Valve is one of the few larger game companies I have not examined. The reason being is that I’ve never gotten into their games (I’m not much of a FPS fan so games like Half-Life and Team Fortress 2 do nothing for me. After the original System Shock, it’s hard to be impressed) but I also don’t see them having much of an impact in the grand scheme of things. When was their last game? Portal 2? And how did that sell?
It seems that Valve is more interested in becoming a video game bank instead of a video game company. Like a bank, Valve prefers to be a platform that can change prices, lower and raise them, as well as leverage poor game developers (which is the accurate term for the ridiculously romanticized term of ‘indie developers’) for their own ends.
Poor unestablished game developers (the correct definition for ‘indie gamers’) need what any poor unestablished dreamer needs: business and marketing education. They need to know how to market, how to sell, and how to manage. Unfortunately, these poor souls think only ‘passion’ is what they need which is why they keep ending up in jobs where they do a ton of work with little pay… i.e. leveraged against. The reason why Minecraft became a hit isn’t because it was a good game. Notch understood the principles of marketing and selling. He was marketing the game in all sorts of ways. Poor and unestablished game companies such as id Games and Epic Megagames did more than just try to make ‘good games’, they knew how to market and sell. Trip Hawkins was a poor, unestablished game developer when he made mail-order football games well before he began Electronic Arts.
I want people to fulfill their potential. The biggest obstacle holding people back, in any industry or field, is financial education. These creative types dream of making best seller lists. But in order to make it on a best seller list, you need to know how to sell. Tragically, these creative types declare war on anything business because it might ‘hurt their creativity’ while they languish in poverty… which has them amplify their war against business matters even more. It is a spiraling-downward cycle that needs to be broken.
Instead of freeing these people with information, there are many companies that try to exploit them. And by exploiting them, I mean keeping them in their financial ignorance so they can be leveraged. This is why I have been opposed to User Generated Content because it is a company exploiting passionate users’ content for their own financial ends. These passionate users are not allowed to ‘sell’ their content. Sometimes, these people are hired by the company for them to develop their content further where they become an employee and their work becomes that company’s product.
There is a scene from the movie of Pirates of Silicon Valley where Wozniak had to show the Apple I prototype computer he made to the company he was working for because a contract says any invention he makes belongs to the company. Everyone instinctively knew this was wrong and saw the leverage. So why is it when a modder’s project gets hired and turned into a full game for a company not owned or controlled by the modder cheered and applauded? It should be the exact opposite. Do you want to be like Notch, who owns his own company, controls it, a millionaire, and gets to watch himself work less as the game becomes more popular, or do you want to be like a hired modder project who doesn’t own the company, doesn’t control it, is a salaryman, and has to work more as the game becomes more popular? The modder was better off before his project was picked up no matter what was paid him. At least then, the modder was free and in control of the financial vessel he was in (in most cases, no financial vessel). But I’d rather be in no financial house than be in someone else’s.
For clarity, I am not talking about game companies hiring modders for their skills. I am talking about game companies taking a mod, which was developed outside the company, and then ‘hiring the people’ so these modders can make the company rich instead of making themselves rich.
From a glance, it appears Valve’s philosophy is to take budding games from unestablished, poor game developers and declare it their own. Someone tell me where I am wrong with this assessment. If this is true, Valve comes across to me almost as a predatory sense.
I titled this post ‘The Valve Corporation Marketing’ because I keep seeing gamers (many on the Gaming Message Forums) say how ‘special’ Valve is and how Valve is unlike any other game company we have seen before. So I felt I should stop ignoring the company and begin to look into it.
There are no Game Gods and there is no Game Ambrosia. When someone says “Hail! Hail! Hail!” all the time, it is time to look at the more critical side. Companies or people who never get criticized worry me. If you aren’t being criticized, then you aren’t doing anything.
So let us take a more critical look at Valve. Here are the “Hail! Hail! Hail!” sayings I hear:
Unlike other game companies, Valve isn’t a corporation!
But a Valve is a corporation. The name of the company is Valve Corporation. Since its proper name is Valve Corporation (and not Valve), I will, from this point forward, refer to Valve only as Valve Corporation so everyone will be reminded that it is a corporation.
