It's Time To Move On From (Single Player) Valve

For reference, this piece was written as a response to the Waypoint article It's Never Been a More Confusing Time to Be a Fan of Valve's Games. Reading this first will provide better context.

Valve of 2007 is different to the Valve of 2017. Ten years ago, Valve was still building out Steam to be the juggernaut it is today, while focusing on single player game development. They created some classic franchises, some that hold up as all-time greats. Today however, Valve is an entirely different machine – and we shouldn’t expect something different.

Counter Strike GO, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 are the current focus for Valve. These games garner plenty of attention from people, but not so much from the industry press. The way these games exist and evolve, they don't fit the traditional news cycle we still find ourselves in with video games. Even though the conversation has shifted from reveal/preview/review to discussion about games post release, focus shifts away to the Next Big Thing within a matter of weeks - days, even.

Take Horizon Zero Dawn for example. One of the biggest releases by Sony this year, a terrific game that does what critics/hardcore players have been asking for for years - a new IP for a new generation, taking advantage of new hardware, moving the medium forward in characters and storytelling - yet, when Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released 3 days later, coverage and attention immediately switched over. The games that Valve make and focus on now are evolving beasts, not a continuous stream of sequel releases garnering news coverage - with player bases in the millions and earnings that continue to grow.

While to some of us Valve is defined by these classic single player franchises that we know and love, the numbers tell a different story. Steamspy notes that Portal 2 sits around 9 million copies sold, with Left For Dead 2 a little over 16 million and Half Life 2 at 10 million. In contrast, CS GO is above 28 million, Team Fortress 2 at 39 million & Dota 2 sitting just shy of a massive 100 million copies.

The fact is that the audience of people who play games has diverged in such a way that any given group of "gamers" could play games in totally different ways. One might follow the release cycle and pick up the best of the latest titles; another might be a strategy game buff, who spends 1000 hours playing single player Civ; one might solely stick to an MMO; yet another might only play retro games from their childhood and forgo new consoles. The gaming landscape is diverse in such a way that regular gaming media only covers a portion of it - making it too easy to fall into the thought process that "gaming" signifies one particular style of play.

It’s a difficult question, but it begs to be asked - do we always actually need sequels? We often lament the annualization of franchises both in and out of games - "everything's a franchise now" - whether it be Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, the MCU or Star Wars. While I understand the attachment - as someone who digs into every Zelda, Dragon Age and Mass Effect, I can attest to the pull of expanding franchises - Portal & Portal 2 hold up as classics in gaming as much for what they aren't as for what they are.

Hell, I would love a new Portal game to roll around, with new puzzles, ideas and dialogue - those games are considered the aforementioned classics for good reason - but what if Portal 3 was released and it didn't hold up to the standard set by the first 2 games? What if a new Mass Effect was middling, rather than exceptional - how would that change the view of the franchise as a whole? I'm not saying we should never have a sequel to a game - Mass Effect 2, Assassins Creed 2 & Pokemon Gold/Silver wouldn't even exist otherwise. Yet sometimes, it's important to know when to let things be, and move on.

Valve’s single player legacy stands up stronger than just about any video game creating company. Left For Dead, Portal, Half Life – these names are synonymous with very strong feelings for such a large number of people. But now, Dota 2, CS GO and Team Fortress 2 are exactly that for a whole new (and much larger) audience.

In its 20+ years of existence, Valve has shifted its focus and audience multiple times, and will continue to do so for years to come. At one point that focus fit a lot of our gaming habits; nowadays, it suits a different crowd. Lamenting Valve for what it's not does no good for us, nor for them. It's time to move on, for both our sake.