants to give games a “quality score” to verify that they work well and keep players away from games that don’t unless they choose to see lower scores.
  • “We don’t care if we run the hundred thousand games on Steam… we’re going to focus on the top games.”
  • “Right now, a significant portion of global mobile network operators are interested in launching this category and class of devices to their customers around the world.”
  • ChimeraOS and Heroic Games Launcher developers are free to continue working on these projects.
  • “If you contribute to the Linux gaming community, we’d like to hire you.”
  • For Cyanogen fans, McMaster commends Steve Kondik for building a great community and says he doesn’t blame him for being angry.

That said, Lagerling also assisted in Google’s short-lived purchase of Motorola, and McMaster likely destroyed CyanogenMod while trying to turn it into CyanogenOS. He tells me he’s learned that you shouldn’t try to commercialize an open source project with a significant history, because it can lead to culture wars. But this time everyone is behind it from the start.

“They all have the open source ethos, but they’re all gamers… they want to build an open source operating system that allows them to play unfettered.”

In addition to the developer of the Box86 emulator, the Playtron team includes developers of ChimeraOS, which also draws heavily from SteamOS, and the Heroic Games Launcher that makes it easier to play Epic Games Store and GOG games on Linux handhelds. Co-founder and CTO Franck De Girolami leads the product: he was a programmer and later project leader at the Alone in the dark games, which pioneered the 3D survival horror genre.

Playtron hasn’t quite decided yet How open source it will be, however, and how much will it target Linux power gamers versus the next hundred million that Playtron hopes to bring in. McMaster tells me that Playtron is clearly leaning more towards the ease of use of a Nintendo Switch, working with Perplexity on an AI agent that could stop ‘core-casual’ gamers from dropping games prematurely just because they’re crashing in a challenge or puzzle. There will be no Linux desktop mode.

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And yet Playtron is also hoping to get help from experienced Linux users, releasing a public alpha in the next 60 days so the community can request features, contribute to code repositories if they can, and help improve game compatibility by building launch configurations and test scripts. . (Playtron says it’s working on an assist tool that uses AI image recognition to automatically press the right buttons to launch a game properly.)

For Playtron to succeed, a lot of things have to go right, and it probably won’t be the only company to release a portable OS. Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais now tells me that the company will finally be working directly with other companies to bring SteamOS to its handhelds, and I’m currently testing a promising SteamOS clone called Bazzite. Microsoft won’t sit still forever either.

But right now, Playtron sounds intriguing – especially for anyone looking to challenge the status quo of Steam PC gaming.

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