This was when there had "never been a commercial successful multiplayer game" before, yet they went for it. They also had plenty of insiders doubtful of Steam, future overlord of PC gaming.
Newell talked a little about Valve and its lack of Half-Life franchise worship, and even claims they've successfully turned fans into 'supervisors' among the company.
"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 multiplayer games even though there’s never been a commercial successful multiplayer game," Gabe Newell told the .
“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 with 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.”
Steam, rightly or wrongly, has been credited with 'saving' PC gaming as more and more publishers and retailers began to scale back on supporting the keyboard and mouse way of life. Today it commands the lion's share of digital PC sales and now looks to invade the living room further with Steam Machines launching this year. The PC empire is poised to strike at the heart of console gaming, with great success already with its Big Picture feature.
"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."
"We definitely in a sense have an army of customers who are always helping us stay honest…,” he continued. “We’ve essentially crowd-sourced supervision of a lot of these decisions to our customers and it works way better than almost any other system we could design. They’re rabid, they’re passionate, and there are a lot of them.”
Is a new Half-Life fated to fall short of expectation like so many others that enjoyed perpetual hype? Social multiplayer games like Left 4 Dead and Portal have certainly driven Valve over the recent years, but then they've already got all our money with Steam and its many, many sales convincing us to buy that 70% off RPG we've never heard of.