Many have wondered why Valve switched its focus from the massively successful Half-Life franchise to equally massively successful multiplayer games, and development legend and Valve’s Co-Founder Gabe Newell provided some information on that change as part of an interview on the Washington Post:
So, if somebody becomes the group manager of X, they’re going to really resist it when X is not what you want to do in the next round of games. You don’t want them to sort of burrow into that – you want them to recognize that being really good at Half-Life level design is not as nearly as valued as thinking of how to design social multi-player experiences. You’ve had them feel like they have an organization and title tied up to something when the key is to just continue to follow where the customers are leading.
He then explained further:
I think there’s just more much more of history of it now so people are willing to trust it more and be less worried that it’s going to go in some poor direction. I just think that we’re more confident now and we’ve got that experience in lots of things. When we started out we were a single-player video game company that could have been really successful just doing Half-Life sequel after Half-Life sequel, but we collectively said let’s try to make multi-player games even though there’s never been a commercial successful multi-player game.
Then we tried to do Steam. There were a bunch of people internally who thought Steam was a really bad idea, but what they didn’t think was that they would tell the people who were working on Steam what to do with their time. They were like “that’s what you want to do wit your time, that’s fine, but we’re going to spend our time working on Half-Life 2. We think you’re kind of wasting your time, but it’s your time to waste.”
In retrospect, it was a great idea, right? So the key thing was that people bear the consequences of their own choices, so if I spend my time on it the only persons time I’m wasting is mine. Over time, I think people sort of recognize how useful it is for people to vote with their time. There is a huge amount of wisdom in people’s decisions about what they personally want to work on next.
While this doesn’t mean that Valve has abandoned the Half-Life franchise completely, it’s fairly evident that the focus has changed. Will it ever change back? We don’t know, but Newell definitely seems confident that the choice made was the right one. Commercial success doubtlessly proved him right, otherwise we’d probably be playing Half-life 3 now.