Oh, Valve. If a company is doing this well, then you know there must be something incredibly sinister going on beneath the surface. I considered trying to infiltrate the shadowy ranks of Valve to uncover their origins (subterranean? Extraterrestrial? Cthulhoid?) but thought better of it for the sake of my health, and the fact that someone needs to feed my fish.
2012 was another solid year for the game-developers-turned-innovators. They released some games—though nothing as "big" as last year's Portal 2. They just began expansion to San Francisco, acquiring former Popcap and Diablo III devs in the process. They continued to refine their Steam service into something that is now almost improbably impressive. With each passing year it gains loads more users (six million concurrent at one point last month), and if Valve's designs on moving into your living room are to be believed, they could potentially shake up the three system party in a way we haven't seen since Sega was still in the biz. You get the games, and Gabe gets the guap.
Seeing The Big Picture
This is how the console ends? Well, maybe not quite, but Valve is going to work on the one reductive but true complaint that console gamers level at the PC uber-race folks: "But, it's not on your TV." Well, with Big Picture mode, it's on your TV now, ya bastards. It might not be the long rumored SteamBox, but if you're already a Steam user with a good machine, the transition to a living room experience is simple. The question of why it took so long to get here might be valid, but I'm too busy playing Steam games on my TV to notice.
Global Offensive's Path
Valve is special because they're simultaneously unlike any other game company and yet exactly what you'd expect a game company to be. Should all software be open and modifiable to your liking? Sure! Should game creation be collaborative? Why not! Look at the way parts of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive found their way into the major release. What started as Valve's admiration for the most popular Counter-Strike: Source mods turned into an active collaboration with those modders and other Source players to create a game for the players and by the players, but curated by the genius' at Valve.
The Obvious One
Gabe's beard, duh. No, I'm just kidding, it's actually Half-Life 3. Not so funny anymore, is it? At this point the situation isn't even so much dumb as it is cruel. I know game development can take a long time. Look at Half-Life 2. But the fact that they repeatedly stated that HL2:E3 was coming within a reasonable distance of Episode 2 has, over the years, changed from a miscalculation to a debacle. For a company that is, by most accounts, extremely loyal to its fans, the continuing and complete radio silence on Half-Life just seems useless to me. It's unfair, dumb, and is morphing a beloved franchise into vaporware.
Steam Greenlight is, at its heart, a fine idea. It may have problems, but it's not Valve's responsibility to regulate stuff like Headup Games' exchanging free downloads of their game for Greenlight upvotes. And I commend Valve for adding a $100 fee (which goes entirely to charity) for listing your game on Greenlight, which took care of a lot of the trolling and clutter. But one thing that does rub me the wrong way is Valve insisting that certain established Steam devs, like Wadjet Eye, go through Greenlight now as well. Considering that the games tend to get greenlit super quickly, it's not only a disrespectful but also a needless distraction from lesser known projects.
What do you think were Valve's best and worst decisions this year?
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - August 21st
Steam Greenlight - August 30th
Big Picture - December 3rd
Dota 2 - Well, not officially but... we're all playing it.
For these Year In Review segments, we'll be taking a look at what major gaming companies did in 2012, with summaries of their biggest news and releases, best and worst decisions, and lists of the notable games they were a part of.