Gabe Newell has a problem. The outspoken co-founder of Valve can’t seem to get enough of one of his company’s upcoming games. He’s so into DOTA 2 that he temporarily moved his office to be closer to the team making it.
In a recent interview with Kotaku he said that he’s logged some serious, serious hours playing the action strategy game.
The number he tells me when were chatting seems so unbelievable that after repeating it to him during the interview, I check back with the company a week later to make sure it wasn’t a misremembered, misheard figment of my imagination.
It wasn’t, a Valve spokesman assures me.
“I’ve played about 800 hours myself,” Newell told me. I call it “play testing” Eric (Johnson) calls it playing it badly.”
Newell is sitting in a chair in the makeshift backroom of a towering booth dedicated to DOTA 2 at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. The game he can’t stop playing is just feet outside the door, host to a million dollar tournament.
Newell seeming obsession with the game is made even more interesting by the fact that it is the sequel to a title that was created using a competitor’s game.
The original Defense of the Ancients, often know simply as DotA, is a mod of real-time strategy game Warcraft III: Rein of Chaos. In that original, still popular, game players team up to take down their opponents’ “ancients” using heroes and assisted by computer-controlled “creeps.”
I asked Newell how it was that Valve came to be making the sequel to a Blizzard game. Does that bother Blizzard?
“We talk to the Blizzard guys all of the time,” he said. “I think the main thing is that like Valve, Blizzard wants to make sure that customers are being taking care of.”
Newell says they got involved in the DOTA business initially as fans. In particular as fans of DOTA developer “Icefrog.”
“We started talking to him and it became increasingly clear that Icefrog was interested in doing a sequel and a sequel that doesn’t live in the constraints of the original game.”
Why call it DOTA 2, I asked, if DOTA was a Blizzard-powered game.
“We wanted to build a sequel to DOTA and calling it DOTA 2 is the clearest thing,” he said.
Valve’s big concern now is making sure that a game that is so reliant on hardcore and pro-gamers handles the way those gamers expect it to. That’s why Valve hosted this pre-launch tournament.
“They are incredibly demanding and very precise on what they do and don’t expect from the game,” he said. “We want to make sure it is a great platform for them, then we will worry about other issues like monetization.”
And then I ask him what he thinks of the game and he drops that number: 800 hours of playing. And he’s not the only one that seems really into the game.
“This game,” Newell says almost wistfully, “people at Valve are interested in playing this game more than any game in Valve’s history. With other games, by the time we ship it we’re sort of done with it. With DOTA 2, the company can’t seem to get enough.”
Then our attention turns to the action just outside the door of our meeting room. Outside the best DOTA players in the world are slugging it out in what Valve calls “The International,” an invite-only pro-tournament for their still-not-finished game.
“Their ability level is so much higher than your normal gamer, ” he said. “It gives you something to aspire to for a developer.
“It’s like the guy who makes tennis rackets getting to hand their racket to the best player in the world.”
The tournament is part marketing, but it seems that it’s mostly a high-end beta test for the developers.
“We have several developers here watching every thing going on, what’s working well and what needs to evolve,” he said. Broadcasting from inside a game is becoming increasingly important, Newell says.
And once perfected, that ability will likely migrate to other games.
DOTA 2 is set to hit the PC and Mac next year.