“We’re always concerned about what we need to do next, and how we’re evolving, and what are the new challenges”, he explains. “We do postmortems and analysis, but it’s always perspective. Like, ‘OK, so how does that change stuff?’ I’ll spend time thinking about Artifact, and why Artifact ended up being a disappointment, and that’s actually way more useful than thinking about the impact we had on the industry. One is likely to help us make better decisions in the future, and the other is less useful.”Newell expands on that point later in the interview, while explaining the thinking behind the 16-year gap between Half-Life 2 and the upcoming Half-Life: Alyx. Newell makes clear that he sees Half-Life games as ways to “solve interesting problems” in game design, and that the company didn’t perceive those kinds of problems during that time. Instead, it chose to make new products, some of which were huge hits, and others that didn’t succeed.
“We can be right and we can be wrong – we make mistakes,” Newell continues. “We did Steam Machines, Artifact was a giant disappointment, we screwed things up. For us, [releasing Half-Life: Alyx] is actually a really powerful moment for us, because this is as good as we get. We want to find out, are we on the right track? We want people to come back and say, ‘Oh my god, the magic still is there – the guys at Valve can take this kind of experience and build something that opens our eyes as designers, that thrills us as players, that reviewers look at and say ‘no, this is legit” And if it’s not then that’s also going to be super powerful and super useful for us.”Despite reviewing well, Artifact was heavily criticised for its approach to monetisation, and player counts dropped fast. Eventually, members of its development team were laid off and Valve admitted there were ‘deep-rooted issues’ with the game.
Of course, Valve isn’t aiming for failure, but Newell makes clear that the company doesn’t bury its head in the sand when it happens: “How everybody reacts to it is going to tell us what the next generation of changes and improvements we’re going to make. Unfortunately, failure is more educational than success – I’m going for a little ‘not-education’ this time around.”
Newell doesn’t dig into what exactly the company learned from Artifact’s failure, but its return to an immersive, single-player game with Half-Life: Alyx is certainly a pivot from the game-as-service model Valve’s favoured in recent years. We’re running an IGN First on Half-Life: Alyx all month, and can tell you about the first 4 hours, how Zelda inspired its new gravity gloves, and answer your burning questions.
Of course, we also have the full half-hour interview with Gabe Newell and Half-Life: Alyx developer Robin Walker, where discussion also turns to how The Matrix is a lot closer than we realise.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News, and he is also a giant disappointment. Learn from him on Twitter.