How to Set Up EmuDeck on Steam Deck: A Beginner’s Guide

Forget long-winded guides, here's everything you need to set up EmuDeck on the Steam Deck.

The Steam Deck remains the go-to emulator of choice for many users out there. It’s also one of the best choices for playing GameCube games.

But if you’re a newcomer, working out how to get emulators up and running can seem quite daunting.

That’s why we’ve put together a detailed guide for beginners trying to work out how to set up EmuDeck on Steam Deck. Although it may look pretty tough, it’s actually quite simple once you know what you doing.

Step 1 – Format the SD Card

Image showing where the format SD card option is

Once you’ve got an SD card and plugged it into the Steam Deck, head into the settings area. Below general, you should see something called system. Click on that, then on the right side of the screen, scroll down to where it says format SD card. To the right, there should be a button labeled format. Hit format, then follow the on-screen instructions.

Doing this means you’ve got a clean microSD card to work with and should help to avoid issues later on.

  • Go to settings
  • Click on system
  • Find format SD Card
  • Hit format

Step 2 – Head to the Desktop

Image showing how to access the desktop mode on Steam Deck

The next step has us leaving the Steam Deck’s front-end and using the desktop capabilities.

To do this, hold the power button for a few seconds until a menu pops up. This is known as the Steam Menu. You should now be greeted by the options of sleep, shutdown, restart, change account, restart Steam Client, and switch to desktop. Click on switch to desktop and this will move the user to – you guessed it – the desktop area.

  • Hold down the power button
  • Click on ‘switch to desktop’ at the bottom of the menu

Step 3 – Grab EmuDeck

Image showing a live version of the EmuDeck homepage

Feel free to hook up a USB keyboard and mouse for this next bit if you want to make life easier.

Now we’re on the desktop, the next thing we’re going to want to do is load up the Internet browser. By default, the Steam Deck’s desktop mode offers Firefox, so we’ll be using that.

Now your browser has been launched, head to the address bar at the top then type in “emudeck.com” and hit enter. This will take you to the EmuDeck homepage.

Next, near the top of the screen are five options – Installation Guide, Download, Steam Input, FAQ, and Cookie Policy. Click on download and it’ll take you to the next page.

From here, there should be a big, black, round button with download in white writing. Hit that, and wait for the file to download.

Once it’s finished, right-click the file, which should be in the bottom-left of your browser window in Firefox, and select show in folder. You’ll now be on a screen showing the folder structure of the Steam Deck. Specifically, you’ll land in the downloads folder, which is handy for the next bit.

Now, this is important. Double click the file to open it. If it launches, great, move on to the next step. If it doesn’t, let’s fix that.

Right-click the file ‘emudeck.desktop‘ to bring up a selection of options. All we care about is the bottom options here named properties. Click that to bring up a new menu, then move over to the second tab on the new menu named permissions. From here, there should be a box in the middle of the page that reads ‘is executable‘. Click on the box next to it to place a tick, then finish by smacking ok at the bottom of the window.

  • Open up your Internet Browser
  • Go to the EmuDeck website or Google ‘EmuDeck’
  • Download EmuDeck from the official website
  • Change the file permission to ‘executable’

Step 4 – Installing EmuDeck

Image showing how to install EmuDeck

If you’ve got this far, you’re doing great.

Open the file we downloaded emudeck.desktop to begin the installation. This is the main file that will do all the hard work for us in one easy swoop and install all the emulators we need to get games up and running.

Follow the on-screen instructions. This is all fairly simple to understand but when you’re greeted by this much text running in the background, it’s easy to get a bit lost.

Everything is fairly standard for anyone who’s ever installed a piece of software. It is worth having a think about whether you want to install EmuDeck in easy mode or expert mode, though. As this is a beginner’s guide, we’ll be going with easy mode.

The main difference between the two modes is easy mode takes care of everything, while expert mode offers up more control of configurations and the option to install PowerTools to import custom emulator configurations. As we say, if you’re new, go with easy mode.

Next you’ll be asked where you want to install EmuDeck to – the internal storage or an SD card. This choice is up to you, and it’s worth keeping in mind internal will, in some cases, yield faster load speeds. That said, sticking everything on an SD card makes the process easier to manage for some (and you can pop it in a Windows PC at a later date should you need to).

The Steam Deck will default to internal, so if you want to use the SD card as your storage, click that to select it. Then when you’ve made your decision, click on ok to move things along.

Once this has finished all the directories needed for EmuDeck – most noticeable the bios and game folders – will be placed onto your storage option. Keep this in mind for the next step.

  • Run the EmuDeck installation file
  • Choose where to install it
  • Finish installation
  • Launch ROM manager

Step 5 – How to Add Games and ROMs

Image showing multiple points of interest to learn more about

To recap what just happened, the EmuDeck file has installed multiple different emulators on your Steam Deck and it’s placed all the folders in the right place for those emulators to be able to read games. Make sense? Cool. Let’s move on.

Head into the Steam Deck’s file explorer and navigate to where EmuDeck has installed the folder titled emulation. Inside this folder are several more folders. The two we’ll be focusing on are bios and ROMs.

Now, a quick disclaimer. We can’t tell you where to find bios files for different systems nor can we tell you where to find ROMs. That’s illegal and could land us in serious trouble, so we can’t be sharing that info.