Steam has saved PC Gaming
In order for PC gaming to be saved, it must first have been in trouble. But PC gaming was, and always has been, booming. Steam played no part in the so-called ‘casual boom’ years ago or with the flash games or games like Farmville.
Are there any girls on Steam? I’m sure there are some, but my perception is that Steam is Older Boy Land. No estrogen. And you don’t see families going there. At least I don’t.
Gabe Newell is a hero and the icon of gaming.
Many presidents of companies are chosen because ‘they look like a president’ or they are someone they want people to see in press interviews and all. The public person is chosen to, in many ways, represent the company the best way in the public. And, to not be shy with words, this tends to be more athletic professionals sporting good looks.
Gabe Newell reinforces many of the bad gamer cliches (e.g. overweight, nerdy, dresses like a nerd). I am not talking about this in a personal way (as people can be whatever). But in representing a company, you don’t want the nerdy, geeky dork out there. You want the suave, handsome person. Unless you are going for some identity type marketing. Imagine Reggie Fils-Aime wearing heavy metal T-shirts to look like the customers who buy his games. It’s pretty ridiculous.
“But what about Bill Gates?”
But Bill Gates was never cool. He had pies flung in his face. Everyone laughed when he plugged in a printer and the new Windows OS crashed. No one respected him. Contrast that to Steve Jobs who everyone considers cool (even though he may be slightly eccentric with those turtle necks).
Bill Gates was depicted as a ‘super genius’ in marketing to distract people that the Microsoft strategy was to make people NEED your product and not ‘choose’ it. Instead of thinking, “I HAVE to buy Windows when I buy a computer? Damn,” it was “Wow. This computer has Windows on it? With super geniuses like Bill Gates, Windows is pushing computer innovation forward. I feel like I’ve won buying a computer with Windows pre-installed.”
Valve is becoming less of a consumer product company and more of something ‘you have to use’ with more games becoming intertwined with Steam. (For example, look at the angry Amazon reviews for Civilization V where many people are upset they have to use Steam.)
Gabe Newell is to video games as Bill Gates is to computers… but not in the way Valve Corporation fans think.
When Dota 2 was declared ‘free-to-play’ because you didn’t have any option to buy additional heroes (like League of Legends), no one wanted to point out that Valve was selling Dota 2 beta access.
Purchase now for Free-To-Play! If any other game company did this, they’d be raked over the coals. Yet, Valve gets a pass. Why?
When Bethesda sold horse armor as downloadable content, gamers were outraged. When other game companies began selling downloadable content, gamers were still outraged. Some companies like Blizzard began selling mounts and pets (Sparkle Pony), and it was debated if these were signs of the End of Gaming.
But Valve sells vanity ‘hats’ and is praised for it.
Why is selling horse armor ‘bad’ but selling hats is ‘good’? They are either both good or both bad since it is the exact same thing.
This indicates to me that Valve has very strong marketing muscles if they can get gamers to believe vanity DLC is bad everywhere except when Valve does it.
One thing gamers hate is episodic gaming. There is no form of ‘episodic gaming’ I know that is liked. Yet, we are told that everyone loves Valve’s episodic gaming (the Half-Life 2 episodes).
These episodic games didn’t sell much even at a discount (which may be why they got bundled in with Half-Life 2 later on). This makes me question the demand of Episode 3. The people we see on Gaming Message Forums demanding Episode 3 may either be Valve marketers or fanboys because there is no evidence of great demand (with sales of the prior episodes).
Valve is wonderful because they give things away for free
Free only matters if it could have been sold at a price. Cow pies are ‘free’, but you cannot sell them (as no one will buy them).
What concerns me is not that the message is “X is free to download. Be excited because X has value,” but that the message is “X is free to download. Praise to Valve! Praise to Gabe Newell!” It smells like Microsoft-esque marketing. When listening to these fans get out their pom poms and become cheerleaders for Valve, it is very telling that the object of praise is always the company and the company icon (Gabe).
