At a recent press event at the Valve headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, Valve founder Gabe Newell talked about their stance on console gaming. This is interesting because Valve hasn’t really released a game on the major consoles since the Xbox 360 despite console sales being at an all-time high. This apparently stems from Valve wanting to do free to play games on consoles, something that got a lukewarm reception from the powers that be.
So you try to talk to someone who’s doing product planning on a console about free-to-play games and they say ‘Oh, we’re not sure free-to-play is a good idea’ and you’re like ‘the ship has left.’
Newell also mentions the bureaucratic red tape developers have to deal with while developing and maintaining products meant for mobile phones.
There have been cases where we’ve updated products 5-6 times in a day.
When we did the original iOS of Steam App, right, we shipped it, we got a whole bunch of feedback and like the next day we’re ready to do an update. We weren’t able to get that update out for six months! And we couldn’t find out why they wouldn’t release it! They wouldn’t tell us. This is the life that you have in these environments. And finally they shipped it! And they wouldn’t tell us why they finally shipped it.
So for us, while we’re spending all of our time trying to be as tunnel-vision in this loop with our customers, to all of a sudden have this complete uncertainty about doing updates… Like we don’t know how to operate.
Valve aren’t the first ones to bring up the apparent difficulty in updating apps on a mobile platform like iOS and Android. The certification process takes a long time and with relatively little communication between the developer and Google/Apple can make the process frustrating since there’s a lot of uncertainty as to where in the process you’re standing. Like Newell said, this makes updating apps frequently more of a pain than it should be. It is because of this that Valve does not consider the mobile platform a valid option to pursue, with them rather focusing on the PC over all other platforms.
I’m sure that other people are wildly successful in those environments, but sort of our DNA tend to not work well when someone is trying to insert a lot of process between us and our customers.
A thing they are thinking about, however, is the reintroduction of paid mods to the Steam Workshop. This plan was originally planned to become a mainstay for the Skyrim workshop, but the system they implemented proved to be controversial with the player base as well as easy to manipulate for people looking to make a quick buck. Unsurprisingly, this feature was removed from the Workshop almost as soon as it was introduced.
This, however, did not completely dissuade Valve, who instead opted to go back to the drawing board to devise a system that was a lot more fair towards modders and users alike, while trying to figure out a way to make the system less open to abuse.
We underestimated the differences between our previously successful revenue sharing models, and the addition of paid mods to Skyrim’s workshop.
We understand our own game’s communities pretty well, but stepping into an established, years old modding community in Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating. We think this made us miss the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there’s a useful feature somewhere here. —Alden Kroll, Valve UI designer
During this roundtable, Newell spoke openly about the company’s plans to reintroduce a feature to the client that allows modders to get paid for their work without making it feel exploitative.
In a sense you want to have really good signal to noise ratios in how the gaming community signals to developers ‘Yeah, do more of that.’ Or, ‘No, please, don’t release any more of those ever.’ And [modders] create a lot of value, and we think that … absolutely they need to be compensated, they’re creating value and the degree to which they’re not being accurately compensated is a bug in the system, right? It’s just inserting noise into it.
It’s hard to disagree with that statement, especially since there exist some modders who go above and beyond to make new content for the games they love. Some of these mods are absolutely huge, adding in vast swaths of new gameplay mechanics, areas, storylines and graphical improvements that extend a game’s life by huge margin.
The Skyrim situation was a mess. It was not the right place to launch that specific thing and we did some sort of ham-handed, stupid things in terms of how we rolled it out.
EJ [Valve’s Erik Johnson] basically said we just need to back off of this for now, but the fundamental concept of ‘the gaming community needs to reward the people who are creating value’ is pretty important, right?
As of the time of writing this, we don’t know what Valve intends to do with the new system, nor do we know what this system will look like when it inevitably makes its return to the popular PC platform. There’s an obvious need to support voluntary content creators who use the workshop to create and share mods. All they need to do now is find a way to do that without causing another wave of backlash.
What do you think of Valve’s stance on console games and paid mods?