March 5th, 2010

Valve by Flickr user Tim DorrI’ve been trying to write some thoughts about Infinity Ward’s decapitation, but the sensationalist tone of the enthusiast press has distracted me. West and Zampella were kidnapped? Snuffed out? Those are the logical conclusions to why two people were escorted from their workplace? Activision may have released 9 Hero games last year, and Bobby Kotick probably wears socks weaved from baby hair, but they aren’t an organized crime syndicate. Is the extra traffic really worth exploiting a developing story?

My apathy may be due to my preoccupation with Valve this week. I usually think about Valve and Steam a lot anyway, and not always good thoughts. Sometimes I envision a future where Valve goes public and starts making Actiavellian decisions, such as developing Counter-Strike 2 as an Xbox 360 lead, charging $10 for the Engineer update, or releasing Half-Life 2: Episode 3 as three separate games. All of these belong to a future I don’t want to live in.

But this week Valve updated Portal with a cryptic achievement and change log that prompted a community investigation. After doing a bunch of things which I won’t pretend to understand, the forum sleuths uncovered a bunch of other things which I also don’t understand. Morse code, a BBS — ASCII art of turrets and Gabe Newell? I decided to just assume it was leading to a Portal 2 announcement.

And then Valve updated Portal to change the ending. I read the headlines and my heart skipped a beat. Back from the E.R. and to the article, I found yet more that I didn’t understand. But it seemed that an Episode 3 announcement was near.

We already knew Episode 3 and Portal 2 were on the way, though. Why are we so excited? Because it isn’t hollow; it’s not just a press release. Valve’s pre-announcement takes advantage of the one thing we gamers are sure to appreciate: interactivity. And although Valve makes games out of the same stuff everyone else does, only they could have put on such a performance, prodding that part of our psyche from which zealous devotion and unthinking admiration flows. The performance took not only creative marketing ideas and the will to take a risk, but autonomy — something Valve has spent the better part of a decade building for themselves in Steam. This week, they reaped the benefits. This week, everyone who makes games wishes they were Valve. Again.

Also Valve announced Steam for Mac OS X.

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