Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

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Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by ent » Mon May 09, 2011 6:04 pm

Valve co-founder offers insight on the studio's new development philosophy

Valve has concluded its experiment with episodic game content, the studio’s president has said.

Gabe Newell told Develop that the episodic development philosophy has been replaced wholesale by the ‘games as a service’ model.

“We went through the episodes phase, and now we’re going towards shorter and even shorter cycles,” Newell said in an interview published in Develop magazine issue 116.

The ‘games as a service’ credo is to create games that are platforms in themselves; content that can be rapidly reconstructed through a series of updates.

“For me, ‘entertainment as a service’ is a clear distillation of the episodic content model,” Newell added.

Likely the most popular example of this newer system is Team Fortress 2, a game that since 2007 has received over 200 updates. New weapons, new customisation options and even a in-game market have been added to the game.

“If you look at Team Fortress 2, that’s what we now think is the best model for what we’ve been doing,” Newell said.

“Our updates and release model on [Team Fortress 2] keeps on getting shorter and shorter.”


LESSONS LEARNT

Since the five-year Half-Life 2 project finished in 2004, Valve has twice attempted to change the manner in which it creates games.

A major factor in the need for reform was the wellbeing of Valve’s developers, Newell said.

Newell revealed to Develop that, throughout the Half-Life 2 project, he became acutely aware of his responsibility to look after his team.

“I’ve become obsessed with this issue now,” he said.

The episodic game model, he said, was introduced after Half-Life 2 so staff could work on shorter development cycles. This, in theory, meant more frequent breaks between projects and fewer crunch stretches.

But the episodes model itself has come under scrutiny. Valve arguably has only made two games in the last five years from this approach – Half-Life 2 Episode 1 and Episode 2.

Asked if he thought the episodic games model was a success, Newell said: “I think that we accelerated the model and shortened development cycles with it”.


AMORTISING RISK

But Valve is nevertheless moving on. Its new approach is to embed itself in its community of 30 million Steam customers.

The idea is to obtain as much feedback from the community as possible, and in return build entertainment that capitalises on their tastes.

This is not a content creation philosophy limited to games; Valve has made short animations and comics from this approach.

“We’re now fully focused on asking how we can take advantage of being constantly and fully connected to our customers,” Newell said.

“We now work from data we get back from our customers, reading into what they actually do.”

However, Newell insisted that building games under a single philosophy would not result in overly-similar Valve projects.

“We sort of amortise the risk by working on different frequencies for different projects,” he said.

“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]

“Left 4 Dead is starting to approach the Team Fortress 2 cycle,” he added.

“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.”

The rapid-fire development model doesn’t necessarily spell the end of mammoth five-year projects at Valve, Newell added.

“You want to distribute your choices. Right now there’s a bunch of pressures to have shorter and shorter development cycles. But that could change.

“I’d have to find a reason for it to change, but it could. I don’t want to be caught completely off-guard and overly invested in one area.

“I think you’ll still see projects from us that are huge in scale, simply because we have the ability to do that.”
http://www.develop-online.net/news/3762 ... odic-model

Man, this guy is a genius. Every reason Valve games are awesome can be traced back to this guy and his out of the box thinking in how he deals with almost everything -- release schedules, employees and their family lives (everyone is almost required to go home at 5), the employee organizational structure -- there is no "level designer" or "junior programmer" there is only "Valve Software Employee", how they approach game design / the user experience, and their idea of what "quality" means.

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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by dox » Mon May 09, 2011 6:18 pm

I'm a Valve fanboy myself, I think they really do stand for quality (I consider it a no-brainer to buy their products) and are definitely innovative. That said, this skirts conveniently around some facts and failures.

Where's Episode 3? (nowhere)
How does it affect competitive gaming? (doesn't matter)
How on earth do they afford to do this? (hats)

The 3 things above annoy me greatly. :)

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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by ent » Mon May 09, 2011 6:30 pm

dox wrote:Where's Episode 3? (nowhere)
There probably is no "episode 3", only "Half-Life 3". They never said the episodes were going to be a trilogy :P
dox wrote:How does it affect competitive gaming? (doesn't matter)
More support for the titles, new official maps / content / etc, bugfixes, new gameplay modes, keeps the game fresh and interesting well into its lifecycle. Team Fortress 2 came out four years ago and a *lot* of people are still playing it. To compare, BFBC2 has gotten stale already and it just came out a year ago.
dox wrote:How on earth do they afford to do this? (hats)
It's all a big underwriting game. They sell a shitload of their titles (most are via Steam, so they don't even lose any money on distribution), and then they make oodles off of Steam -- not only the cuts they take from every sale on the Steam Store, but also capitalizing on customer demand as a result of sales: a 50% sale on Left 4 Dead resulted in a 3000% increase in sales. Then they do make quite a bit off of hats on top of that. Valve has a bunch locked away in their coffers. Something that gets kicked around behind Valve's doors is that if they didn't sell anything for 12 years, Gabe Newell could pay everyone on payroll out of pocket for several years.
Last edited by ent on Mon May 09, 2011 6:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by dox » Mon May 09, 2011 6:43 pm

I was definitely under the impression that Episode 3 was announced -- a quick google indicates a lot of mentions of this from Edge to 1up.. though I can't find a Valve official release (?)

..the constant, unannounced updates (which can/do often change game play and game balance significantly) make TF2 only barely competition-worthy. Fresh, yes. But you don't add new rules every few weeks to other competitive games (IRL or online). It's one of the reasons why TF2 was never really picked up as a competitive title.

..and hats are dumb :)

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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by ent » Mon May 09, 2011 6:48 pm

dox wrote:..the constant, unannounced updates (which can/do often change game play and game balance significantly) make TF2 only barely competition-worthy. Fresh, yes. But you don't add new rules every few weeks to other competitive games (IRL or online). It's one of the reasons why TF2 was never really picked up as a competitive title.
To be frank, I don't think Valve is too concerned with competitive gamers -- they never really have been outside of Counter-Strike. Over time the number of PC gamers have grown and competitive gamers have shrank, so the sad truth is that competitive gamers are an extremely vocal minority. There will always be competitive gamers wherever there's money. They might bitch, but they'll always be there to compete if there's a reasonable amount of tournaments backing a game. A good example of this is the CPL and Painkiller. Nobody had bought Painkiller before, but then one day CPL was like "hey, play this" and a ton of pros and wannabe pro gamers flocked to the title. Also, as different as TF2 is from when it first came out, I doubt people would still be competing on TF2 if Valve hadn't supported the game in the way they did.
..and hats are dumb :)
Agreed. But they're making it so that you can opt out, I'm fairly sure they recently pushed a patch that lets you turn off the hats in TF2. Not sure if Portal 2 supports this.

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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by ent » Mon May 16, 2011 6:24 am

Gabe Newell wrote:The industry has this broken model, which is one price for everyone. That's actually a bug, and it's something that we want to solve through our philosophy of how we create entertainment products.

What you really want to do is create the optimal pricing service for each customer and see what's best for them. We need to give customers, all of them, a robust set of options regarding how they pay for their content.

An example is – and this is something as an industry we should be doing better – is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with. Some people, when they join a server, a ton of people will run with them. Other people, when they join a server, will cause others to leave. We should have a way of capturing that. We should have a way of rewarding the people who are good for our community.

So, in practice, a really likable person in our community should get Dota 2 for free, because of past behaviour in Team Fortress 2. Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice.
Source

This man is a goddamn genius.

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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by Atomic » Mon May 16, 2011 8:33 am

ent wrote:
Gabe Newell wrote:The industry has this broken model, which is one price for everyone. That's actually a bug, and it's something that we want to solve through our philosophy of how we create entertainment products.

What you really want to do is create the optimal pricing service for each customer and see what's best for them. We need to give customers, all of them, a robust set of options regarding how they pay for their content.

An example is – and this is something as an industry we should be doing better – is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with. Some people, when they join a server, a ton of people will run with them. Other people, when they join a server, will cause others to leave. We should have a way of capturing that. We should have a way of rewarding the people who are good for our community.

So, in practice, a really likable person in our community should get Dota 2 for free, because of past behaviour in Team Fortress 2. Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice.
Source

This man is a goddamn genius.
This

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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by Holyman » Mon May 16, 2011 11:54 am

ent wrote:
Gabe Newell wrote:The industry has this broken model, which is one price for everyone. That's actually a bug, and it's something that we want to solve through our philosophy of how we create entertainment products.

What you really want to do is create the optimal pricing service for each customer and see what's best for them. We need to give customers, all of them, a robust set of options regarding how they pay for their content.

An example is – and this is something as an industry we should be doing better – is charging customers based on how much fun they are to play with. Some people, when they join a server, a ton of people will run with them. Other people, when they join a server, will cause others to leave. We should have a way of capturing that. We should have a way of rewarding the people who are good for our community.

So, in practice, a really likable person in our community should get Dota 2 for free, because of past behaviour in Team Fortress 2. Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice.
Source

This man is a goddamn genius.
Yes because charging people extra for using a previous product they own and paid for in a way they want is a great idea!
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Re: Newell: We've moved beyond the episodic model

Post by dox » Mon May 16, 2011 12:01 pm

<insert joke about Holy making empty servers here>

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