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GC08: One-on-one with Valve’s Gabe Newell

Thursday, 21 August 2008 05:51 GMT By Patrick Garratt

gabenewella.jpg

Left 4 Dead’s looking hot, bucko. It’s looking real hot, and inevitably so: it’s a Valve game. Being shown at Games Convention in Germany this week, the co-op zombie shooter has all the hallmarks of another Valve drip-feed classic, and company boss and development legend Gabe Newell probably knows it.

Given that, then, we thought we’d talk about other stuff when we interviewed him yesterday. Things like:

  • How Half-Life 2: Episode 3′s development is coming along.
  • How Left 4 Dead will follow the Team Fortress 2 content update model.
  • How Steam is planned to contain apps like Firefox.
  • How Steam will utilise user bandwidth for peer-to-peer delivery.
  • How Newell would still love to make a Wii game.
  • Why Newell hates being told what to do by console manufacturers.
  • Why buying a “bunch of ads” is not the best way to sell a game.
  • How EA is the only partner Valve’s ever had that paid up all the money it owed.
  • How every Team Fortress 2 content update bring a sales spike of 20 percent.
  • How Newell gets approached twice a week to sell Valve.
  • How Newell really doesn’t want to sell Valve.

You know. Stuff like that. Did we say how amazing Left 4 Dead looks?

After the drop.

VG247: Are you getting sick of saying there’s no PS3 version yet?

Gabe Newell: It means people want the game, which is good. But we don’t have plans for a PS3 version yet.

Are you thinking of Left 4 Dead in terms of a franchise?

I think we’re going through this transition right now, where we’re used to thinking of these products as boxes that you ship into stores and then you wait to see how many you sell. If you look at what we’ve been doing with Team Fortress 2, where every four to six weeks we release a new movie, or tell you something more about the characters, release new maps, achievements, weapons, unlockables and so on, we find that the community grows much faster that way.

People are excited about bringing their friends on board. You know, the community gets bigger, there are more servers and we sell more products. So that’s pretty much the direction we’re going in with Left 4 Dead, wanting to continue to provide ongoing content releases to the community, based on its feedback, as quickly as we can.

Why do you think that drip-feed mentality works for Valve games specifically?

I think it would work for anybody’s games. Like I said, we’re moving through this transition.

It used to be that you really wanted to have that big first weekend, just like the movies, and that was the best way to deliver products. But in this post -internet world, the best way of getting more customers is not to buy a bunch of ads or put up a bunch of posters in stores.

Your existing customers are the best way to get more customers, and the best way to get them excited is by releasing more content.

Do you find the boxed copy model and the slowness of the industry to react to what you’re saying frustrating?

We’re mainly concerned about what our customers think, and they’re… rewarding us by buying lots of copies. Each time we do an update there’s a 20 percent uptake in Team Fortress 2 sales, so that tells us pretty clearly that we’re doing the right thing.

How’s Episode 3 coming along? You’ve been quiet on it for a while now.

Doug [Lombardi, Valve's comms boss - Ed] is shaking his head at me, so I don’t get to talk about it. It’s coming along well. I think it’s going to be the best episode of the three.

When do you think we’re going to be able to see it?

We aren’t announcing a date yet.

You’ve been working on Left 4 Dead for some time, and you’ve taken the traditional Valve approach of “when it’s done,” as you did with Team Fortress 2. Are you making any moves internally to speed up the development process or are you comfortable with the way things are working at the moment?

I think we’re happy that we spend the time. I think we’re more frustrated with what we tell people about dates rather than how long we spend. Everybody works very hard. These games are very complex. I think we’re excited about how fast the Team Fortress team has been able to put out updates, and they’ve been able to do that with a narrow focus and knowing exactly what they’re going to do, and knowing they’re going to ship it in four weeks.

There’s a real feeling that we’re being very productive that way, and that’s the mode the Left 4 Dead team will be transitioning to when we get the product out into customers’ hands.

