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In what was quite literally an orange box at the EA showroom in Leipzig, we sat down with a calm and relaxed (though very professional-minded) Valve president, Gabe Newell, who spoke with us about various aspects of the industry in respect to his company's work.
ActionTrip: ... How's that (Steam) been working out for you guys, in terms of your relationship with "classic," retail publishers?
Gabe Newell: I think there was some trepidation at first, but you know, when we do something, like the free weekends, we have much better control over customers. You can say, "You can play for a weekend," and single day sheets of some titles generated three times the "sneakings" of the retail sales, so the retailers go, "oh, this is easy publicity." It's not just about stealing sales from retail; I actually think it's got a lot to do with making customers happy.
ActionTrip: In the long run, how do you see the episodic content working out for you guys?
Gabe Newell: Well, our goal was to do two new episodes of the trilogy and then, sit down with our customers and say, "So what do you think? You've had a chance to see this different a couple of times. Do you want us to continue, or do you want us to shorten? Do you want smaller episodes more often, or do you want us to go back to the larger scale-model?" So, you know, we're giving it a shot and then we'll find out.
ActionTrip: From where we stand, the industry is changing dramatically, in terms of how long it takes to develop games. How do you guys see the future in that respect? Is the development time going to increase even more?
Gabe Newell: Well, for example, we're doing Orange Box and we originally said it was going to be two boxes: the Orange Box and the Black Box. The retailers said "no, we only want to have to get behind one product," and it's that sort of friction - like, "we'll get everything behind one giant release," that's made it hard for risky games like, Rag Doll Kung Fu or Garry's Mod, or Darwinia to be successful in that kind of environment. But that environment has been changed by alternative forms of distribution like Steam. I think that's gonna open the doors towards, you know, a much wider variety, so, I think the path that we were on was heading towards, you know, bigger and bigger projects, with bigger budgets and huge amounts of PR. The opportunity we have is to do things that are more experimental, more gameplay-driven, but are smaller and can still develop a successful audience by using the power (the distribution system).
For something like, I don't know, Darwinia, 70,000 units is like "Woohoo, we're rich, everybody's buying Ferraris!" But 70,000 units for a 20-million-dollar-funded project is a total disaster.
ActionTrip: Are you guys planning to develop any new IPs?
Gabe Newell: You know, if you get two Valve people together, they're inventing new games. We're just sort of looking to find out how much we can design. God, I would love to work on a turn-based strategy game, personally. Maybe we'll get around to it, but not a lot of people would agree. But our ambitions have stripped our ability to ship by a couple of orders of packaging. But I'm sure there will be some doing new worlds, doing new game types. Hopefully, the flexibility we get by going for smaller projects will let us be more experimental rather than spending half a decade to come up with a whole project.
ActionTrip: What about the Source Engine? What are the upgrade plans?
Gabe Newell: Since we've shipped Half-Life 2, we've added HDR, multicore support, we've added some second generation potentials and stuff...
ActionTrip: Do you think you can transition to next-gen with Source?
Gabe Newell: You know, theoretically, there might be a time where it's a problem. I think that the scary thing for us was the ability to take advantage of the multicore systems that have been coming. I think right now it will work well. The thing is that if you have an engine and you pick one piece and then just maintain its adaptings and make everything else stable, it's much easier to ship that code, but if you try to do it with two pieces, or all of the engine at the same time, then it makes it exponentially (harder).
ActionTrip: Like all things in life, basically...
Gabe Newell: Yeah. It's, the more that you can keep it stable, it's easier to find bugs, easier to develop content using that system, and so on. So I think that starting it from scratch is an awfully expensive way of getting much out of it. I think that with some of the engines you see people doing, they're struggling to catch up to gameplay - they pick one "shirt" that looks good and then they say, "there's no AI and our animation looks terrible," and so on.
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