Where is the healthy cynicism? When a game company gives away something for free, gamers tend to think something fishy is up as if the game company has some diabolical plot. But in cases concerning Valve, it is nothing but praise. “Hail!” “Hail!” “Hail!” It is quite suspicious and intrigues me to investigate more.
Take DOTA 2 not buying any heroes for example. A correct response to this would be to say, “DOTA 2′s main competition is DOTA 1 as the two games are virtually identical. It is paramount that DOTA 1 players move to DOTA 2. This will never happen if DOTA 2 has a price tag or has heroes/items that need to be bought.”
I think the Warcraft 3 mod is a very legitimate point. Why should anyone bother with DOTA 2 since they already have DOTA 1? This question is asked for every sequel. Traditionally, game companies say, “The sequel has new features and such.” People keep seeing DOTA 2′s competition as with LOL (already an old game) but its actual competition is with Blizzard in general. DOTA 1 is played on Blizzard’s game, Warcraft 3. And Blizzard is coming out with a competitor to DOTA called ‘Blizzard All-Stars’.
This ‘Valve is doing free-to-play, OMG’ response is childish or artificial or a mix of both. Valve is trying to make DOTA 2 viable in an increasingly competitive market. Sorry guys, Gabe isn’t trying to ‘gift the community’ or whatever you wish to believe.
Steam is better than anything else
Then why does Steam have to be open all the time? Every other service only needs to be open when downloading and patching the game.
Impulse doesn’t need to run once the game is installed and up to date. Neither with Origin, Direct to Drive, or Good Old Games.
One successful use of Valve marketing is to get Steam users to think using non-Steam users would mean opening up a ton of different clients. But you don’t need to open any clients at all except to just download and patch the game.
EA is evil because it made Dragon Age 2 exclusive to its Origin service
So why isn’t Valve evil because it made its games exclusive to its service? I can’t digitally download Half-Life anywhere else.
Valve isn’t public
Why wouldn’t the Valve Corporation want to become public? It would give them access to so much more money and possibility of growth. And answering to shareholders is nothing more than ‘show them the money’.
“But they want to be private.” Why!? What advantage does that give the Valve Corporation? One thing about a company being public, we would be finding out more about what is going on inside the company and the company answering to shareholders about their strategy. Maybe the Valve Corporation doesn’t want to be public about their strategy.
As anyone who has downloaded a ton of emulators and ‘roms’ knows, you feel awesome for doing it as if you found some gaming cornucorpia but you never play any of the games. You went through all that trouble, but the games sit there unplayed.
Warez gamers also have this issue. For them, it seems as if the game is trying to get the game for free instead of playing it. Most publishers realize that these warez collectors were never going to buy their game anyway.
It’s disturbing that the Steam gamer behavior is matching that of the warez collector. The gamer buys all these games on the Steam sales and never plays any of them (of course, we know some players do play them. Not saying they don’t exist). When you spend, say, $100 on a Steam sale to ‘stick it to the man’ and get all these goodies and never play them, that is no different than spending $50 on two games and never playing them.
What concerns me is that the Valve Corporation understands this mentality and seeks to milk it as much as they can. The problem is not only are these games selling for cheap, many people aren’t playing the games they buy (as they would try to do if they paid a more normal price). I don’t see how this is helping the value of those games. Have you heard of any game ‘taking off’ due to being discovered thanks to Steam sales? I can’t. And that is amazing considering how many games the Steam sales have gone through so far.
“Why are you slamming the Valve Corporation?”
I’m not ‘slamming’ them. I think discussions concerning these game companies need to exist on a neutral ground. Gabe Newell is not a devil or an angel.
As a huge PC gamer, I liked PC gaming before Steam. Somehow, someway, gamers got along fine with online multiplayer games without ‘platforms’ and ‘social media’. If the Valve Corporation vanished from the Earth tomorrow, would that make any difference to your life? I can’t think of any change. They no longer make games anyway. And platforms/stores shift all the time in both retail and online.
Steam isn’t PC Gaming. Gabe Newell isn’t PC Gaming. We are PC Gaming. We, the gamers, are the definition of PC gaming. It is we who make PC gaming work. We don’t need ‘platforms’. And we don’t need Steam. PC Gaming was amazing before Steam. It will be amazing after Steam.