RPS At Valve – LIVE!

By John Walker on May 29th, 2008 at 10:11 pm.

We'll try and convince them to dump this logo while we're here. No, really, I will! (or maybe I won't)

And we’re done. Thanks for tuning in to RPS’ first ever live blogging. There’s a LOT of information below, and it’s worth going through. The headlines are in the post above. Valve care about PC gaming. Of course this is because it’s how they make their money. But when they state that they want to see other platforms doing the same, it really seems like they mean it.

Today happened because Valve were pissed off with the declarations that the PC is dying or dead. It’s not, and they wanted to make sure everyone knows.

15.40. What is Gabe Newell’s position on piracy and PC sales? He explains by talking about the development of Left 4 Dead. During the development they’ve never once had a discussion about piracy. It’s not, he claims, something they have ever felt the need to discuss.

This is, Newell states, because of the relationship Valve has with its customers. He says that their players don’t want to pirate, and thus cut themselves off from that connection. And, he adds, the consequence of piracy are so huge to Steam players if they get caught. They can lose all their games. It’s too big of a chance. But he focuses on it being because of how Steam connects to players. Well, that’s not true. He focuses on how much Valve just don’t focus on piracy. It’s not a subject on their minds at all.

15.19. Gabe avoids the question about releasing sales figures. They are keen to make the information available for their clients.

The talk has entered Q&A, and because we’re a decent sort we won’t be stealing the answers given to others for this live blog. Because that would be shitty, and we’re not shitty. But you know, if he says something huge I’ll add it.

15.15. Gabe Newell returns.

“The number of connected people we aren’t selling our products to dwarf the number of console gamers out there.”

I ask him how Steamworks aligns with The Gaming Alliance. Gabe explains that Valve aren’t a part of it, but agree with their goals. They support what they want. He adds that he thinks shipping products is more important.

“Wrath of the Lich King will have a larger impact for the furthering of the PC than PC hardware developers getting together and agreeing the PC should be doing better.”

15.11. Valve are announcing Steamcloud.

Save games and configs are to be stored by the Steam back-end. Half-Life will be the first to do this, with Counter-Strike remembering your key config. Left 4 Dead will ship with this too.

If you’re offline it caches the data locally, and then uploads it as soon as it can. They will keep those save games forever. “You can uninstall Half-Life, then come back to it two years later and finally finish Xen.”

It will be free, to both developers and customers.

15.08. Steam customers take it for granted that they can access their games from any PC. They no longer have to dig around for the DVD.

“Now their game-generated data can come too.”

15.06. Now we have John Cook, a developer on Steam.

There have been 114 updates to Steam since it was released in 2003.

Steam is working on: Driver auto-updating, a system-requirement checker, calendar functions, and “official” communities. This last one is exposing their tools to all other game developers. It lets developers’ customers get in touch with each other.

They also want to improve direct sales, presenting prices in local currency, updating the recommendation engine so people can more easily recommend games to each other, and tidying up the shopping cart.

15.03. Dylan: “I did achievements in Audiosurf in two days, because Steam makes it so easy.”

15.01. Now we have Dylan Fitterer, the creator of Audiosurf.

“I released my game on Steam, and it changed my life.”

Unlike the consoles, the PC lets Audiosurf have infinite scoreboards. Any song that’s released can have a scoreboard.

He explains that he has a direct line to his customers on PC. Consoles are “across a wall, away from all that.”

There’s over 10,000 videos of Audiosurf on YouTube.

Customer feedback led to the connection with Last.fm.

14.58. We’ve just seen Meet The Sniper. The best I can do for you is tell you it’s fantastic. It’s possibly the funniest so far. Start looking forward to it.

14.55. The Medic update saw at its peak 32% of all people playing with Medics! And after the cooldown, the Medic maintained more players.

Goldrush was “getting too bogged down” in the first stage.

