A wise person once defined insanity as “watching Valve do the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”
Once a quiet enigma, popping out an all-time classic video game once every handful of years, Valve now does a bunch of stuff—largely centered around hardware and updating Steam—announcing these efforts without much in the way of forewarning. It might not seem like there’s a method to the madness, but it turns out there are only really a few different Valve news stories, with only the details changed.
The ‘Sure, We Still Make Games’
The story: Fans express fear that Valve doesn’t make games anymore. Gabe Newell cryptically suggests that Valve is making games, actually, but doesn’t name any.
Past examples: Gabe Newell said back in 2011 that Valve has decided to eschew traditional single-player experiences post-Portal 2 in favor of socially connected games. In 2015, Newell reiterated that Valve approaches games differently now, saying that they’ve learned too much to go back and create a “super classic kind of product.” In 2017, fans and interviewers got Newell to say that Valve has three “full” VR games in development.
Next time: In 2022, United States President Gabe Newell swears on a pile of freshly-forged knives that Valve has “several” very interesting game ideas scribbled on napkins he’s holding. Seconds later, he hurls the napkins into the furnace and gets back to forging knives, which will ultimately be used to carve Mount Rushmore 2 (but never Mount Rushmore 3).
The ‘Goodbye, Nothing To See Here’
The story: A high-profile person who used to work on games leaves Valve and emphasizes that there was NO DRAMA WHATSOEVER.
Past examples: Last year, Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw departed, citing a desire to return to more “self-directed projects.” Earlier this year, Portal word person Erik Wolpaw made for the door, saying, “I’m gonna move back to Cleveland and work at my niece’s juice shop” (I think he was joking?). Most recently, Wolpaw’s partner in word crime and Valve VR advocate Chet Faliszek left, making sure to note that it was “nothing exciting or drama filled.”
Next time: The entire Steam team accepts “early retirement” from a group of sentient, violent algorithms. “It really wasn’t dramatic at all,” one of them says, having just survived a fall onto a car from a third-story window. “Just ready for something different, I guess.”
The ‘Sorry We Forgot To Say Something’
The story: People are confused and tired of vague, infrequent responses. Valve says they will communicate better next time.
Past examples: After years of subpar communication and development in Valve Time, things reached a fever pitch with 2013's DOTA 2 Diretide fiasco, in which Valve failed to release the game’s popular Halloween event and did not explain why. Valve admitted that was a mistake and said that they should’ve told people what was going on. The next year, however, they defended their overall lack of communication to me in an interview. The year after that, Valve biz dev head Erik Johnson confessed that Valve needed to improve their communication efforts. In a 2017 AMA, however, Gabe Newell explained that Valve still prefers to communicate by shipping updates rather than, you know, saying stuff. And while recent times have seen them step up communication a bit ahead of updates to games like CSGO and urgent issues like Steam support, they’ve still faced complaints about silence in the face of controversies surrounding CSGO and DOTA 2. They’ve also either taken their time with or not responded at all to controversies surrounding sketchy games flooding Steam, toxicity among users and developers, and gambling in games like CSGO and TF2.
Next time: Valve moves its entire operation into VR, creating a whole virtual world full of virtual people to sell things to. Gradually, they forget the real world exists until one day they realize they haven’t updated TF2 in 22,222 years.
The ‘Water Torture’
The story: A tiny droplet of information that could maybe possibly potentially be construed as being related to Left 4 Dead 3, Portal 3, or Ricochet 2 leaks out of Valve.
Past examples: In 2013, references to Left 4 Dead 3, Source Engine 2, and something called “Episode 3" were discovered in a Valve project tracker. That same year, DOTA 2 fans touring Valve snapped a shot of a communication that referenced “L4D3.” In 2015, fans found a file called “hl3.txt” in a DOTA 2 update. In 2016, people uncovered a few Half-Life and Left 4 Dead-related demos buried in Steam VR code. In 2017, an anonymous source told Game Informer what we already knew: Half-Life 2: Episode 3 is dead, and Valve is doing other stuff right now.
Next time: In 200 years, somebody finds a ouija board while sifting through the ruins of Neo-Bellevue. They take it back to their home in Neo-Neo-Bellevue and try to use it with their friends. No matter what they do, the mysterious force guiding their hands spells out “HL3.” It is the ghost of Gabe Newell, trolling the shit out of them.
The ‘Here’s What We’re Making Instead’
The story: Valve releases a thing. It’s not what a lot of people wanted (a game), but it’s alright? In its own way?
Past examples: Countless Steam updates that made the service better in some ways, worse in others, and put everything—from curation, to which games get on Steam to, now, which games get discovered in Steam’s algorithmic labyrinth—in the hands of users, rather than people Valve hires and pays. The Steam Controller, which is super interesting but not entirely practical. Steam Link, which is a godsend if you want to play PC games in your living room. Steam VR, which... well, the jury’s still out on that one. Much like other Valve products, it’ll either be heralded as remarkably forward-thinking (see: Half-Life, Steam, the decision to focus on multiplayer games like CSGO and DOTA) or it’ll fade into obscurity alongside so many Steam Machines. With Valve, there’s rarely a middle ground.
Next time: In 2019, Valve announces the Steam Self-Driving Car. It’s entirely community-driven. Literally. It does not end well.
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