It's official - Gabe Newell is heading for Australia. If you missed the story of how 19 year old L4D modder Joe W-A ended up raising $3000 (US) to fly Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson out to see his L4D map in order to convince Newell to stop boycotting it... Er, you need to go read this and this. Now Valve have confirmed that they'll be heading to Oz next week, and less official sources are stating that of course they're paying their own way so the money goes straight to charity.
Because clearly $3000 wasn't going to buy one first class ticket in one direction.
Gabe Newell had this to say of the malarkey:
"The power of the gaming community and their ability to rally around a cause - be it serious or fun in nature - is amazing. In 2003, the community helped the FBI and European law enforcement officials find the people who stole the Half-Life 2 source code. This year, the community is putting me on a plane to the other side of the world to meet Joe W-A and see his MOD. It's going to be a fun trip."
Valve have created an interesting position for themselves. Unquestionably one of the most responsive and engaged developers, their relationship with their audience has created both a lot of love, and in turn a lot of hate. Expectations of the team are so astronomically high that when they fall short of customer's extreme standards the backlash is enormous. The L4D2 boycotting debacle was the result of people feeling let down (legitimately or otherwise), but of course let down from expectations they'd not even pause to imagine of any other developer. Some (and clearly not all) who feel short-changed or unfairly treated by the existence of L4D2 (even after the release of free L4D1 DLC Crash Course) are now looking at anything the company does as a reason to announce more contempt for them. As was the case in response to this story. A number claimed, indeed in comments on this site, that Joe W-A's campaign was cynical marketing on the part of Valve. What really happened was Newell sent two private joking emails to a regular correspondent, and literally nothing more. The rest happened without Valve's involvement, encouraged by gaming websites like us who were delighted by the adorable story. The result, of course, was fantastic positive coverage for Valve, who once more came out of this situation looking friendly and extremely good natured. Which of course made a few people more angry.
I think, since I'm editorialising so heavily, that this is truly reflective of at least part of Valve. The response to this story should surely be one of realising, "Oh, Valve really are like that." Rather than searching for a reason why this only proves how evil they must really be. Clearly they're a large company, with strengths and flaws, and not a big cuddly stuffed penguin for us all to coo over. When it comes to releasing games their behind-the-scenes antics are irrelevant - the games are judged on their own merits and nothing else. It happens that so far they've failed to make a bad game (you may not like one of their games - I'm not enormously partial to TF2 - but I'd have to be madder than a sock full of Nesquik to argue it was anything less than brilliant). Oh, apart from Ricochet. I'm told.
Of course, now Valve are using this as fantastic PR. I'm writing this story because the trip was officially confirmed by a press release sent by the company. It begins, "Valve, creators of best-selling game franchises (such as Half-Life and Counter-Strike) and leading technologies (such as Steam and Source), today announced its studio co-founder and president, Gabe Newell, will be visiting Australia next week." But hell, who wouldn't? It occurred organically and without their creation, and it would be insane not to take advantage of it. A month before they release their new game. (Which means Gabe and Erik are skiving off right in the middle of crunch, the cheeky buggers.)
Clearly people angry about the perceived lack of free L4D1 content and/or the existence of L4D2 will remain angry. People who don't care will carry on not caring. And those looking forward to the new game will still be looking forward to the new game. But in the end, the owner of the company is flying to the other side of the world to visit some teenager to look at his Left 4 Dead map, and that's still fucking awesome.