Happy 20th birthday, Valve! Yesterday. Happy 20th yesterday. Sorry, I only just saw the Facebook notification. On August 24th, 1996, ex-Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington made a beautiful baby who was mighty eye-opening.
In the dreamy game of "What if...?" one curious hypothetical is: what if Valve never existed? There can't be many companies who've had nearly as much impact. Steam (eventually) revolutionised digital distribution, changing the entire landscape of PC gaming. Half-Life was seminal; its mod scene was legendary. That'd be plenty, but Valve have made a load of other really good video games too.
Half-Life. Counter-Strike. Left 4 Dead. Team Fortress. Dota. Portal. Day of Defeat. Flipping RICOCHET mate! Valve have some of the biggest and best games of the past 20 years, helped by working with or picking up mod teams, student teams, and studios.
Look, you don't need me to tell you Half-Life was influential. You don't need me to explain the many ways that retail shops were rubbish at PC games or how Steam (eventually) brought so many more games to such a wider audience. Those reshaped PC gaming as we know it quite visibly, so I won't bang on about them.
Less visible, and therefore maybe more interesting, was an effect Robert Yang got into in A People's History of the FPS. The Half-Life mod scene grew into a training ground for developers who've since dissipated across the entire games scenes, taking a bit of Half-Life spirit with them. That's both good and bad, mind. I'm sure games were a bit weirder before the homogenisation of the HL mod scene. Fewer AK-47s. Heck knows how I'd unpick that from history in a "What if...?" scenario.
I am still a little surprised that Valve managed to pull Steam off, mind. Steam was rubbish - super rubbish - for years. It was slow, it was buggy, it ate half my RAM, the Friends system was offline for yonks, and... Steam was mandatory if you wanted new updates for Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, and loads of lovely mods. We started using Steam because we had to. We were displeased. It improved very slowly, while Valve sprinkled us with freebies like the weird Quake quasi-remake Deathmatch Classic and RICOCHET, MAN! Then they started selling games made by other people. I couldn't tell you at which point I no longer thought Steam sucked but it happened. It's quite nice, isn't it? Very useful. Beats flipping Fileplanet.
Valve still have no clue how to handle Steam being the de facto storefront of PC gaming but hey, give 'em another twelve years (twelve!) and maybe we'll see.
Sorry, no rubbish jokes about Half-Life 3 here - only FLIPPING RICOCHET YEAH! references.