Playtron announces self-titled Linux OS and gaming handheld with hopes to unify storefronts

(Image credit: Playtron)

Playtron has entered the portable gaming scene with its announcement of a self-titled Linux OS, PlaytronOS and eventually a Playtron handheld. Playtron is backed by $10 million in funding and has 18 employees. Concept art for the handheld was originally provided to The Verge for its extended, exclusive coverage of the announcement. In the face of the ongoing success of Steam Deck (OLED), Linux gaming in general, and the ever-increasing number of handheld gaming PCs, it seems Playtron is determined to shake up the market.

PlaytronOS is claimed to run on all of the current drop of gaming handhelds, so you could install it on your Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally or even the Lenovo Legion Go. But Playtron specific hardware is on the cards for later this year.
Will it be successful, though? Let's go over the established names connected to this SteamOS alternative (and eventual Deck competitor, the date for the handheld on the site is 2025) before we start earnestly assessing PlaytronOS for what it is.

Confirmed Playtron Members and Industry Connections

  • Cyanogen (Mod and OS) / Kirt McMaster — Former CEO and cofounder of CyanogenMod, a popular "custom Android ROM" (OS) that eventually developed into a full, commercial competitor...that died badly.
  • Box86 / ptitSeb — Author of Box86 and Box64, which both exist for the purpose of emulating x86 software on ARM.
  • Qualcomm / Micah Napp  — Director of Product Management at QC.
  • ChimeraOS — Unnamed developers are participating in the project. ChimeraOS is a modern SteamOS port for non-Steam Deck devices.
  • Heroic Game Launcher — Unnamed developer from Heroic are also participating. Heroic Game Launcher is a Linux game launcher for Epic, GOG, and Amazon Prime Games which also works on Steam Deck.
  • Some Cryptocurrency Seed Funding — Crypto seed funding includes blockchain companies Plychain, Mysten Labs, CMT Digital, Sui, and Circle. According to The Verge, this might also mean some kind of crypto integration for buying games in the future of PlaytronOS.
  • *PlayStation / Shawn Layden — *Former CEO of PlayStation, and "Friend" of the project. Says "There's room [in the handheld market] for someone who can make the right proposition."

According to Playtron's official website, PlaytronOS is a "Linux-based gaming OS compatible with every game store and many 3rd party integrations to come." The same site describes SteamOS as "Linux-based game OS compatible with Steam only. Locked to the Valveverse."

These statements about SteamOS and Deck are where we hit a gray area. Running the Steam Deck with Steam OS and the Steam store is undoubtedly how Valve would like gamers to experience the Steam Deck. While Gaming Mode only officially supports the Steam storefront, with a little tweaking, games from other storefronts can be played in Desktop Mode and Gaming Mode with the right configuration. In fact, the touted involvement of Heroic Games Launcher is notable here because its main purpose is getting non-Steam game launchers to work on Linux.

That said, this doesn't make a project like PlaytronOS pointless. While it's true Steam Deck supports other launchers, you'll still need to do a lot of Desktop Mode setup to get their games working, compared to seamless Steam Store game installs.

PlaytronOS will be removing Desktop Mode from the equation entirely, and (apparently) support all the major PC storefronts right after installing. PlaytronOS is being targeted at a "core-casual" audience that wouldn't want to deal with that hassle, and Playtron is even partnering with Perplexity for AI-driven tips for gamers who get stuck.

Another compelling feature of PlaytronOS besides simplifying the experience for multi-launcher Linux gamers is support for ARM architecture with x86 emulation for games. By bringing ptitSeb into the equation, future and existing ARM handheld devices suddenly look a lot more viable for Linux gaming through PlaytronOS.

There are also claims that PlaytronOS may have better anti-cheat implementations than SteamOS thanks to using Fedora Silverblue Linux as a base, though these are a little dubious.

This meteoric announcement hasn't come without criticism, either. While PlaytronOS is apparently "open-source", device manufacturers are being called to pay a $10 royalty for installing PlaytronOS on a given device. Playtron was quoted as undecided "just how open source it'll be" while also releasing a public alpha in hopes of getting lots of (free) testing from the Linux community.

In the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community, that could be viewed as an underhanded move, particularly if PlaytronOS itself eventually gets paywalled. Though considering the existence of ChimeraOS and other SteamOS alternatives, like HoloISO or Bazzite, that would also be very unwise without lots of hardware manufacturers backing Playtron.

  • kealii123
    if x86 apps on ARM works well, this could be a game changer. I have a qualcomm 8cx Gen3 windows tablet, and about half the games I've tried actually run. For those that do, the fps is comparable to my steamdeck set to 7 watts. I assume the Qualcomm also runs at 7 watts, so with Windows crappy x86 emulation its meeting the best AMD has to offer, watt for watt. If the new Qualcomm chips are as powerful as they look, we could have fanless handhelds that match the full power of the steamdeck.
  • salgado18
    It sounds great... but the big feature of the Steam Deck is Proton. Most games are Windows only, a Linux alternative shouldn't offer much value if you will need to dual-boot anyway.