Gabe Newell, co-founder and president of Valve Corporation, held an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM (PST) on Jan 17th. Gabe stayed with his fans for a long time to give career advice and answer various questions, including ones about his favorite game and food preferences; although, he evaded answering questions regarding the number-which-must-not-be-named.
Some interesting information revealed through the AMA includes: the food in the Valve snack bar has become much healthier, Gabe likes his steak medium rare, his favorite Valve single-player game is Portal 2 while his favorite multiplayer game is Dota 2, his favorite non-Valve game is (possibly) Plants vs. Zombies, and most importantly, he loves us all!
Below are lists of questions and answers regarding Steam and Half-Life 3/Half-Life 2: Episode 3, as well as some other interesting questions.
Q. What inspired you to study and go along with the trail you did in what I assume to be computing/science of some form?
A. When I started programming, it wasn't really an established career path. I did it because it was fun.
Q. Do you have any tips for people who want to design games, both independently and with established teams in the industry?
A. The most important thing you can do is to get into an iteration cycle where you can measure the impact of your work, have a hypothesis about how making changes will affect those variables, and ship changes regularly. It doesn't even matter that much what the content is - it's the iteration of hypothesis, changes, and measurement that will make you better at a faster rate than anything else we have seen.
Q. Why is Steam Flash Sales not part of the Steam store anymore? Is there a possibility that it's coming back any time soon?
A. We found that really short discounts made it difficult for many people to participate. By removing the flash sales, users can count on finding the best deals whenever they are able to visit the store during the sale.
Q. Would you ever consider allowing uncensored video games containing pornographic content to be sold on Steam? Also, where do you draw the line for content on Steam?
A. In principle, there are two problems to solve. The first is a completely uncurated distribution tool for developers. The second is a toolset for customers that allow them to find and filter content (and people are an instance of content most obviously in multiplayer) that is best for them.
Q. What is your view on Steam’s quality control? The flood of new releases has made it tough for gamers to wade through to find good ones, and the curator system has not helped this issue.
A. There's really not a singular definition of quality, and what we've seen is that many different games appeal to different people. So we're trying to support the variety of games that people are interested in playing. We know we still have more work to do in filtering those games so the right games show up to the right customers.
Q. What is your view on the direction that Valve as a company should take in the future?
A. The big thing right now is broadening the range of options we have in creating experiences. We think investing in hardware will give us those options. The knuckles controller is being designed at the same time as we're designing our own VR games.
Much more narrowly, some of us are thinking about some of the AI work that is being hyped right now. Simplistically we have lots of data and compute capability that looks like the kinds of areas where machine learning should work well.
Personally I'm looking at research in brain-computer interfaces.
Q. Does Valve have any plans on making customer support better? And did you ever think of making it into live support?
A. Yes! We are continuing to work on improving support.
Since the last AMA, we've introduced refunds on Steam, we've grown our Support staff by roughly 5 times, and we've shipped a new help site and ticketing system that makes it easier to get help. We've also greatly reduced response times on most types of support tickets and we think we've improved the quality of responses.
We definitely don't think we're done though. We still need to further improve response times and we are continually working to improve the quality of our responses. We're also working on adding more support staff in regions around the world to offer better native language support and improve response times in various regions.
Q. Are you planning on continuing the Left 4 Dead series?
A. Products are usually the result of an intersection of technology that we think has traction, a group of people who want to work on that, and one of the game properties that feels like a natural playground for that set of technology and design challenges.
When we decided we needed to work on markets, free to play, and user generated content, Team Fortress seemed like the right place to do that. That work ended up informing everything we did in the multiplayer space.
Left 4 Dead is a good place for creating shared narratives.
Q. Does Valve plan on doing anything with Source 2 in the coming years? If so, what?
A. We are continuing to use Source 2 as our primary game development environment. Aside from moving Dota 2 to the engine recently, we are are using it as the foundation of some unannounced products. We would like to have everyone working on games here at Valve to eventually be using the same engine. We also intend to continue to make the Source 2 engine work available to the broad developer community as we go, and to make it available free of charge.
Q. Why does Valve not talk to its community about the games/apps it’s developing as much as other companies?
A. Because our decision making is way more conditional than most other companies. The one thing we won't do is waste our customer’s time and money, which means we will cancel or change stuff much later in development. Tracking our choices would be annoying and frustrating.
Another way to think about this, and the way we talk about this internally, is that we prefer to communicate through our products. We are all pretty devoted to reading and listening to the community - everyone here believes it is an integral part of their job to do so. And when it comes time to respond, we generally use Steam - shipping updates that address issues or add functionality. Obviously this doesn't work for everything. Working this way imposes latency on our communication - it takes longer to ship and update than to do a blog post. This can lead to the feeling of an echo chamber, where it seems like Valve isn't listening. We’re always listening. So sometimes the latency is rough for everyone, including us when we want to address issues quickly. On balance we think it's usually worth the trade-off.
Many questions involved the plans for Half Life 3 / Half Life 2: Episode 3, but none of his answers seemed clear enough to tell whether the development has been confirmed or cancelled. Only 3 questions are listed below since a lot of the questions were repetitive.
Q. What is the status of Half-Life 3 / Half-Life 2: Episode 3?
A. The number 3 must not be said
Q. An unidentified anonymous source at Valve has said that Half Life 3 has been cancelled. Is that source legitimate?
A. I personally believe all unidentified anonymous sources on the Internet.
Q. Do people recognize you in public? (If yes) Do people ask “When is HL3 coming?” or similar things?
A. Yes, and Yes.
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