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RPS At Valve - LIVE!

Featured post 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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Who am I?

John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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