Valve's Chet Faliszek on Steam Greenlight, Counter-Strike and the future of Left 4 Dead

"Will you make Left 4 Dead 3?"

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We had a Chet chat with Chet Faliszek. Sorry.

It's a busy time for Valve, and it's a busy time for Chet Faliszek. Fresh from his work on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (more on its absence from the EU PlayStation Store later), he's now hard at work making Left 4 Dead, the ground-breaking co-op zombie thriller, better. But he still found the time to pop along to Eurogamer Expo last week to deliver a developer session (twice) on how to get a job in the game industry.

His talk sparked healthy debate on this very website, with many agreeing with Chet's no-nonsense advice, others taking issue with some points. During our interview we followed this up, discussing the evolution of Steam Greenlight, the launch of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the future of the Left 4 Dead series along the way.

Your developer session sparked an interesting debate on Eurogamer. A lot of people agreed with your talk, that you should just create something. Some people have said, you know it's really hard to get noticed.

Chet Faliszek: It is, yeah.

Say you create something, as you recommended. How do you get noticed?

Chet Faliszek: 100 per cent, I agree I glossed over some stuff in the talk, because I didn't want to have it be negative. I wanted to just go and run with the high level idea. People will find out when you start doing stuff it is hard to get noticed because it's hard to be good. By being good you get noticed.

That's why it's okay though, the first couple of times if you're failing and not go, oh my god, I shouldn't do this. You keep getting better. You're going to keep trying. Don't think the first game you make is going to be Minecraft and you're going to be this indie hit. You've got to realise you've got to put the time in and you've got to get better.

I'll use Notch as an example. He's a really good game designer. He created Minecraft using things he's probably learned while making other games. It's the same with anybody. You keep getting better and better.

It's one weird thing in the game industry. Sequels tend to be better than the original because they've got better at making the game. They better understand what they have and they just keep going on it. So to get noticed you just have to keep working at it. You've got to put the time in. You've got to work hard at it.

Some of that also is making sure you're not copying somebody and just repeating what someone else is doing. If you see an idea and you're like, I should just do that. Now I did it and now people will notice me. No, the first guy who did it. Especially when people are hiring. We see this with artists all the time. You just copied somebody else's art style. Why don't we just hire the guy you're copying instead of you? Because he at least originally thought of that.

It's a tough thing, but you just have to keep at it and keep being yourself.

Are there resources or places where people can go to put their stuff out there that you recommend?

Chet Faliszek: We debated internally if we should have a bunch of links at the end of the talk, if we should just say search. The real answer is there are a bunch of places. You want to search for the one that fits you. deviantArt is really great for some people, but it won't be really great for some people. There are a bunch of different 3D websites. Some will be good for you. Some won't be.

You just have to keep going and looking and playing around and seeing what works for you. Don't be discouraged and say there's no place for you. You just have to keep searching.

Another interesting point in the debate about your talk was sparked by your comment about the requirement lots of employers have for experience, and how people ask Valve, when I don't have experience, how do I get experience when everyone says they require experience? And you said, life's not fair. Some people agreed with that. Others suggested game industry employers should take a chance and train staff.

Don't ever think you're owed something. People forget scale, just the amount of people who will apply for those jobs and are looking. You can't ever ask somebody to be stupid or ask them to not be sensible.

Chet Faliszek: There are some people who should and will do that, and there are some people who won't. But don't ever think you're owed something. People forget scale, just the amount of people who will apply for those jobs and are looking. You can't ever ask somebody to be stupid or ask them to not be sensible. They should always be sensible, and the sensible thing often there is, they can hire somebody who has experience, they can look at what they've done and go, oh, this person is great, I'm excited to work with them, versus someone they know nothing about. They're taking a really big risk. Yes, sometimes it'll pay off, but that's really hard.

If there's only one company, then that company would have to give inexperienced people jobs. But the problem is there is a million companies, and so they're all individually allowed to decide what to do. You see day in day out, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Everyone has ideas. Oh, I'm going to do this and I could do this, and these big dreams, but until they start trying to do it they don't really know what's there to do it.

I work with a guy called Matt Scott, who wanted to be a programmer. He was all set to be a programmer, and then he was trying to be a programmer and he was like, this sucks, I'm bad at this. He's a really great animator. And he found out by trying to do stuff and that gave him insight.

Is your point that if you create something you're gaining experience in a way?

Chet Faliszek: Look at the Portal students for instance. They created Narbacular Drop. How could we ignore that? It was like, oh my god, you know what you're doing, you worked in a group, so you understand that dynamic, you understand how to work together, you finished something, so you understand how to do that. There are all these things you've demonstrated to do. So yeah. Your résumé is less interesting. Did you work at McDonald's while going to college? We don't care.

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Steam Greenlight. Greenlit games include Black Mesa and Project Zomboid.

You mentioned Steam Greenlight during your talk. When I first heard about the project I thought it was just a method for Valve to better sort games on Steam. But it seems you have a grander vision for it with regards indie development.