Walker concludes that game designers need to start thinking about their games as services. If you are not close to your customers, or if there are too many intermediaries, then you will cut down your ability to succeed at your service.

With the new pack we will see a Meet The Sniper.

14.50. Walker says he there is much he no longer has to worry about when developing using Steam. Or similar services, he adds. Steam takes care of anti-piracy for him. Auto-updating is solved. Cheating is easier to deal with.

They don’t want TF2 to get boring. To address this worry, there’s regular new content, and the “customer feels like their time invested in the game is rewarded.”

Why was the Medic the first step? Because he was the least played character, and when there are more Medics in the game, everyone scores higher. This data all came from Steam, letting them experiment. “Achievement design for multiplayer games was the land of unproven assumptions,” Walker adds. Achievements are a way for Valve to talk to their customers, to encourage them to play a certain way.

14.45. Robin Walker is now discussing Team Fortress 2.

“Successful multiplayer games need to be a service.” This includes innovation, both initially and over time. And continuous content update. Steam, he explains, brings them closer to customers.

Valve believes shipping content is how they “talk” to customers. They are in direct response to listening to the customers. There have been 53 updates to TF2 since release.

Achievement design, class balance and map balance have all resulted from listening to customers.

14.45.

“Having a connected platform on the PC is raising everything. Raising retail sales.”

Digital sales do NOT harm retail sales say Valve. When they have a free weekend, in this example with Day of Defeat, both types of sales – Steam and retail – spiked. In fact, 28% more unites were sold at retail than sold through Steam. “Startling” says Holtman. “We were just inviting people to play.”

14.38. “Rampant piracy is just unserved customers,” says Jason Holtman.

He then goes on to discuss the advantage of real-time sales data. It makes you “really smart” about what you can do with your game.

14.32. Steamworks, of course, is free. And this Holtman states, is essential. Anything else that would put a barrier in would take it away from the advantages of the PC.

Traditional marketing and distribution puts in many constraints. It shifts the focus onto monolithic games, focused on English speaking locations, with rampant piracy in developing markets, and no way of knowing your sales until it’s too late. Steamworks, we’re being told, will change this.

Firstly, through auto-updating. Game development does not stop 45 days before release. Support is eaier, and the franchise can grow in response to the industry.

Secondly is emerging markets. “While markets may be different, PCs are the same.” Nobody was paying attention to these markets says Holtman. In places like Russia where they can speak English, and they will simply pirate games that aren’t localised for them.

14.30. now Jason Holtman is giving a talk on selling games on PC. He begins explaining the nature of “longevity and headroom”.

Steam now boasts 15 million connected gamers, with 191% growth year on year. That’s in 21 languages, with 300 “of the best games”. And he adds that this is “just ONE of the platforms on PC.”

14.22. “The game business has fundamentally changed,” says Newell. In fact, he states that Valve see greater turnover in offering means of connecting with the customer, than offering the latest graphics.

Gabe also notes that in this presentation they’ll be talking a lot about Steam, but to assume that they also mean alternative similar platforms on the PC. They want to represent the PC as a gaming platform today, rather than Valve specifically.

14.18. Gabe Newell’s reason for this meeting is to respond to the increasing claims that the PC is dead. This, he argues, is not the case. And to demonstrate this he begins by identifying the astounding popularity of the PC, and the changing nature of the market.

Noting that there are 260 million online gamers, and 255m PCs sold in 2007, Newell argues that the confusion over the PC comes from a dated perspective based around retail.

Valve, Newell states, are seeing a 200% growth in alternative ways of reaching gamers, and in the next three months expect to see this surpass that of retail.

So why don’t we hear about it? Because there’s no one telling the PC’s story. There’s no massive company advocating the machine from an idealistic perspective. But the open nature of the PC, and the competitive nature of the rival hardware manufacturers, sees the PC as a platform for innovation.

14.10.
Well, here I am at Valve’s Steamworks doodah, and it’s about to start. The tension is quite literally in my neck and shoulders. Long flight, see.

