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Leader of the Pack

November 13th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Is Valve the best game company in the world? Gabe Newell’s reactions to his impromptu interview/birthday party by members of 4chan’s /v/ board might suggest so. Not only was he willing to talk about one of Valve’s new projects being an entirely new engine (perhaps Source 2), but he was also willing to have a frank discussion about the role of gamers in the industry.

Though he admitted to not being particularly happy with Greenlight at the moment, he was earnest in his endorsement of Kickstarter, even suggesting that the audience he was being interviewed by use it to get /v/’s treasured game Pressure underway. “Greenlight’s better than nothing,” he said in summation of its efforts thus far, “but it’s still not really where we want to be.”

In talking about DRM, he noted that Valve wants to use it, which was initially a bit of a surprise, given his stance in the past. Here, he talks about how DRMing is not important to the individual game, but to the customer’s account. “The problem is, you’re going to end up with a lot of assets inside of your games…what we worry about are people stealing accounts, that’s like a million times bigger of a problem. So the question becomes, as you have more and more value in your accounts…that’s way bigger of a concern.”

The video’s first 30 minutes contain a lot of question and answer stuff that you normally expect, but this is in itself interesting for two reasons. One, Gabe is willing to take the time to meet a bunch of fans who have come up to the studios and want to ask him questions. This isn’t abnormal for Valve, but it is for the rest of the industry. Who goes out of their way to listen to the concerns of their customers like this? Riot comes close I think, and should be lauded for their efforts, but allowing open tours of your facilities and meeting with real people in your own home as it were is really something. The second reason this is interesting is because Mr. Newell is talking earnestly. He’s being clear, honest, upfront. He is not an outsider. He’s a gamer. He’s part of this community, and he’s gotten a lot of respect for it. If other businesses (or hell, even governments) could have such honest representation, I think we’d feel a lot better about the state of the world.

Then, “Gaben” takes it for a twist, and asks the assembled fans what they at Valve should be focusing on. “So what should we be paying attention to that we’re not? I mean, this is your opportunity.” The conversation drifts to talk about Gabe noting that /v/ is generally a good predictor of trends in video games, and that they may want to use this talent to create a market for these predictions. “One, you’d be incredibly accurate, and first of all you’d be blown off, but then you’d be like ‘Holy shit! We’re pretty accurate at predicting stuff.’” He was frustrated, it seemed, at the current usage of Metacritic to be a source of quality information. “Metacritic…nobody at Metacritic called up a bunch of game companies and said ‘You should pay us for this,’ it just turned out it was a better tool than anything anyone in the gaming industry had created for evaluating the quality of what they did.”

This sense of things is what separates Valve from a lot of their competition. They are willing to take their time on a host of things, from developing their product, to critically thinking about their customers’ wants, needs, and desires. They’re approaching this industry from a perspective of an artisan who takes serious pride in their product, and wants their fanbase to be happy. “We try to make sure that the customer knows what they’re getting, but we also don’t want to become the dictator that tells everybody ‘You have to do things our way.’ Doing things the customers don’t know is happening is something that we want to avoid. At some point, they’ll [companies that do this] just turn evil, and be put down.”

I wonder about specific examples he may be thinking of. I think that Gabe would be the first to pick up a pitchfork if he thought Valve was headed in the wrong direction, and this amount of integrity in any industry, much less the gaming industry, should be applauded. So here’s to Gabe Newell and Valve, the leaders of the pack.

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  1. Martin
    November 13th, 2012 at 21:16 | #1

    One of the arguments about using the input of the community is that the community is united in it’s opinions. How dos a company pull a consistent or cohesive product sourced from a community that looks for different things in it’s games?

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