What we can tell you, however, is that those files would go into the corresponding system within each of these folders.

One quick way to do this is to transfer the files you need onto a USB stick and plug said stick into the Steam Deck. That will give you the option, in the Steam Deck file explorer, to read the USB stick and copy and paste the files from there over to the bios or ROMs folder on the Steam Deck itself.

If you’re a Windows user, just plug the USB stick into a PC. Open file explorer, navigate to where you keep your games, then right-click on the folder full of games or the individual games and select copy.

After that, still while in Windows explorer, head back to the USB stick and click on it. From here it’s just a case of right-clicking on the space to the right and selecting paste.

This will copy your files to the USB stick which in turn can then be plugged into the Steam Deck to transfer the files across as outlined above.

  • Transfer any games, ROMs, or bios files over to the Steam Deck

Step 6 – Understanding Steam ROM Manager and EmulationStation

Steam ROM Manager

Congrats! You’ve now completed how to set up EmuDeck on Steam Deck. There are a few things that are worth digging into before you go, though.

First things first, load up Steam ROM Manager from the desktop. There are going to be a lot of options, but don’t worry, we only need to focus on two.

The first is at the top-left, named preview. Once you click on that, there should be an empty panel to the right. At the bottom of this panel is generate app list. Click that, and it’ll populate the screen with all the games you added earlier.

This may take a while to fully populate depending on what type of games and how many you have, so sit tight for a minute or two if you’ve got a colossal collection.

Next we’re going to make sure Steam isn’t running. Along the bottom of the screen, the taskbar, you may see the Steam icon. If you do, right-click it and select exit. This will let you make changes to Steam without any conflicts rearing their heads.

Back in Steam ROM Manager, next to where you clicked generate app list should be something saying save app list. Hit that and it’ll save all your changes.

The second thing about Steam ROM Manager worth discussing is the parser options.

When you open the Steam ROM Manager, you should see parsers as an option on the left. Once expanded by clicking, you’ll see a host of different systems.  It’s here where you can pick and choose which games and systems or even emulators are shown on the main Steam Deck frontend.

Want to see all your Switch games but not SNES games? Want to showcase some GBA games but not every single one? It’s here you can make those changes.

This is useful if you find your screen becoming too cramped due to having so many games.

EmulationStation

If, for example, you didn’t want to show any games on the main SteamOS game page, and instead wanted to use an app designed to show all your games in its own program, that’s where EmulationStation comes in.

This is an app to view and play all your games. It’s also fully customisable and there’s even the option of downloading different themes. You can even set it up to look and work like a PlayStation 4 (which I totally have).

With all that out the way, you’re now good to go and play all your games and can now load back into the SteamOS where your games should be there ready to play.

What Can the Steam Deck Emulate?

As you probably guessed, we’ve got a detailed complete guide to what the Steam Deck can emulate, but the short version is a lot. As a general guide, up to PS3 is a good way to look at it.

  • Sega: Genesis/Mega Drive, Master System, Game Gear, SegaCD, Sega32x, Dreamcast
  • Nintendo: NES, SNES, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, DS, 3DS, N64, GameCube, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo Switch
  • Sony: PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3
  • Microsoft: Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox Game Streaming
  • Misc: PC Engine, WonderSwan, Mame, FBNeo, Neo Geo

With EmuDeck, you should have a wealth of standalone emulators to choose from, but if you find yourself unsure of which emulator to use, it’s best to try RetroArch first. RetroArch is basically a super program that houses all the main emulators going, so if you need something more niche, chances are RetroArch has it.

What Can EmuDeck Emulate?

EmuDeck gives access to Genesis/Mega Drive, SegaCD, Sega32x, PC Engine, WonderSwan, SNES, Mame, FBNeo, NES, Master System, Dreamcast, Neo Geo, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, Neo Geo Pocket, GameGear, NDS, 3DS, PSP, Nintendo 64, Wii, GameCube, Playstation 1, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Wii U, Switch and includes Steam input support from Cemu and Citra.

  • Sega: Genesis/Mega Drive, SegaCD, Sega32x, Master System, Dreamcast, GameGear
  • Nintendo: SNES, NES, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, NDS, 3DS, Wii U, Switch, Nintendo 64, Wii, GameCube
  • Sony: Playstation 1, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PSP
  • Misc: PC Engine, WonderSwan, Mame, FBNeo, Neo Geo, Neo Geo Pocket

EmuDeck Hotkeys

While playing a game, you might want to play around with the settings. This could be to add widescreen hacks or alter the resolution for hard-to-emulate games to make them run smoother.

If you’re trying to do any of the above, it’s worth keeping in mind the following button combos can access the in-game emulator.

  • L3 + R3 – brings up the RetroArch menu
  • Select + Start (twice) – to leave RetroArch
  • Select + A – pause the emulator
  • Select + R2 – fast-forward
  • Select + L1 – to load a save state
  • Select + R1- to select a save state
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Wesley Copeland

Wesley Copeland is a gaming and tech journalist with over 10 years of experience writing online. Originally starting in video games before specializing in tech and toys, you can find his bylines at IGN, VG24/7, Kotaku, Tech Radar, Games Radar, PC Gamer, and many more. He's also highly passionate about how tech can be used to better our day-to-day lives.