Valve seems like an easy choice for a Hollywood spotlight. The fictional universe and its characters are intriguing, and the fanbase is already established. We love soaking up new information, pictures, comics, rumours, animated shorts, cosplay… basically anything related to the Half-Life franchise.
So why hasn’t Valve taken the opportunity yet? It’s not as easy as picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, Hollywood person. Make my movie. *click*” Obviously Valve doesn’t want someone to trample over their property. Speaking with Russel, Valve’s mastermind Gabe Newell explains what the company’s history with Hollywood has been so far:
Mostly people were just trying to vampire off of the success and popularity of the property, without any real understanding of what made it an interesting or successful property in the first place. The sense that we had was that if we went down the traditional route of licensing a property to a Hollywood studio, we would be losing control at that point. The fans were going to be ill-served 90% of the time. (Russel, 288)
And then sometimes the software developers get pitched with ideas so far off the map of actual Half-Life lore that it baffles them:
“This writer was trying to convince us that it’d be cool to have this new modern cavalry with these Kevlar-armoured horses charging across this field. It had absolutely nothing to do with what made Half-Life and interesting entertainment experience for our customers. It was just bizarre.” (Russel, 288-289)
So why not just avoid the realm of film altogether? It seems Valve has their hands already full with development on future iterations (hopefully with 3s in their titles). Newell says they don’t have that choice anymore.
“It’s pretty clear that our customers are cross-media consumers. If they like a game, they want to see a movie; if they like a movie they want to be able to run around and shoot rockets off in those spaces. They are telling us we don’t have the luxury of just being a games company anymore.” (Russel, 289)
Then what’s the solution? Newell thinks it’s to reach out to the fans. Fans who understand their games, and appreciate the context enough to not take creative liberties by adding wacky things like Kevlar-clad horses. Valve has always been open to their community playing with mods and inventing new features for their games. So why not for a movie?
Valve’s dedication is to their gamers, says Newell. Building these pieces of entertainment isn’t about creating huge blockbuster openings (like Hollywood’s method seems to be), but rather to service their customers. He even brings up the infamous Star Wars films helmed by George Lucas as an example:
If Lucasfilm had taken all the assets they had created for Star Wars: Episodes 1, 2 and 3 and released them to the fan community and said ‘you guys go and make three 90-minute movies’, in aggregate the community would have built better movies than George Lucas did. I’m not being hyperbolic at all. I mean literally they would have made better, higher quality entertainment than he did. The key is to connect the dots for the community in terms of giving them the tools that they need. If you can mod a game like Half-Life 2, there’s no reason why you can’t mod a movie like The Phantom Menace. (Russel, 290)
Eventually, enlisting in fans is going to be the norm in the future. Eventually Hollywood will come around to it. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But Newell is firm in his belief that it’s at least the right way.
“What’s going to happen is that the Hollywood guys will start to realise that the creation of entertainment isn’t a one-way experience where they have all the professional tools and giant budgets and everything flows downhill from there to the consumers. If they’re collaborating and co-operating with their fanbases to create these entertainment experiences, you will see the same kinds of things occurring — most of it will be terrible but some of it will be brilliant.” (Russel, 290-291)