I’m sat with my Eee on my lap, trying to type on this wobbly surface with my Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Pork & Leek sausage fingers. I’ll add new posts above the jump, with the previous stuff tucked below. Refresh to see if I manage to add anything. And to RSSers… um, sorry.

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93 Comments »

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  1. Andy Simpson says:

    Oooh! *hits F5 over and over*

  2. Theory says:

    I see that alt text. Heresy!

  3. Andy Simpson says:

    I too am shocked by that alt-text. You couldn’t be more wrong!

  4. grey_painter says:

    That logo is an improvement on the wince worthy “valve in the eye” logo.

  5. Andy Simpson says:

    Interesting, but nothing we haven’t heard from Lombardi again and again, I wonder if they’re going to announce anything new?

  6. cyrenic says:

    So are we going to get some hard numbers about how much they’re selling over steam? Or just measly percentages?

  7. MasterBoo says:

    “Because there’s no one telling the PC’s story.”

    Blizzard.

  8. Theory says:

    Blizzard.

    I’ve never heard them breathe a word.

  9. Rook says:

    Blizzard are too busy swimming in the pools of money.

  10. MasterBoo says:

    It’s not about words IMO. They are the only big company to stay loyal to the PC market.

  11. grey_painter says:

    Looking at blizzard you would get the impression the PC is for Koreans and fantasy roleplay addicts. Not sure thats all that positive.

  12. Theory says:

    I’m afraid that YO isn’t what forges public perceptions, Boo.

  13. Andy Simpson says:

    If Blizzard could port WoW to consoles and make embarrassingly huge piles of money, you bet they would.

    The way the market is, you can’t afford to leave the console money on the table any more. That’s not a lack of loyalty, it’s just a lack of stupidity.

  14. Andy Simpson says:

    Isn’t 14:30 a minute into the future?

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    That must be Valve’s announcement. THEY ARE IN THE FUTURE.

    KG

  16. Dinger says:

    The online long tail should be fun. I expect to see graphs of how stuff sells on Steam over the course of three years.

  17. grey_painter says:

    They are in the future and still can’t release games on time…

  18. Optimaximal says:

    It’s not about words IMO. They are the only big company to stay loyal to the PC market.

    SO loyal, infact, they were only making StarCraft Ghost for consoles…

  19. Al3xand3r says:

    Way to bash on them for a cancelled game. Who knows if it would have been released on PC also, or if we would WANT it on PC if it ever saw the light of day?

    Anyway, glad to see someone sticking up for the PC platform in a sensible way, not like those wild target or whatever idiots. Go Valve! We know the PC’s here to stay, we hope you are too :P

  20. Pidesco says:

    Reading this stuff just makes evything clearer: There’s no gaming platform war because the PC won by default.

  21. Valentin Galea says:

    Steamworks is not for indie devs, is for medium/large companies looking to ‘standardize’ their PC releases.

    Exceptions will be made for surprise hits like Audiosurf – that gather a large follow-up on their own first.

  22. Theory says:

    That’s a strange thing to say Valentin, considering that Red Orchestra aside indie devs are the only people to have used it so far.

  23. Schmung says:

    All good things so far and looks like a decent step to getting the PC to become a true platform rather than a load if disparate systems than you can play games on if you’re lucky.

  24. brog says:

    Pidesco: yeah, I’m imagining the consoles as three little gnomes bickering about who’s the tallest, not noticing that the “mountain” giving them shade is a giant called PC.

    Theory: that’s what it says on their website, that it’s only intended for largish releases. possibly this is a case of valve not realising the potential though.

  25. James G says:

    Sniper? I thought we were getting meet the medic, then meet the pyro.

  26. Theory says:

    You’re confusing the ‘Meet The’s with the achievement packs/unlockables.

  27. Feet says:

    Yay funny videos! The snipers voice stuff are one of my favs.

