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Gabe Newell speaks on Valve’s surprising development process

Gabe Newell speaks on Valve’s surprising development process

Develop Magazine recently visited Valve studios, and spoke with Newell about development at the popular studio.

In the interview, a lot of interesting things came out about Valve and the way it functions as a studio, which has always been somewhat secretive. The successful, heavily contributive studio apparently has a lot more freedom for the designers and developers that one even thinks would be possible.

As it’s described it seems more like an art co-op than a video game company. In most video game studios, you have a strictly hierarchic structure, in which orders flow downhill, and in which the developers and designers who actually make the games are usually just ‘following orders’ from above, and have little input on the creative process. If you belonged to a painters studio, however, you would each work on your own things, sometimes teaming up, sometimes not, and going to leadership of the studio only for occasional advice and approval of projects to take on the studio’s banner.

Valve works much more like that painting co-op than it does a typical game studio.

For example, according to Newell, the reason there was no Source engine on Playstation 3 before now was that no one at the company had been interested in building one. Sure, it would have been profitable, it would have been good for the company, but Newell would never tell his employees what to work on. If no one ever decides to make a PS3 engine, then Valve won’t be releasing one. It seems like it couldn’t possibly be that simple, but unless it’s an elaborate ruse, this is how Valve works.

Portal 2 was created by a small team which chose to make Portal 2, starting with the ARG stuff a year or so ago, and picking up steam (pun intended) as others at Valve saw what they were doing and joined the project.

This means that we finally have a hint as to why there has been no new content in the Half-life franchise: No one at Valve is excited enough by the project to work on it.

Of course, part of it has to do with the overriding philosophy of design that the company is pushing, something that Newell does have some say in, though he insists it is only a suggestion. For a time, he was encouraging episodic content as a means to shorter development cycles, which is good for fans and for developers and their families, but they saw after doing two episodes of Half-life that it wasn’t really working for them, and the idea of episodes fell away in favor of another development style: Platform development.

In this style, each game becomes its own entertainment platform, and the designers and developers at Valve can choose to add content to the ‘platform’ as time goes by, according to popular demand, and to their own whims. This is best reflected in the development of Team Fortress 2, which has received over 200 content updates since it was released four years ago, none of which have cost the customers any money beyond what they paid for the game at release. TF2 will continue to develop this way as long as there is interest at the company. The ‘management’ such as it is, isn’t telling anyone to do this stuff, they choose what to update and how all on their own.

It’s all very socialist.

The development of Valve’s Zombie survival game Left 4 Dead (now Left 4 Dead 2) is starting to approach the same sort of constant development, building the game up while the audience watches and responds. It will happen with Portal 2 as well, if the demand is there, and the interest stays high at the company.

This might be bad news for people who have been patiently waiting for new Half-Life content;  it means that we likely won’t ever see Half-Life 2: Episode 3. If we get anything Half-Life in the future, it will likely jump directly to Half-Life 3, which will become the new ‘platform’ for Half-Life and would enter this constant development cycle along with Valve’s other projects.

Valve is one of the most successful game studios in the world right now, and they don’t even tell their employees what to do. Is this a strategy that might work for the industry as a whole? Is Valve just the first of a new breed of game design houses? Ones which, while perhaps less predictable (fewer instances of sequel creep, for example) might be better relied upon for quality.

It’s almost enough to make me wish I had continued on with my dream of becoming a game designer. A dream I gave up when I saw how dreary the life of the commercial developer can be. It’s too late for me now, of course, but perhaps some young game designers with dreams have a place to aspire to work, and a reason to stay in the field.

You can read Develop’s feature, with lots of direct quotes from Newell.

Comments

  1. Canti
    Canti No one tells Valve what to do, not even Valve. That's smart.
  2. ManAnimalX
    ManAnimalX Troll free since 2003, that's Pro-Praganda since 2003. Just another Label to stifle "Freedom of Speech". The TRUTH is, Americans are no MORE Free than Cuba or any others 3rd world country. If you say something, the Political/Social/Ecomonical forces dont like, your Labeled a Troll, very "Ambiguous Term" in general.
  3. shwaip
  4. Gargoyle
    Gargoyle Resisting urge to hijack thread.

    Nice article, CB. :thumbsup: Who'd a thunk a developer's life could be so open? Wonder if they still have crunch time in Valve time.
  5. Kwitko
    Kwitko
    ManAnimalX said:
    Troll free since 2003, that's Pro-Praganda since 2003. Just another Label to stifle "Freedom of Speech". The TRUTH is, Americans are no MORE Free than Cuba or any others 3rd world country. If you say something, the Political/Social/Ecomonical forces dont like, your Labeled a Troll, very "Ambiguous Term" in general.
    Troll
  6. Tushon
    Tushon Also resisting the meta-troll. Thanks for the writeup ... very cool insight into a great studio
  7. Butters
    Butters Careful CB. Your good article might be hijacked and used elsewhere. Other sites might copy it and the headline may read:

    Half-Life 2: Episode 3 won't be released due to Valve's socialist development process.
  8. Winfrey
    Winfrey Kudos to ManAnimalX for having the courage to remove all doubt of his insanity.
  9. Thrax
    Thrax
    ManAnimalX said:
    Troll free since 2003, that's Pro-Praganda since 2003. Just another Label to stifle "Freedom of Speech". The TRUTH is, Americans are no MORE Free than Cuba or any others 3rd world country. If you say something, the Political/Social/Ecomonical forces dont like, your Labeled a Troll, very "Ambiguous Term" in general.
    Tell me more.
  10. Kwitko
    Kwitko So Thrax, are you the political, social, or economic force here at Icrontic?
  11. Snarkasm
    Snarkasm I will pick nits. I was going to start with "not to nitpick," but let's be honest, that's what I'm going to do. I will apologize for it, however. It comes solely from me being an actual living, breathing socialist now.