Chet Faliszek: It's definitely helping us do something. You get this email, why isn't this game on Steam? Well, the guy never submitted the game to Steam, or we didn't know about that game because there are so many indie games out there right now. This helps alleviate that. What's happening is less opaque. That's the big benefit.

Then as you see people can start interacting with these developers. You're saying, where to go hang out and ask and learn online? Go ask one of these guys that you like their stuff and say hey, where have you been hanging out? What are you doing? You have that interaction with them and it's been really fun watching those developers who haven't had a big community before put something up on Steam Greenlight and all of a sudden they've got a larger community that's interacting with them, and they're updating their pages and they're making changes to try to reflect the feedback they're getting from their audience.

What have you learned from it since launch?

If people wish this game was on Steam and they're not a developer, well maybe we should give them a place where they could wish for it.

Chet Faliszek: There's stuff we're not ready to start talking about yet. Even when people put a lot of joke stuff up there it also exposes people's wishes for how something works or what they're looking for. It's an interesting thing. Should we add some of this then in another format? If people wish this game was on Steam and they're not a developer, well maybe we should give them a place where they could wish for it. People could talk about it.

Something like that. We're not necessarily going to do that. I'm not making promises there. But that's one of those things that could come up out of that. That's why it's always good to release. You in your head have what you think what you're releasing, and internally we all test it and we give feedback on it and look at it. Once we release it you see how the community interacts with it. Sometimes that's different because they don't have the preconceived notions of what you had going into the design, and they have the desire for what they wish it was. So then you just keep working with that.

You added a $100 fee to prevent all of the joke submissions.

Chet Faliszek: It's a $100 fee and then you can submit games as you'd like. It seemed like there needed to be a little barrier to entry. So, if you're going to make that joke, it better be a good joke for a hundred bucks.

Is it working?

Chet Faliszek: Oh yeah. The thing is we're still getting a bunch of submissions. It's like the Apple developer program. It's a similar fee. So if you're in that space it's not a surprise. And of course we have the fee go to charity. I'm not saying Apple's making their money off of that either, but we wanted to be really clean about that. We wanted to be able to put that up there without saying, oh yeah, we're trying to nickel and dime you.

What games have caught your eye?

Chet Faliszek: There's a fighting game where you're past presidents of the United States and you're fighting in the Oval Office. That's hilarious. That's like the most awesome game. I totally want Street Fighter with Abe Lincoln versus George Washington.

That's one of the fun things though with the indie development scene in general. There is such a variety of people making the games that the games themselves then have such a wide breadth of experience. There's stuff that just wouldn't have been thought of or made a couple of years ago.

CS:GO is yet to launch on the EU PS Store despite launching in the US.

Let's talk about Counter-Strike. It released recently on PC, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. How well has it done?

Chet Faliszek: Well. It's done even better than we expected on the consoles in particular. On PlayStation it was the number one game in August even though it only had 10 days in August. So that was pretty exciting.

What do you put its success down to? Is it just that it's Counter-Strike, or is there something about this particular version?

Chet Faliszek: There are two things. One, it's Counter-Strike and if you've played Counter-Strike before you can jump in and you're back to that space where it's just easy to jump in and you're playing and you know some of the maps and you're moving through it. All your old skills come back. We saw people again and again jump in who were die hard PC players but play some console games and they'd be like, oh yeah, I totally remember this, right?

And then, there are not many games that are that easy to just jump in and jump out of, play around, take off. Your experience can be anywhere from as short as five or 10 minutes to all day. It's like eating potato chips. You just keep doing it more and more and you realise, oh yeah, I've spent hours playing.

What's your plan for how the game will evolve?

Chet Faliszek: The team's goal is just to keep updating and keep improving. They're connected in with the community. I know updating the spectator modes and all of that. As it's becoming adopted by more and more leagues, making sure the tools are there for those leagues to be able to run good tournaments.

Can you update it on console in the same way you do on PC, or is that not feasible?

Chet Faliszek: We can't update with the same frequency. It's similar to Left 4 Dead, where we'll update the PC version all along and then we'll update the 360 version with all the PC stuff where it makes sense. Because some of the changes you'll see on the PC version just don't make sense on the console. Like a lot of the movement stuff is very susceptible on PC because you're used to a very certain thing. When it translates and you're using a controller those little changes aren't as important because it already feels different. And fixing a Steam bug doesn't make sense on the 360. Stuff like that.

In Europe it's not out on PlayStation Network. Can you tell us what's going on?

Chet Faliszek: I don't know the status of that or what's happening.

You can appreciate PS3 owners want to know what's going on.

Chet Faliszek: There's confusion about that, yeah. That sucks for customers. But I don't know.

Every week Sony puts its PlayStation Store update out in Europe and it's not there, it doesn't matter what is released, everyone wants to know where Counter-Strike is.

Chet Faliszek: It's going to be exciting when it comes out.

So it will come out?

Chet Faliszek: Oh yeah. It will.

The Left 4 Dead series has sold over 12 million copies.

