Hey, Valve, What's Going On, Eh?

Valve have created themselves an interesting situation. Presenting themselves as bastions of consumers, remarkably accessible to gamers, regularly inviting in groups of modders — often to give them jobs — and always being present to offer a quote on how customers deserve to be treated with more dignity, they establish themselves as being our friend.

And then from that position, they sure do like to muck about. As Eurogamer's Tom "Tom Bramwell" Bramwell mentioned on Twitter this morning, it's hard not to sympathise with a growing body of Valve's customers who are asking for better communication.

If Episode 3 went horribly wrong, it would be fascinating to know.

No one has a clue what they're up to. Games are sometimes announced moments before release, or years in advance and then nothing but silence. Sometimes when they tease it's obscure, frustrating ARGs that eventually end in a new pretend hat. Other times it's a complete open door and everything revealed. They hide clues in so many places that people end up scouring everything they do for a hint, a glimpse, of something that might suggest they'll eventually return to the Half-Life universe proper. They've turned gamers into pseudo-schizophrenics, people frantically trying to find patterns in the random, believing there are hidden messages within their communications. But does anyone have a "right" to know what's going on with the Half-Life series.

Clearly not. It's absolutely Valve's prerogative if they want to never make another Half-Life game again, and concentrate only on adding new hats to TF2. And should they tell us they're doing that? No — why should they? They are a privately owned company, without shareholders to answer to, not required to reveal their plans to anyone.

Should they tell anyone what they're up to? I think it's probably about time they did.

For many years Valve have ridden a wave of remarkably good grace. Developing and releasing extraordinarily good games gets you a long way, and Valve have consistently proven themselves to be the best in the world at what they do. From the astonishing shake up of gaming that Half-Life caused, to the zenith of the FPS, still unbeaten seven years later, Half-Life 2, and then the excellent Episodes, both Left 4 Deads, the Portal games and TF2… there is no other record like it in gaming. There's a reason Valve has the reputation it has.

But their peculiar secrecy doesn't seem to do them any obvious favours. When they revealed the existence of DOTA 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the gaming press was obviously extremely eager to give this as much coverage as possible. They're Valve games, so there's an extremely good chance they'll be very good. (Not guaranteed of course. There's always Ricochet, conspicuously absent from their Games page.) Readers want to know about them, sites want details about them, and Valve wants the coverage. It all works.

So when they go quiet, after two episodes of a promised a three part episodic series of Half-Life games, it's understandable that people get annoyed. No, no one has the right to know — it's absolutely their private business, and they may keep it as underwraps as they wish. But I'd suggest at this point, this many years into what is now appearing quite a farce, it's doing damage to their reputation.

Clearly the actions of Axel "Ago" Gembe were absolutely unjustifiable, and the leaking of Half-Life 2 scarred Valve very badly. Gembe's given motivation was his frustration about the lack of information being released about the game, and his eventual discovery that Valve weren't revealing quite how far from finished the game was. Leaking the code was a stupid and cruel act, and Simon Parkin's wonderful article about his attempts to broker peace between the two many years on shows that Valve are still hugely angry and upset about it. None of it should ever have happened, but what I find peculiar is that Valve apparently learned no lessons about the frustration they generate in their most dedicated fans.

The silence over Episode 3, or what for seemingly no reason most now think will be Half-Life 3, is infuriating. And not because we deserve to know about it, nor because Valve have any obligation to say. But unfortunately, Valve have confused us. They act in an extraordinarily open way in so many cases, with remarkable access via email, and an engagement with the community that's the envy of the gaming world. While they of course receive backlashes, and there is a contingent of Angries who will always hate them, the goodwill they receive is enormous. This, combined with their more recent engagement with complex ARGs and hiding clues everywhere, has given the impression that they want to share what's going on with us. And that confuses us.

If Episode 3 went horribly wrong, it would be fascinating to know. If they developed the game and it was complete arse, it wouldn't damage Valve's reputation for saying so. If it's been in ongoing development, constantly iterated and improved upon, perhaps even morphing into Half-Life 3, everyone would be so excited to hear. If they just ran out of ideas, or got bored of Freeman, we'd love to know why.

So no, of course Valve has no obligation, and we have no right, to know what's happening. But I'm struggling to think of a reason why it would harm them to keep us up to date. Were they a completely secretive organisation, unreachable, who only announce a new game the day it comes out, then our expectations would be somewhere else. But it is the confusion of the contradiction of Valve's surprising openness and closed secrecy that leads to the bewildered frustration of their audience.

John Walker is a writer for Rock Paper Shotgun, one of the world's best sites for PC gaming news. John is Britain's leading adventure gaming specialist. Follow him on Twitter.

Republished with permission.


Comments

    More Episode 3 conjecture. This article sounds like nothing more than yet another whinge about HLE3 not being confirmed/denied/announced/released.
    Then using that to apparently question their practices as a game developer?

    Seriously. Let. It. Go.

      slow news day I guess

        Look at who writes it, then look at his previous contributions to Kotaku.

      I thought it was going to be about Valve treating customers like shit, so I was interested.

      Turns out it's this craptastic "journalist" doing a demi-opinion piece.

      DIE IN A FIRE!

    Why on earth would they make an announcement? They're getting so much free publicity from articles like this that they've got their audience slavering and drooling like a bunch of starving, rabid dogs. They can't buy this kind of hype.

    You haven't seen the half life 3 website?

    I checked the domain ownership information and it is owned by the same group that owns steampowered... sooo

    http://www.black-aperture.com/

    This used to have a big HL3 logo with snow falling around it. Now it appears to be a blank page.