    This sounds more anarchical than it does socialist, no? Socialism is where the government does dictate something and everybody benefits. This sounds more like "everybody do what you want."

    Regardless, it makes me incredibly sad that HL2:Ep3 may never come. As the years tick by, it only makes it less and less likely to happen, given that new hires (younger folks) won't have the same strong feelings about it that many of us do. On the other hand, maybe they will.

    I wish Gabe'd just lay down the law once to get it done, though.
  12. Tushon
    Tushon
    Butters said:
    Careful CB. Your good article might be hijacked and used elsewhere. Other sites might copy it and the headline may read:

    Half-Life 2: Episode 3 won't be released due to Valve's socialist development process.
    Tonight's headline on FOX news
  13. primesuspect
    primesuspect
    ManAnimalX said:
    Troll free since 2003, that's Pro-Praganda since 2003. Just another Label to stifle "Freedom of Speech". The TRUTH is, Americans are no MORE Free than Cuba or any others 3rd world country. If you say something, the Political/Social/Ecomonical forces dont like, your Labeled a Troll, very "Ambiguous Term" in general.
    What is this I don't even
  14. Canti
    Canti Since they already believe video games will make you a rapist that should be interesting. Torn between their hatred of socialism and video games who will they claim is the bad guy?
  15. cola
    cola I believe he's reefering to the small note next to the add comment button in the first part, and then is going off on some sort of crazy.
  16. duncan
    duncan The "political/social/economic forces"? That's your enemy? How paranoi...erm, ambiguous of you! ManAnimalX is what you get when someone takes three semesters at a community college and then drops out--pseudointellectual dribble.
  17. Ddog
    Ddog Uhh, yeah, so this is all fine and dandy, I'm glad they have a nice comfy work environment where everyone gets to work on what they want.. But I gotta say, they left us on QUITE a cliffhanger with HL2: Episode 2.... I should hope that they at least plan on finishing that out...... right?

    Pretty please??
  18. Koreish
    Koreish Did ManAnimalX just combine three different thoughts into one mega mind blowing thought?
  19. Tushon
  20. Cliff_Forster
    Cliff_Forster Come on guys, this is spin. Gabe Newell is a smart guy, he is not going to come right out and say Half Life 2 Episode 3 is a lower priority because the prior episodic content sold more poorly than they had hoped. Most people got it as part of the Orange Box. Half Life 2 sold at about four times the pace of the episodic content though it cost significantly more. Gamers just don't like the episodic marketing model, so thats that.....

    Any company that lets its employees make all the decisions is screwed. Come on, nobody believes this. Its all spin for... The Half Life episodic content did not sell as well as planed so we are not making another episode.
  21. UPSLynx
    UPSLynx No, it makes sense. No company in their right mind would dump the kind of time and dedication into delivering FREE content for one game like Valve has for TF2. It is absolute madness, but it has worked for them against all odds. The game still sells, nearly four years post-release. Valve isn't screwed because of this unique model - they're everything but.

    But even I am starting to believe that we will never see a proper return to HL2. We've been waiting too long with too little information. The game clearly is a lower priority to the studio at this point. Valve should be making noise about it, getting people excited, but they simply aren't bothering. They have Steam, TF2, L4D.... all these properties and platforms that are exploding right now making huge bank. Valve is still a small company, and they've clearly shifted their focus to these other projects. It makes sense from a business standpoint, and Gabe is a shrewd businessman.
  22. Thrax
    Thrax (Insert Canti-Bobby-Gabe-Valve-HL2EP3-rage comic here)
  23. Scottford
    Scottford It would be awesome if all game studios could do what Valve does, take the time Valve does on each game. The thing is, it's not good business. Valve is an exception because they have Steam bringing in revenue while they can be creating virtually free content for games like TF2. You can't have multiple Steams, especially for each company. It just wouldn't work. Other studios need to sell games to make money to put out the next one. Valve just sells them while working on their own projects on the side.
  24. Bandrik
    Bandrik The real source of why Half-Life 2: Episode III has lost favor at Valve:

    image

    <3 you Lynx.
  25. Gargoyle
    Gargoyle I'm just going to have to accept that this will be in my head the rest of the night, I guess. Thanks.



  26. Thrax
  27. Gargoyle
    Gargoyle I just realized that I like this song. I seem to have strayed too close to the edge of the cliffs of irony.
  28. Cliff_Forster
    Cliff_Forster
    UPSLynx said:
    No, it makes sense. No company in their right mind would dump the kind of time and dedication into delivering FREE content for one game like Valve has for TF2. It is absolute madness, but it has worked for them against all odds. The game still sells, nearly four years post-release. Valve isn't screwed because of this unique model - they're everything but.
    This is what I mean. The TF2 model, and the HL2 episode model could not be any different. Its spin for, we know what works for our audience, and episodic content really doesn't.
  29. UPSLynx
    UPSLynx
    Cliff_Forster said:
    This is what I mean. The TF2 model, and the HL2 episode model could not be any different. Its spin for, we know what works for our audience, and episodic content really doesn't.

    Ah. Well in that case, I see your point and pretty much agree with it.

    Frigging valve. You are the worst lover ever.
  30. Kwitko
    Kwitko
    Snarkasm said:
    This sounds more anarchical than it does socialist, no?
    I'd say more like an anarcho-syndicalist commune. They take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week. But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting. By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more-- ah, well, it's not important.

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