What about the console conundrum? That seems to be a nut you haven’t cracked. You seem to be very comfortable with 360, but I do remember a while ago that you said you were interested in Wii, then you said you weren’t…

No no no. I think Wii is a great box. I’m really interested in stuff they’ve taken forward in terms of input. You know, we’re a 150 person company. There’s a limit to how much we can get done.

Do you feel comfortable with doing console versions? To be absolutely blunt, is it purely a money thing? Or, aesthetically, does it make you happy to be able to deliver 360 versions?

I think the 360′s a great platform for Left 4 Dead. The 360 players that come in and play the game are really happy with it. So yeah, I think we’re comfortable.

The difficulty comes in continuing to try to broaden how many different platforms we’re doing simultaneously. We’ll do better over time.

The big concern I have right now is our ability to provide updates. On the PC side, we’ve done as many as four updates in a day, and that’s great: we can respond very quickly. If Nvidia puts out a new graphics driver and it changes some way about how texture management works, then before our customers know there’s any issue then the problem has gone away.

Or we can do the Pyro updates, and the Medic updates [and so on]. On the consoles, they want us to charge money for them, because that’s in their model, and our model is very much more to grow the community by giving out free updates. That’s harder for us.

And then on the consoles they have pretty lengthy certification periods, and we’re pretty happy that our customers think that we do a good job on the quality side of updates, and we don’t need someone looking over our shoulder checking to make sure that we’re not going to screw our customers with a bad update.

Does it rankle a bit when people from the console manufacturers tell you what to do?

Sure. I mean, like any developer, we want nobody between us and the people who are playing our game. It’s pretty self-interested, because when you have the ability to respond directly to what customers are telling you, you sell more copies of your games, and you sell more audiences, and you make more money.

So anything that stands between us and them is a bad thing.

What about Steam Cloud? That was a bit of a leftfield announcement. How does it enrich the platform?

I think people right now are used to the idea of application portability. I can log into any PC anywhere, log into my Steam account and have all my applications, and we just wanted to do the same thing for data as well.

So, starting with small chunks of data so we can scale up the robustness of the system and then growing it to be whatever data you have associated with those applications. So, it’s just part of making the service component to Steam stronger.

Do you intend to extend that?

Oh yeah.

In what way?

In terms of services?

Functionality and services.

One of the things we’d like to do is to understand what types of applications people have on their PCs. For example, if a whole bunch of people are running Firefox, then make sure that’s one of the applications they can get through Steam.

There are community features that we want to continue to add. There’s peer-to-peer functionality: the community has this tremendous amount of bandwidth. There’s a whole bunch of content that they’re downloading right now, and being able to replicate that throughout the community using peer-to-peer would be a really good idea. What they need is a structured interface on top of that so they can find the content that everybody’s already downloading. Those are the kind of things we’re looking at.

I think it was you, Doug, said that you were interested in having negotiations about selling Valve?

No. So, Doug was trying to be complimentary to EA Partners. Before we started working with EA, all we were hearing were horror stories from other developers about what it was like to work with EA, and our experiences with EA have been very positive.

For example – I’m not sure how many people are interested in these nitty gritty games business details – in all our contacts we have the right to audit partners, and whenever we do an audit it always turns out that whoever we’re working with hasn’t paid us all the money that they owe us. We just did an audit of EA, and for the first time in our 12-year history, they’d paid us everything they were supposed to.

You audited EA?

We audit everybody. All of our partners. It’s a part of doing business. The thing that’s unusual isn’t that we audited them, it’s unusual that they were totally squeaky clean and had fulfilled all of their obligations. It sounds sort of strange if I’m saying that to a gamer, but if I say that to another game developer they’re like, ‘You’re kidding.’ So we found them great to work with. And Doug’s comments about EA were like, ‘Hey, they’re great to work with, and we love working with them.’

So you’ve got no interest in selling Valve?

