PC gamers finally get a chance to purchase three Call of Duty games previously absent from Steam, but Steam Deck users should be hesitant before purchasing these iterations.
For the past several years game publishers such as Activision-Blizzard, Rockstar Games, Ubisoft, Epic Games, and EA attempted to utilize their own PC launchers and storefronts in place of Valve's Steam platform. Some publishers even pulled their previously published and/or future games from the Steam store to show their commitment to their launchers and to migrate Steam customers away to their own platforms. Presumably, this migration away from Steam was a method publishers tried in order to circumvent having to pay Valve or other storefronts commission per sale of each game sold, and in theory would retain more revenue per sale of a game.
In most cases this practice led to storefronts with arguably unfavorable user experiences and customer support. These alternative launchers sometimes challenge Mac, Linux and especially Steam Deck users by utilizing DRM or anti-cheat systems that block anything that isn’t running a supported Windows operating system. Other anti-cheat and anti-piracy methods required the use of a constant internet connection that ultimately can deter portable play on handheld PC devices, which more commonly leave the radius of Wi-Fi connections. These over-bearing tactics that are normally reserved for multiplayer games famously stemmed into single-player games like Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time that exclusively launched on the Blizard's Battle.net launcher on PC, and required a constant internet connection to the Battle.net servers.
As quick as they rose, it appears these efforts to leave Steam do not seem to be paying off. Now publishers are reading the room and are slowly backpedaling to Steam. However those years of separation left a hole in many franchises' portfolios. For example, Ubisoft brought their games like Assassin's Creed: Valhalla unceremoniously back to Steam late last year, albeit with new criticisms towards a lack of Steam achievements. Eventually Activision’s own Crash Bandicoot 4 both came to Steam and removed the constant internet connection requirement on its staggered Steam release years after its also-staggered Battle.net launcher PC release- likely in an effort to appeal to Steam Deck players and reduce perpetual server maintenance costs upon relaunching on Steam.
But unlike Crash, those previous efforts from Activision to win over Steam gamers' wallets don’t seem to reflect on these re-releases of recent Call of Duty entries. While Windows loyalists can rejoice in the return of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), Black Ops Cold War, and Vanguard to Steam with a discounted sale price of $29.99 per game (until March 23, 2023), Linux and Steam Deck users are currently unable to even launch these older entries purchased from Steam. This is just like last year’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare II (2022).
It’s worth noting that upon release, Valve’s Steam Deck rating listed these Call of Duty games as unknown, leaving it up to players to take a risk and find out.
Not long after releasing on Wednesday afternoon, Twitter user @AsteroidComman1 posted a video of 2021’s Call of Duty Vanguard failing to launch on a Steam Deck with similar errors to last year's game.
Until further notice, it doesn’t look like Steam OS users will be able to partake in the Call of Duty Steam reunion. However, Call of Duty Modern Warfare II is playable when the Steam Deck runs a Windows OS. Given the similar engine and anti-cheat measures, it would be safe to assume a Steam Deck running Windows should be capable of playing these re-released Call of Duty titles. So while there is a hurdle, some amount of prep work to install Windows to your Steam Deck will get you playing Call of Duty the palm of your hands.