When Gabe Newell sits down to talk about something, you can pretty much guarantee that it will be both interesting and insightful. This was the case with the keynote talk he did today for the D.I.C.E. 2013 event in Last Vegas. The Valve boss touched upon a number of topics such as the company’s upcoming Steam box, the problems with cloud gaming, and the company’s historical models on how to design single and multiplayer games.
Newell began his presentation with an answer to a question that his company get’s asked quite often: why the PC? He responded by bringing up the fact that the PC has been the center of innovation for the past decade. Things like MMO’s, social gaming, free-to-play, and advanced 3D graphics hardware, have only been possible thanks to the open and competitive nature of computers and the internet. Newell does admit one weakness of the platform: input. But he says that’s something his company wants to positively contribute to.
One way they’re doing this is through the recently announced ‘Steam Box’ initiative. Newell broke down the platform into three distinct, but complementary solutions. The first is the in-house streaming option, which will simply involve having a relatively cheap device (around $100) that can stream games from the PC you already own to your living room. This option is the cheapest and can eventually cost nothing if TV manufacturers start including the technology into their sets.
The second option is a PC in a console form factor and at a console price point. This will be the middle of the ground solution that will compete with traditional offerings from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. The hardware in these machines will not be anything special, just the best bang for your buck that the PC market can offer. If that’s not enough, then the third tier is simply to scale up this living room PC as far as consumers want. If they want a console-like PC that’s 10 times stronger than the competition and are willing to pay, then there will be someone who will sell it to them.
Valve’s CEO also had some criticisms against the idea of cloud gaming that he says will stifle its growth. His major problem is the fact that once a cloud gaming service actually becomes big enough with consumers, it will tend to collapse from its own success. The infrastructure to maintain it will be costly for the provider, and users will be hit with higher internet costs due to the amount of bandwidth required. Newell sees this idea used only for things like demos and for spectating, and not for full game experiences.
One of the most interesting sections of his speech, though, was when he starting talking about Valve’s past and present models when designing games. The company began with a single-player model that focused on player action and player state, and this was very successful for games like Half-Life 1 & 2. Examples of this involved having characters actually look and interact with players, and having the environment change based on the player’s actions. This design philosophy effectively ended when the company started doing multiplayer games like Counter-Strike.
Eventually Valve began to focus more on player to player interaction, matchmaking, and other important areas that helped lead to the creation of the Steam platform. This idea has evolved into areas like free-to-play and monetized content creation in Team Fortress 2, which has been a very successful experiment for the company. This has led Valve to looking at games as productivity software for players to create brand new content, and they will continue to push this approach into the future.
If you would like to see the whole keynote speech and see Gabe Newell get really in-depth on these topics, then click here.