Right now we’re super-happy. We’ve been an independent company from day one, and we think that that contributes to our good decision-making. We’re much more concerned about finding more people that are like us and want to work with us – and doing a great job for customers – than looking for people that want to buy the company.

Have you had any approaches for the company?

I get approached a couple of times a week by people saying, ‘Can we invest in you, can we buy you?’ That’s been true for several years. We’re having too much fun.

Are you interested in stepping outside the shooter genre? Any chance of a Valve MMO?

We’re always interested, but let me put it this way: I would love to do a Wii game, and how many Wii games have we shipped? So, it’s just a question of having way, way too many ideas for our ability to execute. If people things are bad now, if we were trying to do a Wii MMO at the same time our schedules would be measurable in centuries.

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9 Comments

  1. pjmaybe

    WOW! It’s Mrs Doubtfire!

    #1 7 years ago
  2. Hero of Canton

    Nintendo – throw money at these people. NOW.

    #2 7 years ago
  3. Blerk

    You seriously think Gabe and co. would even contemplate a Wii title? It’s never going to happen. In a million billion years.

    #3 7 years ago
  4. mortiferus

    So that is where he hides his money… tucked into the rolls of fat around his neck and waist. Ingenious!

    #4 7 years ago
  5. bugmenot

    to mortiferus:

    And you hide dicks in your ass.

    #5 7 years ago
  6. Blerk

    Hi, Gabe!

    #6 7 years ago
  7. Hero of Canton

    You seriously think Gabe and co. would even contemplate a Wii title?

    Given that he says in the interview that he’d love to do one, I’d say that’s a reasonable assumption to make.

    #7 7 years ago
  8. scuz

    gabe newell is microsoft through and through and LOVE the things he’s doing for pc gaming therefore it doesn’t bother me he hates the ps3 for whatever reasons he has.

    #8 7 years ago
  9. DarkElfa

    …and still, no word about Counter Strike’s future.

    #9 7 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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  • Dead Rising: Watchtower teaser talks up the benefits of Zombrex

    Live-action Dead Rising movie Watchtower is almost upon us. Dead Rising: Watchtower will release on Crackle on March 27, and via other digital distributors thereafter. Enjoy the short teaser below, courtesy of IGN.

  • We Happy Few debut hits you upside the face with a frying pan

    Contrast developer Compulsion Games has revealed its next project – the delightfully creepy-looking We Happy Few. We Happy Few is set in “a drug-fuelled, retrofuturistic city in an alternative 1960s England” where “a plucky bunch of moderately terrible people trying to escape from a lifetime of cheerful denial”. Players are tasked with blending in with […]

  • Slender: The Arrival creeping onto PS4, Xbox One in March

    Slender: The Arrival sold like hotcakes on PC and last-gen consoles, so why not terrify yourself on PS4 and Xbox One, too? Slender: The Arrival will release on PS4 on March 24 and on Xbox One on March 25, developer Blue Isle Studios has announced, for $10. No word on that Wii U version, though. […]

  • GOG weekend sale celebrates German debut

    DRM-free games vendor GOG is celebrating its German-language launch with a tasty sale. The sale offers discounts over 25 “German favourites”. Highlights inclue 97% off Deponia, and less steep but still tasty savings on Memoria and Blackguards 1 and 2. The sale will run through March 3, and you do not have to be, speak, […]

  • Humble Weekly Bundle goes back to Japan

    The latest Humble Weekly Bundle is called Made in Japan, and I’m sure you can guess the theme. Pay what you want for Cherry Tree High Complete Pack (PC; Steam or DRM free), Fairy Bloom Freesia (PC; Steam or DRM free) and Influent + Language Pack (Linux, Mac, PC; Steam or DRM free). Pay more […]

  • Capcom “looking into” solutions to Resident Evil: Revelations PC co-op issue

    Resident Evil: Revelations 2 fans should sit tight for a bit, as Capcom is working on some sort of solution to the co-op issue. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 doesn’t have local co-op on PC and fans are pretty mad about that, as it was advertised ahead of release as a key feature. Although Capcom has […]

