Gabe Newell on development: "We're going towards shorter and even shorter cycles"

Gordon and Alyx

Gabe Newell has said that Valve have moved past the episodic approach to creating games, and onto a "games as a service" model. This is geared towards quickly creating smaller updates for existing games. It's an approach best demonstrated by Team Fortress 2, which has received more than 200 updates since its launch in 2007. But what does this mean Portal 2, and what about Half Life 2: Episode 3?

An interview with Gabe Newell in the latest issue of Develop has uncovered a shift in Valve's philosophy for creating games. Newell says that the initial shift to the episodic approach was part of an attempt to protect Valve staff from the prolonged crunch times of developing one major title at a time. Since then, development cycles have become shorter and shorter, and the episodic approach has evolved into a fast paced cycle of updates.

Newell says “If you look at Team Fortress 2, that's what we now think is the best model for what we've been doing, our updates and release model on [Team Fortress 2] keeps on getting shorter and shorter.”

But what does this mean for Half Life 2: Episode 3? Newell says that Valve are working on different projects at different speeds. “We sort of amortise the risk by working on different frequencies for different projects,” says Newell, "Team Fortress 2 is the fastest frequency we work on with comparatively fast updates. Er, Half-Life is apparently the slowest! [Laughs] Although, from the outside world, we have no evidence that Half-Life is working on any frequency at all. [Laughs]"

Newell says that Left 4 Dead is getting closer to the Team Fortress 2 model, with its regular mutation updates, comics and occasional community map updates. He also admits that there's a possibility that Portal 2 could receive similar treatment.

“Portal 2? We'll have to see how much our customers want us to push in that direction. In general, our approach is to come into work and ask 'what can we do for our customers today'?

“We get a huge amount of value in releasing things. Every decision you see our Team Fortress 2 team make is a direct result of feedback they're getting from customers.

“Everything our team does is a result of tests they've done on the last two or three releases. Because its information from the last few updates that tells our team what to do next.”

Valve have already announced that the first DLC for Portal 2 will arrive this summer, bringing new test chambers and challenge modes to the game. Team Fortress 2, meanwhile, just received a video update that lets players record and edit their own replays.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.