  28. Faust says:

    Oh dammit they better release that soon…..*itches*

  29. cliffski says:

    “Steamworks is not for indie devs, is for medium/large companies looking to ’standardize’ their PC releases.”

    Well said, In fact not a single indie I know, including me, has ever got any reply to any email from Valve. They don’t even bother saying “no thanks”.
    So it may be a great product for Activision, but its fuck all help for indies :(

  30. Freelancepolice says:

    I thought they’d be rolling them out quicker now the systems were all in place

  31. James G says:

    No, it seems they are doing the unlocks and the ‘Meet the’ at the same time:

    With the new pack we will see a Meet The Sniper.

  32. Al3xand3r says:

    Scroll through the independent developer list of games on Steam and I’m sure not even half of them can be considered “surprise hits” or “hits” at all. Try a different way to contact them? Perhaps they get way too many “yah, so, I got this game and can I put it on Steam, lol” type of e-mails. You’ll still need to stand out to make them notice I suppose, they’re still a business you know, not saints…

  33. Theory says:

    No, it seems they are doing the unlocks and the ‘Meet the’ at the same time

    You mean like how the Medic pack came out at the same time as Meet the Scout? :P

  34. Rob says:

    Nooooo, please don’t give us pricing in £, that’ll just make it so much easier for the companies to shaft us.

  35. Andy Simpson says:

    “Now their game-generated data can come too.”

    Is this going to be what I think it is?!?

  36. Pidesco says:

    What I’d like is for the prices to include VAT right off the bat. Steam already knows where I am so it shouldn’t be too hard to implement.

    Edit: “VAT right off the bat” was not on purpose …

  37. Feet says:

    Awesome! I mean. SteamCloud, Totally! Awesome! Steam ftw!

    I wonder if they are running out of things to call their products that associate with valves and plumbing and stuff…

  38. Andy Simpson says:

    “Valve are announcing Steamcloud”

    *mouth drops open*

  39. Pidesco says:

    Who would want to finish Xen, tough? It sucked.

  40. James G says:

    ” presenting prices in local currency” I hope that doesn’t mean that they end up doing the $=£ conversion that seems so popular on the highstreet.

  41. Andy Simpson says:

    @Feet

    Cloud probably refers to the same kind of concepts as cloud computing, and the phrase “Storing data in the cloud”.

    They’re just kinda lucky that “Steam” and “Cloud” align pretty well, brand-name wise.

  42. Feet says:

    Oh yeah, I’m not saying they’re forcing it, but it is clever that their naming scheme based off of the company name aligns so well with the products they’re releasing. I just wonder if the number of innovative ideas they produce will mean they have to deviate from it eventually. ^_^

    It does bring a lovely synergy to all their stuff!

  43. Bob says:

    Don’t say “Valve are,” say “Valve is.” “Valve” is a collective noun, so even though the company “Valve” is made up of a bunch of people, it’s still a company–a single, albeit compound, unit–to which you’re referring.

    Why do people insist on getting this wrong?

  44. BrokenSymmetry says:

    What’s next? SteamTrain, SteamEngine, SteamBath?

  45. Nimic says:

    Because it doesn’t always work like that, Bob. Or at least not as far as I know. There might be a special rule for it, but one example is in sports (that might actually be the special rule).

  46. Andy Simpson says:

    It’s not a collective noun. A collective noun is something like “pride”, as in, “a pride of lions” or a school of fish, or a wunch of bankers.

    However, it is a singular proper noun, so saying “Valve are” is still wrong.

  47. mooey poo says:

    *something about trackmania*

  48. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    “Nintendo iz da best” sounds like something a chav would say, though.

  49. Bob says:

    Oops, you’re right. Not a collective noun. Er. . . are you sure “singular proper noun” covers it? Could swear there was another term for this sort of thing.

  50. Freelancepolice says:

    ask him to put fallout 1 + 2 and system shock 1 + 2 on steam

    make it so!