  • The games industry is disruption, says Assassin’s Creed producer

    Former Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond has characterised the games industry as one long series of upsets. The games industry changes all the time, and that’s one of its best qualities, Raymond said. The ex-Ubisoft leader told Polygon that the reason seh got into games in the first place was because it “is this undefined […]

  • GTA 5 made $31 million in digital revenue in January

    GTA 5 is the highest-grossing title at the moment in terms of digital revenue, and the PSN is absolutely minting it. Digital games industry analyst Superdata has extended its scope to include console games, which means we suddenly have access to a whole bunch of data we’ve only been able to guess at, or extrapolate […]

  • Destiny: Inferno playlists debut next week

    Destiny PvP will shake things up next week with a new way to slaughter your mates in the Crucible. Destiny is already a skilled PvP game, but the new Inferno playlists will turn things up a notch with a focus on “basic gunplay”. The first of these, Inferno Control, kicks off on March 3 and […]

  • First-person camera coming to Guild Wars 2 next month

    ArenNet has announced its adding nonrestrictive first-person view to Guild Wars 2. Here’s what top expect come March 10: First-person Camera: Zooming in all the way will allow players to experience a first-person view. First-person mode is available while standing in place, walking, running, jumping, playing PvP and just about anything else. There aren’t any […]

  • Shadowrun Online signs on with Nordic

    Shadowrun Online has been given a nice little boost thanks to a distribution deal with Nordic Games. Shadowrun Online is a new team tactical RPG from Cliffhanger Productions. Although it’s already available through Steam Early Access, Nordic has agreed to distribute the finished version, which is due on Linux, Mac and PC in the second […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 is 60% finished, game world ten times the size of demo

    Final Fantasy 15 is 60% finished, according to director Hajime Tabata. Speaking with IGN, Tabata said development will kick into high gear once the Episode Duscae demo is released. “It’s about 60% now. People may look at that and say ‘well, you’ve only done five more percent!’ [since 55% in September] but it’s actually a […]

  • Destiny: you don’t need to visit the tower to access your vault

    Destiny players, you asked for it and Bungie has delivered it: you can now swap items in and out of the vault using the companion app. “Destiny needs more vault space” you cry – and yes, this is true. But while we all struggle with the limitations imposed on us by Bungie, we face all […]

  • Mortal Kombat X will contain over 100 Brutalities

    During the Mortal Kombat X stream today, NetherRealm Studios revealed Brutalities are back for the game, and stated there will be over 100 to pull off. You won’t gain any extra experience for being overly cruel with your painful moves, but you will at least get to laugh at some and “cringe” at others, according […]

  • Numenera: Strand is a film based on the game up on Kickstarter

    Numenera, the 2012 Kickstarter success and foundation for Torment: Tides of Numenera, could become a film if the Kickstarter for the movie is successful. With five days left, Monte Cook Games and Swedish film company Valdes/Eriksdotter needs £22,542 to reach its goal. Titled Numenera: Strand, it tells the tale of a drifter who “roams a […]

  • Gran Turismo 6 update adds MINI Clubman Vision, more

    A Mini Cooper has invaded Gran Turismo 6 via a new update. The Mid-Field Raceway track has also been added, and its a new and improved version of the original track from previous Gran Turismos. The new B-Spec Mode feature has also been added which allows the AI driver to race on your behalf. Additional […]

  • Nintendo is bringing New 3DS Xl and some playable titles to PAX East

    Nintendo is bringing New 3DS Xl and Splatoon with it to PAX East next month. The E3 2014 build of the game lets eight players transform into squids in a race for “splattered-paint dominance.” Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. will also be playable and featured in stage presentations at the Nintendo booth. Upcoming or newly released Nintendo […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Premium information seems to have slipped out early

    Battlefield Hardline Premium perks have apparently leaked a bit early, according to a post on Reddit. Over on the Hardline subreddit is an image which was take at a GameStop location, noting two week early access to content additional Battlepacks and more. Here’s the rundown: Four expansions Two weeks early access 12 additional Battlepacks Exclusive […]

