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Curious snippets from Gabe Newell's Reddit AMA

VOLVO PLS.

Having waded through the Gabe Newell AMA from that Reddit place I’ve heard so much about I thought I’d pick out some of the more interesting bits for me.

As a whole the AMA (which is a type of Q&A – AMA stands for Ask Me Anything – if you’re not fluent in Reddit) wasn’t a revelation or anything – Valve are working on some single player games (but who knows if any of them will come to fruition), there’s the fact they definitely see hardware as something to invest in and are designing the knuckles controller alongside VR games, they’re also keeping an eye on current AI developments and other research, oh and they want to eventually have all their games being worked on use the same engine (Source 2 is their baby). So yes. Not headliney, but there were still some nuggets I thought I’d dig out.1. The idea of people as a type of game content.

This was in response to a question about whether Valve will allow uncensored porn games on Steam:

“In principle, there are two problems to solve. The first is a completely uncurated distribution tool for developers. The second is a toolset for customers that allow them to find and filter content (and people are an instance of content most obviously in multiplayer) that is best for them.”

2. Intentions with regard to customer support improvements

“Since the last AMA, we’ve introduced refunds on Steam, we’ve grown our Support staff by roughly 5x, and we’ve shipped a new help site and ticketing system that makes it easier to get help. We’ve also greatly reduced response times on most types of support tickets and we think we’ve improved the quality of responses.

“We definitely don’t think we’re done though. We still need to further improve response times and we are continually working to improve the quality of our responses. We’re also working on adding more support staff in regions around the world to offer better native language support and improve response times in various regions.”

How that manifests from a customer experience point of view is something I’ll be interested to see. It’s definitely not an area where Valve has a great reputation right now.

3. Having more directorial responsibility for Half-Life means Newell’s more fond of Portal 2

This one isn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but it’s very human. Someone asked which of Valve’s own games was Newell’s personal favourite and he picked Portal 2 as the best singleplayer with Dota 2 as the multiplayer he spends most time on. When clarifying why Portal 2 over Half-Life (because OH GOOD GOD EVERYTHING IN THIS AMA ULTIMATELY IS ABOUT HALF-LIFE AND I HAVEN’T HAD NEARLY ENOUGH SLEEP FOR THIS) he added:

“The issue with Half-Life for me is that I was involved in a much higher percentage of the decisions about the games, so it’s hard for me to look at them as anything other than a series of things I regret. There’s no information in my response about what we’ll do in the future. It’s simply easier for me to be a fan of things that in which I was less directive.

[…]

“If you are involved in a game, everything ends up being a set of trade-offs. Anything in a game is a sacrifice of things not in the game. I just feel those more personally about Half-Life for a bunch of reasons.

“And Xen.”

4. The value of iteration

This one was a response to someone looking for career advice in the games industry. I figured I’d include it because I think that to try things, see how they go and then learn from the experience is important across so many fields:

“The most important thing you can do is to get into an iteration cycle where you can measure the impact of your work, have a hypothesis about how making changes will affect those variables, and ship changes regularly. It doesn’t even matter that much what the content is – it’s the iteration of hypothesis, changes, and measurement that will make you better at a faster rate than anything else we have seen.”

5. There’s a response to why Valve don’t talk about games they’re working on as they’re working on them – it’s nothing we haven’t said on here before but I’m going to bookmark the answer so I can quote the exact phrasing when the topic inevitably comes up again.

“Because our decision making is way more conditional than most other companies. The one thing we won’t do is waste our customers time and money, which means we will cancel or change stuff much later in development. Tracking our choices would be annoying and frustrating.”

He adds further down the thread:

“Another way to think about this, and the way we talk about this internally, is that we prefer to communicate through our products. We are all pretty devoted to reading and listening to the community – everyone here believes it is an integral part of their job to do so. And when it comes time to respond, we generally use Steam – shipping updates that address issues or add functionality. Obviously this doesn’t work for everything. Working this way imposes latency on our communication – it takes longer to ship and update than to do a blog post. This can lead to the feeling of an echo chamber, where it seems like Valve isn’t listening. We’re always listening. So sometimes the latency is rough for everyone, including us when we want to address issues quickly. On balance we think it’s usually worth the trade-off.”

6. The Portal/Half-Life universe JJ Abrams movie thing is still on the table

This idea was first spoken of at the DICE summit in, like, 2013? and then last year JJ Abrams confirmed the idea was still alive and being worked on. At that point he was hoping there would be a Portal announcement soon. Which, y’know, “soon™”. Anyway, the question came up again in the AMA and Newell just reiterated that “Yep. They’re coming.”

That’s pretty much it. Like I say, nothing particularly noteworthy. The big thing for me here is that I’d like to sit with the notion of people as game content for a bit and see whether it changes how I approach any of the problems I encounter with MOBAs or with other multiplayer. Chances are it might just be an interesting perspective shift for a bit rather than a practical thing from a player point of view. That or I’ll start approaching friends and congratulating them on their new baby with “what a great job you did coding this one – how did you get the eyes so big and the volume so loud?”

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Philippa Warr

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