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?”

29 Comments

  1. Lars Westergren says:

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

    That’s a good summary IMO. Ars Technica is generally a good site, but they (and others) went with click-baity title variations like
    “Gabe Newell describes older Half-Life games as “things I regret“ ”

    Neat to see they seem to be fond of agile development.

    • PseudoKnight says:

      I read the AMA first before seeing the Ars title. Ug. The article content didn’t help much if you read the comments. Many people don’t understand the process of making things.

      This article is good, though. Great job, Phillipa.

      • Ghostwise says:

        Which is weird, since the process of making things is pretty simple.

        First, you need to punch trees so wood falls off. That’s easy.

        • syndrome says:

          She concurs

        • Otterley says:

          But kicking wolves for the leather straps can be quite tricky. I know it can be easier just to punch some deer, but that’s always something I regret.

  2. Ghostwise says:

    Building up on point #2, does anybody knows if there’s a way to make feature requests for Steam that are seen by an actual human being ?

    The forum ostensibly intended for that doesn’t seem to have experienced the presence of a Valve employee since 2014-ish.

    • thenevernow says:

      The Steam Client Beta group has at least one Valve guy actively posting and reacting to feedback. I’m not sure it’s the right place for feature requests, but probably no place is.

      link to steamcommunity.com

      The discussions on the Steam Link page also have a Valve guy posting changelogs and listening to users.

  3. Oakreef says:

    What a weird choice of subreddit to do the Q&A on.

    • Amstrad says:

      I don’t see how the subreddit dedicated to the man himself is a weird choice?

  4. funkstar says:

    that last question re: portal/HL movie and jj abrams is interesting, as dan trachtenberg (sp?) who did the portal fan movie also directed 10 cloverfield lane!

  5. The Sombrero Kid says:

    He might think listening to someone but refusing to engage in dialogue is placating but it is simply disrespectful. As a developer the value proposition of giving steam a significant chunk of your revenue is getting worse every day and as a company, Valve have shown absolutely no interest in talking about it.

    It’s extremely condescending and arrogant to act like you don’t need to inform the people you do business with, whose businesses depend on you, of the directions you’re planning on taking that business. I simply can’t see Valve as a safe bet when considering distribution partners.

    I also can’t trust their platform when making purchasing decisions. They are completely unwilling to take responsibility for the products they sell.

    • Enkidum says:

      You can get complete refunds for any reason whatsoever, including “eh, I just didn’t like it much”. What more “taking responsibility for the products they sell” do you want?

    • Stevostin says:

      I am a dev too and you seem to live in a world that never happened in that dimension of reality. A world where there have been, either in the past or in the present competition, a mass reseller that gives us publisher the kind of control and options Valve brought to the norm. I started when online shops and download were not a thing. I had to deal with physical resellers, who were always asking for more margin while providing little to none added value to sell your stuff – and they were all but apologizing about this. Valve OTOH brings for the lowest margin of resellers a ton of services that increase your product value. You’re a fool if you think this had to happen. We owe to Valve on this. Any other big player taking their spot and you’d have way less for what you pay them. Appstore ? Windows Store ? They should be a wake up call for you.

    • frymaster says:

      “significant chunk of your revenue”

      Traditionally, the publisher of a game would get a lower cut of sales from retail stores than with Steam, and the developer’s cut would come out of that. And the developer would be locked in to that publisher, in that specific market at least.

  6. Catchcart says:

    Disappointed that they dodged the questions about SteamOS/linux support. If they have decided to abandon the effort, they should at least own up. If not, they need to speak up otherwise even enthusiasts will loose faith.

    • FredSaberhagen says:

      There’s like, two guys there working on steam OS. They’re smart but also busy working on controller stuff and graphics stuff. (Or just scrolling Facebook lol) Steam OS is pretty much dead imo

      • manny says:

        SteamOS was a dumb idea period. They don’t have the resources for their own OS. Better just to use a modded closed off windows 10 as OS and a browser as UI

  7. Premium User Badge

    Dios says:

    Hmm, people as game content. Pretty obvious, really, if you think about it. Compare the culture of toxicity in MOBAs with the business-like, team-oriented attitude in, say, Rising Storm and tell me that doesn’t have a big impact on your game experience. Possibly the biggest impact.

  8. RaunakS says:

    I wonder what plans Valve have with respect to holographic/augmented reality gaming. Considering their sole VR title knocked it out of the park, I have high hopes!

    I hope they collaborate with the HoloLens team. Microsoft have been doing some really cool stuff there, plus it looks a whole lot more interactive and polished than, say, the Vive:

  9. golem09 says:

    We’re always listening

    So that’s why they want steam on every device.

  10. aepervius says:

    You know what I would be extremely glad to have on steam ?
    The possibility to do BETTER filter.

    1) add a NOT filter. I will never ever buy a VR game. Why should I be forced to go through them ?
    2) A better curation of the game tag. RPG is about as useless as it goes since many games just add rpg no matter what.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      They should first allow to distinguish between vr-only games and games that have VR as an option, from what I can tell games like Elite are considered “VR games” the same as the shovelware stuff that requires a VIVE to work.

    • Mischa says:

      I recently noticed a feature on Steam that might work a bit like the NOT filter that you want:
      Click your username at the top-right in Steam, and choose ‘Preferences’. Halfway down the screen there is an option “Tags to filter out”, where you can “pick up to three tags you wish to see less of”.
      But as you say, the correct working of this will still depend on the actual tags that are used for a game.

  11. rondertaker says:

    people = content is a paradigm all multiplayer game developers should understand. if you don’t plan to try and cultivate a positive and engaged community for your multiplayer game, you may as well not bother making a multiplayer game…

  12. Michael Fogg says:

    Gabe also said this:
    “Products are usually the result of an intersection of technology that we think has traction, a group of people who want to work on that, and one of the game properties that feels like a natural playground for that set of technology and design challenges.”

    Which I believe confirms the common opinion that HL3 probably will not arrive until some big technological breakthrogh; VR may or may not be it.

  13. guy15s says:

    Did Gabe address the customer service at Valve and how that works in relation to the rest of his company? Sorry if this sounds snarky, just honestly wondering, especially in contrast with this response to point number 5.

    • Premium User Badge

      Philippa Warr says:

      Not as far as I could see. His answers weren’t exactly prone to going into detail so you’d get a scattering of facts or one word answers but not much background or context.

  14. duns4t says:

    I’ve noticed a definite improvement with the customer support at Steam. Maybe it wasn’t entirely willingly, but the refund system is strong and allows me to purchase confidently. I picked up Far Cry 4 last month, played 90 minutes, didn’t feel anything click. Refund. Contrast that to Blizzard: I picked up Diablo 3: RoS this month. Played 15 minutes, didn’t feel anything click before getting disconnected. Refund: denied. Reason: I’d already leveled (in the first 5 minutes) and therefore “seen content” and wasn’t entitled a refund.