      No it isn't lol its owned by a fellow by the name of Carlos White http://whois.domaintools.com/black-aperture.com

      Nowhere does it say it is owned by Valve Corporation or any other related Valve title, this link is old and we all know its just a fake.

    Everyone should join this page

    http://steamcommunity.com/groups/messagetovalve

    Does Valve realise how big of a gold mine they are sitting with the Half Life franchise? Half Life 3/ ep 3??? would have to be the most anticipated game in history, it would blow Call of Duty out of the water.

    It would be down right retarded if Valve aren't working on a new half life game.

      I think the gold mine that would be half life 3 is a pittance compared to the gold mine that is steam and TF2 hats. I think that Valve also realises this and has been concentrating on these aspects. I do however believe that there is something going on be it hl3 or some other tie in. the ship from portal 2 was to big of a hint.

    i must admit that it would be nice to know whats going on. clearly there was some kind of problem with episode 3, given how close together episode 1 & 2 were release, and it would satisfy us to just be given an outline about it

    It came out an hour ago. No it didn't but I reckon one day we will just wake up - turn on steam and there it is. the buzz created would be enormous. twitter will explode. facebook will melt and steam will struggle BUT it will sell.. it will sell on name alone

      Valve is the only company tha'd be able to pull it off.

      Were you the guy who, on a previous "HL3 Speculation thread", suggested that one day HL3 would just be on retail shelves with no publicity? Because that comment has infiltrated my dreams ever since. Would be so epic!

      My thoughts EXACTLY

    The reason why HL3 isnt out yet is because people call Gabe fat, and for every time he gets called fat, the game is pushed back 3 years.

      This! This is the answer!

      Indeed! Appreciate the man for who he is; not how much his body weighs!!

    Also think about it in terms of hype and marketing. Look at what the various communities and media are doing without Valve saying a single word. The generated excitement is astronomical. And it's not like Valve have to worry about taking too long on this one, even if it doesn't come for, say another 2 years this interest would never diminsh. Not in the slightest.

    The thing that I still find the most interesting about this whole Ep3 saga is the sense of entitlement from gamers that seems to accompany it. Like Valve not confirming or denying anything is somehow a slight against their God-given rights. Valve isn't obligated to do anything with Ep3 - they'll release it when it's good and ready, that's if they release it at all.

    I don't know about you guys, but there's dozens of other games out there that I can barely fit time in for right now. There should be more than enough to keep us busy while (some of us) wait patiently.

      We all get that they aren't obligated to do anything, but it still pisses me off. Leaving a game series on a cliff hanger like that is just cruel.

    We don't know what they're doing? You mean - we don't know what they're working on apart from DOTA2 and CS:GO? It occurs to me that this article is John Walker whining about the fact that Valve are using a VERY effective marketing strategy & is cheerfully stirring their pot of free publicity

    Remember Duke Nukem Forever? I say, let them keep a lid on it.

      But DNF was swapped by developers more than was necessary. What did you expect?

    "Sometimes when they tease it’s obscure, frustrating ARGs that eventually end in a new pretend hat."

    None of their ARG's have been for giving hats, the last big ones had been for announcing Portal 2 and for releasing it early.

      Actually the Portal 2 ARG gave people a hat and a miscellaneous item in TF2.

    A well written (apart from the "and"s) and well thought out article on a subject that gamers have interest in. Credit where credit is due.

    Thank you for a wonderful article. Keep them coming (^_^)

    Just realised how true this sentance is
    "They hide clues in so many places that people end up scouring everything they do for a hint, a glimpse, of something that might suggest they’ll eventually return to the Half-Life universe proper"

    When i found myself looking for clues in the page source for Josh's link http://www.black-aperture.com/

    If anyones woundering, i didnt find anything.. :(

    I don't feel entitled - I feel like I've been teased and its frustrating that now they pretend like it never happened. Its school all over again!

    Regarding the leaked code of HL2:
    "...Valve apparently learned no lessons about the frustration they generate in their most dedicated fans."

    If you're frustrated to the point of injuring the company you love, you're not exactly a dedicated fan. You're more like a complete bastard.

    I know this isn't relevant but when I saw the title, I was thinking "HEEEYYYYEEEAAAYYYYEEEAAAYYEEeAAAYEA HEEEYYYYEEEAAAYYYYEEEAAAYYEEeAAAYEA. I said HEY, whats going on?"

    I absolutely don't believe I am entitled to Half-Life 3. But as a fan I am entitled to know what's going on. It isn't too much to ask whether it has been cancelled. Take books for example, we are invested in the story and have been loyal fans. It isn't too much to ask that we're told whether there will be another book in the series. What valve has done with HL3 is pretty poor in my book.

      Agreed 100%. We LOVE Half Life; so we're really REALLY concerned with how it's going! It'd be lovely to know. Valve?

    I wish I was a mod just so I could ban every fucker that thinks they run this site."huuurrr shit jernalism durr" really? Are you being forced to come here? Do you fucking sniff paint? I bet John doesn't go to McDonald's and scream shit at you while you're working. You fucking mouth breathing asspies, clean your fucking bedrooms.

    to many games reveal way to much before there released in an attempt to prove there awesome so much so that is rare that im shocked by a new fun mechanic and already know half the story before i play games these days. Valve does it right otherwise they wouldnt make so much money and people wouldn't love them as much

    The element of surprise has enormous value. Just ask Christopher Nolan or Radiohead.

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