By John Walker on June 4th, 2009 at 9:00 am.
There has been, it seems, something of a fuss over the announcement from Valve that they’re releasing a sequel to Left 4 Dead this November. The main point of contention has been that many were expecting more new content to be added to the original game, rather than appearing in the form of a full price sequel. This was underlined when an article on VideoGamer was rediscovered in which Valve boss Gabe Newell stated, “So we’ll do the same thing with Left 4 Dead where we’ll have the initial release and then we’ll release more movies, more characters, more weapons, unlockables, achievements, because that’s the way you continue to grow a community over time.”
We spoke to Valve’s VP of marketing, Doug Lombardi, to ask him about the player response. He talks to us about the reasons why L4D2 is a full sequel, why gamers should wait to find out more about the game before making up their minds, and how there are definitely still plans for the original Left 4 Dead.
RPS: The main point of contention has been that a while back there was a statement from Gabe Newell given to VideoGamer in which he said there were plans to add more characters, unlockables, weapons and achievements to the original Left 4 Dead.
Doug Lombardi: So, we’ve made a number of releases on the PC, and we made a pretty big release on the 360 in terms of the DLC, and we were able to get out for free which I thought would pretty cool, and it was not an easy thing to pull off. Beyond that, we plan to continue updating Left 4 Dead. We’re not done with that title, it’s not over. The SDK stuff just came out. I think we mentioned to RPS that if you’re using the SDK and making maps for it, those will work for L4D2 as well. We are trying to keep the community together – we’re going to be doing more stuff about keeping the community together as we get closer to launch.
I think the short answer is: trust us a little bit. We’ve been pretty good over the years, even with L4D going back just a few months, about supporting games post-launch. Gabe’s always talking about providing entertainment as a service – it’s not about making a game any more. That’s one point of it.
The other point is, we didn’t sit down and say, “We need to ship a sequel next for next Christmas, what features do we need?” That wasn’t the way it happened, that’s not the way Valve works. What did happen was, the team sat down and said, “We’ve got a bunch of ideas of stuff we want to do.” People were really fired up when the game was finished, and there was a lot of feedback and ideas that came from watching people play – on the scale of millions of people, as opposed to hundreds of people that we went through during the playtesting sessions. So we put a lot of those things on the board and said, “What can we do quickly? What’s going to take more time? What’s the best way to get stuff out to customers?” And part of that plan ended up with L4D2, with things like changing the way the finales worked, introducing some new Survivors, giving new dialogue, telling more about the story, introducing new Specials. We said, “Wow, that makes for a nice sequel.” And then there was the stuff in the Survival Pack which makes for a nice DLC. And what we’d like to do is release a great game, provide lots of entertainment-as-a-service type of features, whether they’re technical updates or whether it’s the Survival Pack, and then also deliver more.
RPS: So how did the sequel come about?
DL: One of the biggest pieces of feedback we got after the game came out, and even after the Survival Pack, was: this is all really great, I loved it, but I want a bunch more campaigns, I want more content. In a sense, L4D2 is a response to what players were asking for after the first one shipped. That’s really how it came about. I think if folks spot us a bit more time, they may see where we’re going with all this. The more they learn about how much there is in L4D2… I mean, twenty new weapons isn’t DLC! Three new Specials, and twenty weapons, and five new campaigns: that starts to feel like a sequel. I think as more gets unveiled as we go from E3 to Comic Con and PAX, and show the game in places where the public can play, and then when the demo comes out a couple of weeks before launch, I think people will get where we’re going, and hopefully don’t think that we’ve turned into some sort of opportunist cow milkers.
RPS: Do you wonder whether an aspect of it is that it’s been so quick? Do you think if you’d waited another six or eight months, people might have responded better?
DL: Maybe, maybe. But two years from now though, would you look back and say that was better? Like I say, give it some time: quick decisions aren’t usually the best ones. I would say that may have been part of it, people may have felt differently about it had it taken longer to produce it. The other thing is, it’s something new for Valve. Valve doesn’t have a reputation for shipping quick sequels! So it’s something different. We had similar reactions when we announced The Orange Box. There were a lot of people who thought, “It’s not going to be worth fifty dollars, all these games are really tiny,” and then by the time the game came out the review said, “The best value in gaming.” Again, I would say, let us tell more of the story before people make their final judgement. And then if they say we’re f’d, then that’s fair. [laughs]
RPS: Do you think part of the problem might have been that the Survival Pack felt like it was finishing the first game. When there were two versus campaigns that weren’t in there, it might have felt like the Survival Pack completed the game rather than added to it.
DL: Maybe. It’s hard to say, I haven’t sat down and had a calm, reasonable dialogue with a group of people that have had [this week's] reaction yet. I’ve been busy keeping it a secret, then we just announced it a couple of days ago. I also want to get more informations, I want to hear more of what their story is and what they’re reacting to, so I can understand it better, and I’m sure Gabe feels the same way. We’ll see what is the genesis of why folks are having this reaction to it. And that [the Survival Pack] might have been part of it as well, but it’s definitely not the case that we’re closing the book on L4D and saying, “Next time you get anything it’s when the sequel comes out.”
RPS: So is there any chance of new content like new maps and new campaigns in the original L4D?
DL: Yeah, there’s certainly a chance of that, and we’re not announcing any of the specifics of that today. Like I say, stay tuned, there’s more coming, there’s more information we’re going to talk about for the sequel, there’s more content coming for Left 4 Dead in the fairly near term, that I think will sort of add to this picture and hopefully change some people’s opinions of what’s happening right now.
Thanks to Doug Lombardi for taking time out of a crazed E3 schedule to talk to us. The RPS hivemind realises people are very passionate about this subject, but remains confident that the discussion below will not make us frown.