  • Final Fantasy: Record Keeper arrives in the US this spring

    Final Fantasy: Record Keeper will be released in the US on iOS and Android this spring, DeNA and Square Enix today. The mobile titles allows players to “relive favorite moments” across all Final Fantasy installments and build a team of classic characters from across the entire franchise. If you sign up for email updates, you […]

  • Battlefield Hardline now available for pre-order, pre-download on Xbox One

    Battlefield Hardline is now available for pre-order and pre-download on Xbox One. You can pre-order it now from the Xbox Store and once you have paid for it, you can start your pre-download. Battlefield Hardline releases on March 17, and will be made available to pre-downloaders come 12.01am EDT. Check pricing and availability for your […]

  • Dying Light interactive video allows you switch between day and night

    A new video for Dying Light has been released, which allows you to hit the Z key to change between day and night. Titles Life and Death in the Quarantine Zone, the interactive story video showcases how the game changes between day and night. Daytime and nighttime are shown side-by-side but the z key allows […]

  • Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare out on PS3, PS4; PC delayed

    The Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is now available for PlayStation 3 and PS4. Havoc contains the four multiplayer maps Core, Drift, Sideshow, and Urban along with the AE4 directed energy assault rifle, its custom variant, and the Exo Zombies cooperative mode. You can purchase the DLC separately or pick up the […]

  • Here’s a teaser for Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 2

    A teaser video for the second episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 is available, so if you’ve yet to play the first episode, you may want to skip this. Resident Evil Revelations 2′s first episode is out now. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • North American eShop update is full of Donkey Kong games

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with Titan Attacks, Donkey Kong Land, Donkey Kong Country and more. eShop on 3DS Ironfall Invasion Titan Attacks! Donkey Kong Land – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 2 – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 3 – Virtual Console Luv Me Buddies Wonderland Around the World […]

  • Venture into the Valley of the Yetis next week in Far Cry 4

    The next batch of Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, releases in March and Ajay Ghale will be tasked with surviving violent cultists and the mythical Yeti. Apparently the cult is looking for a secret hidden in the valley, and Ajay has discovered their motives. The DLC features co-op with a friend taking […]

  • The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack out for Payday 2, has dino masks

    The 19th DLC pack for Payday 2 title The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack is available on Steam from today. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and features: 11 new weapon modifications for the AK rifles in the game 11 new weapon modifications for the CAR rifles in the game Four new masks together with their […]

  • Battle Chasers slated for PC, consoles; comic picks up where 2001 storyline left off

    Darksiders creator Joe Madureira and Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli have confirmed a Battle Chasers game and a new comic are in the works at their new studio Airship Syndicate. Speaking to Polygon, Madureira and Stefanelli wouldn’t provide details on the the game, but did divulge it will be an adventure RPG with player-controlled Battle Chasers […]

  • Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami 2 discounted for Sony’s annual Spring Fever Sale

    Sony is hosting its annual Spring Fever Sale which runs for eight weeks and features a new title each week. The sale starts next week on March 3 with the launch of Helldivers. Here’s just a few items included in the sale: HELLDIVERS (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March 3 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March […]

  • The gold Super Mario amiibo is a Walmart exclusive

    The Super Mario Gold amiibo which surfaced via a CPSIA certificate earlier this month will be a Walmart-exclusive, Nintendo has announced. The gold-colored Mario amiibo will be released the same day as the Mario Party 10 game for Wii U and will run you $12,96 at 3,000 participating Walmart stores in the US. Along with […]

  • Here’s an overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    As new gameplay overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, culled from the Active Time Report, stream has been sent over by Square Enix. The video provides a look at the history and environments of the Kingdom of Orience; the 14 memebers of Class Zero; the battle system with customizable magic spells; and the ability […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video gives you a look at the game’s wildlife

    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]