Gabe Newell on his Dota 2 obsession, Half-Life protests and EA's Origin
This interview originally appeared in PC Gamer UK issue 232. Alternatively you can watch the video interview.
Valve are constantly surprising. One month they’re making one of their most popular games, Team Fortress 2, free to play, and the next they’re running a $1 million tournament for the upcoming Dota 2.
That makes any chance to speak to company co-founder Gabe Newell a pleasure, because you never know what you’re going to get. I sat down with him during the Dota 2 tournament to talk about his obsession with his company’s new game, his thoughts on EA’s Steam-rival Origin, and what motivates him to come into work each day.
PC Gamer: You’ve said in the past that Valve’s model is to experiment at every point. Is that still what’s going on at Valve with Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive?
Gabe Newell: Absolutely. For example, we’re here at Gamescom and this is the first time we’ve brought our own tournament, and in order to do that we’ve built a lot of client-side and server-side technology that allows us to host this.
Depending upon how it goes today, there are probably some changes we’ll make, some improvements we’ll make. Then it’ll move into some of our other games to make sure we’ve thought through the issues.
You know, if something works in an action RTS, how does it work in a first-person game? And as that evolves, it’ll go into Steamworks so it’s available for all our partners to use as well. So we see ourselves always thinking about what the opportunities are to do a better job for our customers and our partners.
PC Gamer: With The International, the million-dollar Dota 2 tournament, was it your goal to cement it in people’s minds as a competitive e-sport?
Gabe Newell: We think that we will really benefit as games developers from running this tournament. We already have. There’s a very strong group of testers that IceFrog has been using throughout the development of Dota. We’ve been working with them on Dota 2 to address their issues and incorporate their feedback into the game, so we’ve already been through four or five different versions of the user interface. It’s evolved. You’d try something, they’d react and then we’d go back to the drawing board.
For The International, it made a lot of sense at the point in time, where we were in development, to get a bunch of people who play at this level and make sure that we address all their concerns. That’s going to get fed back – the stuff that we’re learning today is going to impact builds that we do next week. It’s just part of that process of iterating through development.
For the next step, we’ve opened up signups for our beta. We’ll go through that and have an invitation beta, and then we’ll have an open beta, and then the game will go out and we’ll continue to iterate from there on out.
It’s something that Valve have always done with our games and, if you look at IceFrog’s history, it’s the same thing. There are all these differences between Defense of the Ancients 647 and 631 where he’s continued to evolve. This, for us, is the right step. It has already been a very valuable experience for the entire development team to put this tournament on.
PC Gamer: Do you think of Defense of the Ancients is a genre, considering how many games use it as a template? That includes League of Legends, Blizzard’s upcoming DotA. What’s your opinion on that?
Gabe Newell: I think that the action RTS genre is a great genre, so we’re excited – we’re fans of it. We got into this because a bunch of people at Valve were huge fans of what IceFrog had done, and it was great to find out that he was interested in doing the sequel that removed some of the constraints he’d been living with.
But you know, we’re fans of the genre – we love to play these games ourselves, so we think it’s great that there’s more attention being paid and a lot of games are going to get developed.
PC Gamer: So you don’t mind that you’ll be competing alongside the already established League of Legends?
Gabe Newell: We’ve been around for a long time and there’s always this assumption that videogames are a zero sum game; that if Quake does really well, Duke Nukem will suffer, and that’s never the case. Gamers who play a good game want to play more games, not fewer games. So you’re never hurt by the success of another games developer – you almost always benefit.
You know, when Zynga go out and gets 100 million people playing one of their games in two months, I think every game developer is benefiting. Not everyone should throw in the towel and say: “We’ve been defeated.”
PC Gamer: Does the same apply to digital distribution platforms? Does the existence of EA’s Origin mean you’re going to make more money?
Gabe Newell: I think right now there’s always this temptation to assume that the way things are today is the way things are going to be, and having been through this long enough in the games industry, I think I and everyone at Valve know that you’re only as successful as what you’ve done lately. So the idea that Steam is somehow the answer to digital distribution ignores the fact that every two or three years, something is going to change dramatically.
It’s like, along comes the Wii and that overthrows a bunch of ideas; along comes social gaming and that throws over a bunch of ideas. If you stand still and you’re not doing the things that you need to do to be valuable in the future, you’re going to be left behind really rapidly.