Steam may finally come to Chromebooks — but there's a catch

(Image credit: Future)

Say what you will about the benefits of Chrome OS, but it’s simply not a gaming system. While Chromebooks are becoming more and more powerful, the vast majority of games for the platform are still casual time-wasters or Android games that are meant to be played on phones. That could all change soon, though, as Steam may be on its way to Google’s operating system — albeit without its full library.

Information comes from an exclusive Android Police report, in which journalist David Ruddock recounts a CES conversation he had with Kan Liu, Director of Product Management for Chrome OS. Liu said that the Chrome team is hard at work bringing Steam to Chrome OS, although whether Valve is a direct partner in this plan remains a little vague. This isn’t an absolute guarantee that Steam is coming to the system, but all of the proper elements seem to be in place.

Liu didn’t say when Steam might reach Chrome OS, or what kinds of games users would be able to play. After all, Steam itself isn’t a game client; it’s simply a storefront and launching platform. Most games on Steam still require Windows compatibility; few, if any, of them are explicitly compatible with Chrome OS.

On the other hand, as Ruddock points out, Chrome OS generally plays nicely with Linux, and Steam is one of the only digital game stores that offers Linux compatibility. Even now, players can run Linux games on Chrome OS, if they’re willing to engage in some fairly tedious workarounds.

There’s also the question of minimum system requirements, however. Chromebooks tend to have less powerful processors than Windows machines, and integrated GPUs on Chromebooks are a rule, not an option. That’s to say nothing of RAM and storage space, both of which are vital for high-end games.

On the other hand, demanding, big-budget games are hardly the only options available on Steam. Right now, Steam’s Linux options include Stardew Valley, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Civilization VI, Rocket League and Hollow Knight, all of which will run (with varying degrees of fidelity) on low-end systems. I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that even this small selection would represent a huge improvement over most of what’s available on Chrome OS at the moment.

There’s, of course, one other good reason to have Steam on Chromebooks: remote play. If you have Steam set up on a PC, you can then stream games to other Steam-enabled machines on the same network. It’s not as good as playing a game natively, but it’s a far sight better than trying to play remote games on Chrome OS at the moment. (You need a Linux workaround, which, like most Linux workarounds, works when it feels like working.)

In any case, the addition of Steam would probably not make Chrome OS into a gaming powerhouse overnight. But if Chromebooks keep getting better specs (such as the upcoming $999 Samsung Galaxy Chromebook), users are going to want something to do with all those resources. They might as well play good games.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.