Gabe Newell on Valve’s game development plans and the possibility of more Half-Life

Valve co-founder Gabe Newell gets it; he knows that fans of the company’s games want to see another Half-Life or Left 4 Dead or Team Fortress game. Just don’t expect the developer to necessarily make games like it used to 10 or 15 years ago. Valve, Newell said, has evolved in the way it makes and ships games, and players should expect future games to reflect that evolution.

In a podcast posted by Geoff Keighley (currently a one-off episode called GameSlice), Newell and Valve business development lead Erik Johnson talk about the company’s ventures into virtual reality, Source 2, Steam Machines and more. The whole episode is worth a listen if you want to learn more about Valve’s strategy, but it was Newell’s comments on how Valve is currently thinking about making games that stood out.

At about 38 minutes into the podcast, Keighley asked Newell about previous comments he made regarding “single-player plus” games — features for single-player games that “recognize the socially connected gamer” — and making free-to-play games versus more traditional $60 boxed products, like Half-Life 2. Keighley asked if Valve would ever go back to making games like it used to and revisit its older franchises.

Referring to Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead and Half-Life, Newell said, “You know, we love all those games, we love all those characters and universes and story lines and we have no shortage of opportunities.” But Newell said the company wants to be strategic in how it develops technologies in tandem with its game properties. Valve recently revisited Portal’s Aperture Science to show off its new virtual reality tech: SteamVR, Vive and Lighthouse.

“If you think of it as each one of our franchises represents a tool … you just want to pick up the right tool at the right time,” he said. “So like Dota 2 is an incredibly character-rich [game]. There are how many? 110 characters? So if you have a problem that involves wanting to work on the aspect of having lots and lots of strongly realized characteristics, then Dota 2 is the right place to do it.

“We think at the end of the day customers are going to be really happy with where we spent our time”

“Team Fortress [also] represents a tool. When we were thinking of what are the next challenges, we tend to pick the franchises that are sort of most useful going forward. And if we don’t have one, then we have to create a new one.”

Newell said he realizes that Valve’s desire to use its properties as “tools” may not necessarily align with every fan’s burning desires for, say, a game like Half-Life 3.

“I get it,” he said. “I’m a fan of TV shows, I’m a fan of writers, I’m a fan of movies, I’m a fan of games. I certainly understand why people are like ‘Hey, I remember this awesome experience and I’m starting to get worried that I’m never going to get to have it again.’ I’m a fan of Terry Pratchett and he has Alzheimer’s and it’s like ‘Oh my god, I may never get another great Discworld novel.’  [Note: The interview with Keighley was recorded prior to Pratchett’s death.]

“So we understand it and we feel that. We think at the end of the day customers are going to be really happy with where we spent our time and how we’ve turned that into entertainment for them. But we’re also going to build on what we’ve learned … and we’ve learned a lot. We’re not going to go all retro because there are too many interesting things that have been learned.”

While navigating the minefield that is Half-Life 3, while never actually mentioning it by name, Newell offered what might sound either like hope for more Half-Life or a gentle warning that it might never actually happen, depending on how you read it.

“The only reason we’d go back and do like a super classic kind of product is if a whole bunch of people just internally at Valve said they wanted to do it and had a reasonable explanation for why [they did],” he said.

“But you know if you want to do another Half-Life game and you want to ignore everything we’ve learned in shipping Portal 2 and in shipping all the updates on the multiplayer side, that seems like a bad choice. So we’ll keep moving forward. But that doesn’t necessarily always mean what people are worried that it might mean.”

Hands-on with the new Valve Steam controller at GDC 2015