Steam today represents a billion-dollar operation staffed by hundreds. But has the platform's meteoric rise restricted Valve's capacity to actually create games?
We haven't had a proper Valve-bred IP since The Orange Box games Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 arrived more than three years ago.
Brad Wardell - leader of Stardock, the company behind Steam rival Impulse - drew on personal experience to argue that yes, Steam's success has "definitely had an effect" on Valve as a game maker.
"Even though Valve is in Seattle, where you can get developers everywhere, [Steam's] had an effect on their own development schedule. There's not been a new Half-Life in a long time; a lot of people have complained about that," Wardell explained to IndustryGamers.
"[Valve has] had their own challenges getting new titles out the door, and a big part of that I'm sure is the same problems we've had. When one of your groups is so ridiculously profitable, every business instinct you have is to throw all your best people at it, because that's what's making the money. That's just sound business. At the end of the day, again you have decide if that's what you want to do.
"Steam and Valve - of the companies out there I would say we're the most similar. Obviously they're bigger and far more successful than our games unit is, but culturally they're pretty similar. If you were to look at a time-line of games developed in-house by Valve – not developed externally and then acquired – and you look at before Steam and after Steam, it's definitely had an effect," he added.
"I don't argue that that's a good thing or bad thing, but I do know the effect that's had on us, where I've had to put some of my top developers over the years onto Impulse to make sure it was getting better and better."
Since the 2007 release of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2, Valve has launched Portal, Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 and Alien Swarm. Portal 2 is imminent and DOTA2 (Defense of the Ancients 2) has been announced with a tentative 2011 date.
Look at those games again:
- Portal was created by a group of students Valve went on to hire.
- Left 4 Dead was created by a developer Valve went on to hire.
- Alien Swarm was developed by a mod team Valve went on to hire.
- DOTA2 (Defense of the Ancients) is being created by a modder Valve has hired.
What happened to Half-Life 2: Episode 3, Valve? And more importantly, is there a Half-Life 3? There are few announcement platforms on the scale E3 this summer. Is it Valve's turn this year? Maybe, just maybe.