Let's move on to Left 4 Dead. You mentioned in a recent interview it has sold over 12 million copies across the two games.

Chet Faliszek: It is the little franchise that keeps going a little under the radar because people play it way differently than other games they play. A lot of games they jump on and they play every day, and they play it religiously every day, and they play it like that for a year.

More on Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead, you hook up with your friends from college every one or two weeks and you have a round. You play maybe once or twice. You play co-op and then you go on. So it's a game people keep playing while they play other games.

Why?

Chet Faliszek: Because while people play co-op you get to hang out with your friends, joke around, you're helping each other, the tension isn't so high. You can just relax and have this experience.

Valve has said it sold better on console than on PC, which is strange for your games.

Chet Faliszek: Originally, yes. It's probably about even now.

Did 2 sell better than 1?

Chet Faliszek: Yeah. 2 sold significantly more copies than 1.

You're still closely associated with Left 4 Dead. What's the plan with it?

Chet Faliszek: On the PC we will incorporate Steam Workshop, so people will be able to create items. Right now, if you watch any video of people who play a lot, none of them are wearing the same outfits. They all change them up. There's not a good path for them to get it into the game now or get on our servers. There's a lot of work we need to do to make sure you can put stuff on but you can't cheat. In co-op it's less important because if you're cheating in co-op you're kind of an idiot. Well, you're an idiot anyway for cheating. But particularly there. So we're doing a lot of work there.

Then we want to do some experiments. What if the community can choose what's showing up in the game based on what they like, as people make let's say melee weapons or something? So there's a bunch of playing around we want to do there. But right now there's so much content out there that we really just want to start getting that going.

One of the unique things with Left 4 Dead over something like TF2 or Dota or Counter-Strike, there's experience. There's the experience of going through something that's more than just a map. And so we want to make sure people can play wider with that, so we're going to release some tools we have for playing with enemies and creating different experiences, and where people can do that inside of their own campaigns, where they can add them on to our current campaigns. It's this whole toolset. And at the end of the day the customer is consuming what's created by those. We think of them as super amped up Mutations. Even calling them Mutations is probably underselling them, which is why originally we didn't want to call them Mutations, but ultimately we decided it's better to just put them all in one bucket and call them Mutations.

You can create entire game modes that are different.

It sounds to me like you're handing the game over to the community.

Chet Faliszek: We're still working on it and still making content. It's just we want to play with this idea of, what if we open this up and gave people an easier way to get feedback on their stuff? Right now the maps are really hard. You have to go to a third-party website and download them. And then so the feedback isn't all in one spot. It gets all fractured. It's just really hard. One of the good things to do is get the feedback all in one place so you can go over it and get your maps better. We just want to get people easier to download, easier then to have a place to get feedback and talk about it.

All of this will be coming out over a period of time. There will be a big update with the Linux build that'll be coming out in the middle of October. We'll start around there and then you'll see a bunch of stuff keep getting updated and released. As we're releasing it we'll have more details on exactly what we're releasing. Since we're not releasing everything at once it's a little harder to talk about. We're not sure of the order it's going to come in. For the scripting editing tools we have a bunch of game modes we created as examples so people can take a look at them that are super fun, but it's like, are we going to polish those up or are we just going to release them and let the community play around with them? You want to give them a toolset that's powerful enough that they can surprise you with what they do with it. It'll be interesting.

Valve has continued to support Left 4 Dead years after launch.

Will you do another one?

A 3? You know, some time down the road. Like anything, I would say that to all of our games. So that's not a promise of when or where.

Chet Faliszek: A 3? You know, some time down the road. Like anything, I would say that to all of our games. So that's not a promise of when or where.

But would you like to?

Chet Faliszek: I really love working on that series. It's one of my favourite series. It's just so much fun with the characters and the world. I love zombies and I love horror. So, yeah.

It seems Valve games have a particularly long life. Many people still play the old Counter-Strike games.

Chet Faliszek: It's still going. If you look at TF2, at some point you could have just stopped on TF2 and then done a bunch of work and released it and said, oh, is this TF3? But in another way it's a lot more interesting to do it with the community because you change what you do because you have this really nice feedback loop with them. You can see what's working with them.

Mann vs. Machine came from that. It was like, what if we remove this competitive side of it and make it this co-op experience? Where does that go?

Would you ever consider letting a player be The Director in Left 4 Dead?

Chet Faliszek: That was the thing with that rumour that came out about The Cabin in the Woods. That got no further than us discussing it, but we thought it would be cool idea if somebody could play as the dungeon master and put it out. But obviously there's a lot of work that needs to be done to do that. But it would be interesting.

How would it work?

Chet Faliszek: You'd have to start testing it. You'd need an economy of points that the dungeon master was spending. There's a 10 vs. 10 mod for Left 4 Dead, and one day me and Matt Scott, the animator, were playing it. For a really long stretch of time we just kept saving up all the points, and at one point we just started spawning witches everywhere, just non-stop. It made us laugh. Stuff like that you have to figure out.

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