Half-Life 2 is to be released in three different flavours, Valve boss MD Gabe Newell revealed today, via an email posted on the Half-Life2.net forum, detailing plans to offer the end user an unprecedented number of options, including a subscription model.
The first, presumably cheapest option offered will be a single player-only SKU, stripped of multiplayer and the option to play MODs, the second will include multiplayer, and be able to run MODs, while the third SKU will be a collector's edition, featuring unspecified "cool bonus stuff".
Newell also revealed plans for a $9.99 a month subscription service, which he assured would give "the better value, as we've been pretty good over the years at generating a lot of content", revealing this would allow take care of the inevitable expansion packs (and MODs including Team Fortress 2) and extras that will emerge throughout the life span of what is certain to be an evolving product.
He also admitted Sierra (Valve's US publisher) "wasn't exactly jumping for joy" at the idea of Valve effectively bypassing the retail and distribution status quo, and said that it was working out means of issuing Steam-only users with packaging.
Whether these plans will be implemented outside of the US is currently unknown, but it would seem likely Valve's plans extend worldwide. Users who choose to buy the boxed version will have to pay extra for anything else, suggesting Valve is giving plenty of incentives to users who sign up to Steam.
The entire post is reproduced for your reading pleasure below, and was verified via email with Mr Newell himself, who assured Eurogamer that it was all true...
"Here's my current thinking: Some people want to buy Half-Life 2 in a store. Right now we have three SKUs planned at three price points. One will have single-player only and not play MODs and we think of that as the mass market SKU (sold mainly at the Costcos and Walmarts of the world). The second is our traditional single-player plus multiplayer SKU that runs MODs and is sold at places like EBX. The third is the collector's edition SKU with lots of cool bonus stuff for people who like cool bonus stuff.
In the Steam world, some people will want to buy it once, like the middle SKU above. Other people will want to buy the game on subscription (e.g. $9.95/month). The good news for the "buy it once" crowd is, well, they only have to pay once. The bad news is that when we come out with new content (expansion products, TF 2, and presumably other games) then they have to pay separately for those. We're pretty sure that the $9.95 guys are going to get the better value, as we've been pretty good over the years at generating a lot of content.
Now nobody has done this before, so we're scratching our heads and massaging the plans to make sure we've got the best set of options. We've had some feedback that we should sell the top SKU (single-player only no MODs) on Steam, and my reaction has been "yeah, right, for the three people in the world who have a broadband connection, are sophisticated enough to purchase software over the Internet, but DON'T want to play MODs and multiplayer". Some people have said "I want a subscription, but I think the box and the manual are cool, so what about sending me those" and I think that's pretty interesting and we're trying to figure out what to do for them (needless to say Sierra isn't exactly jumping for joy at the idea of selling us boxes so people don't buy Half-Life 2 in stores).
But nowhere has there been a suggestion that people pay in the store and then pay a monthly fee on top of that a la the MMORPG.
Later, Newell appeared on the board himself to silence the doubters who were convinced it was a hoax, and who had picked holes in certain elements of his initial email.
"Yes, the mail was from me. Let's see...
"Vivendi owns Sierra. Sierra is the publisher.
"The various SKUs will be available at the other stores. It's just how we think of them (we think of the lowest price one as the "Walmart" SKU even though Walmart will probably be the biggest single seller of all three SKUs given their volume).
"TF2 isn't a MOD, correct. However the subscription will be for anything we make. So when TF2 ships, the subscribers get it as part of their subscription.
"We've been talking with retailers about the retail SKUs for a long time. Steam pricing was what I was trying to explain. Steam options seemed to require an explanation of the retail SKUs." Newell added.
Given the slightly unorthodox method of disseminating the news, it would seem Valve is taking a slightly 'punk' attitude to PRing its product, and the explicit suggestion that all is not well with Sierra over its plans to effectively cut the publisher out of the equation makes the whole issue of alleged release date delays all the more interesting.
Clearly this story is going to run and run.