Newell talks engines, Kickstarters, platforms, and the future of gaming

A group of image board fans in the Valve lobby got some answers out of the famously secretive developer.

Gabe Newell is a secretive guy, running a secretive company. Valve is a studio which has become synonymous with secrets. Mostly this comes from a history of being wrong about their own titles. Newell’s open management style with an anathema on deadlines, and a freedom for developers and designers to work on whatever they feel like at the time, means that some titles might get announced then delayed for years or even disappear completely. For this they’ve followed a strategy of not announcing anything until it’s finished, and refusing to answer questions about ongoing projects.

As reported by Valve fan site – and moding community – LambdaGeneration, Newell surprised a group of fans at an impromptu birthday event by actually answering a few of their questions (after they gave him a great birthday present and singing him a song), on the condition that no one asked about the development of Half-Life 2: Episode 3, a point of contention between the developer and fans for nearly five years now, and a topic that aggravates the veteran gamemaker.

The first thing he revealed in the surprisingly candid interview is that Valve is working on a new version of their popular Source engine which powers all of their most popular games.

“We’ve been working on Valve’s new engine stuff for a while,” he said, hinting that it will be an entirely new, from scratch engine, and that they’re now just waiting for a new project to come along in which they can showcase the new software.

When asked about why Steam, the company’s wildly successful distribution platform, never releases exclusive titles, he said that the practice might bring in a short term profit, but that the long-term effects of a culture of exclusivity are bad for the industry as a whole. “A bunch of people have asked us, ‘Hey, why don’t we do an exclusive, … how much will you give us for being exclusive?’ and we said, look, you know, it’s bad for you, it’s bad for us in the long run. We want lots of people to be innovating on these services. We [all] benefit if somebody has some great ideas.”

The group then asked him about the possibility of future special gaming controllers to be released by the company for use with Steam and Steam games. This from an earlier, never confirmed internet rumor to that very thing.

“We have three controllers we’re starting to do user testing on now.” he said to some small cheers, “The reason we’re doing controllers is we didn’t think there was enough interesting innovation going on, and there are a bunch of reasons why we think that is happening. … we’re trying to figure out how the Steam experience can extend into living rooms. The whole point is saying the things we all value about PC gaming, consoles should not be the only answer for that, so how do we make living room-friendly PCs?”

Newell sees the need for gaming consoles on the decline, feeling that due to the prevalence of PCs “in the living room” it will be so easy to incorporate games from PCs into the home theater experience, that the whole idea of a home-theater gaming device will be obsolete after the next generation. It’s not a surprising opinion considering his roots in the PC gaming development field, but it’s actually pretty close in line with what a lot of other analysts are saying, that the WiiU is the first of the last generation of gaming consoles.

Several times throughout the impromptu lobby meet-up, Kickstarter was mentioned. It seems that Newell sees campaign by indipendant developers seeking funding from the public as being a big part of the future of gaming, even encouraging the gamers in the room to go for it themselves. To start a Kickstarter with an idea, then hire the developers they want to make the project.

While discussing the future of games, he also talked about user generated content, and it’s current prevalence in Team Fortress 2, Valve’s current flagship title, a free to play game in which players can pay real money to get new equipment and animations for their fighters. “…one thing you guys may not know is that the community generates about 10 times as much content for TF2 as Valve does. Even though that’s all in pretty primitive stage still, my expectation is that all games [in the future] will basically be about creating a framework for the community participants to build on top of it.”

If you’d like to see the entire meeting, nearly an hour of terrible camerawork and muffled voices – probably a mobile phone camera, to see if you can find any other interesting nuggets, you can check it out below: