INTERVIEW: Jason Holtman, Valve

It might just be the global games industry’s favourite new mantra, but to Valve the concept of ‘games as a service’ is frankly antiquated.

Whereas Activision has only just launched its service platform in Call of Duty Elite and EA is barely getting started with Origin, Valve has been serving its huge customer base (via the Steam retail platform) for years.

The idea of ‘games as a service’ is to not just release a game and then forget about it (or the ‘fire and forget’ model as the buzzword kings would say). But to keep supporting it, keep the players engaged and, of course, keep them spending money. It’s about turning each 40 retail game into a 200+ digital beast.

And as the rest of the traditional games industry plays catch up, Valve is already forging ahead with new ideas to get players involved. The developer-cum-publisher-cum-retailer is letting its customers build, create and sell their own content.

At London Games Conference this week, Valve’s head of business development Jason Holtman discussed the evolution of the ‘games as a service’ model. But before attendees got to hear what he had to say, MCV got some questions in first.

In what ways has Valve been getting players involved in their products?

The best current example of this is the community and interest that has developed around creating assets for Team Fortress 2. We hoped it would be fun and lucrative when it launched and we were pleasantly surprised on both points.

You say this helps build communities – how so?

It builds community because people like to both create things themselves and they like to consume things that others make – not just the original creator.

Communities happen because through this there are just more connections in the experience. It is no longer just Team Fortress 2 creators at Valve having a conversation with players, but now many more of those connected threads arise between the people involved with the game – the players, community creators, and traditional creators.

How is this a commercial opportunity for developers and publishers?

I think this is just starting to be figured out and there are probably many opportunities. In Team Fortress 2, it has worked very well that we pay 25 per cent to creators when their items are sold.The creators have been very successful and that’s good for them. They are incentivised to keep building the best items possible which is good for both us and the player consumers.

How do you police gamers getting involved in the development process. Is it something that can be controlled?

In general, we think that the community is pretty good about policing things when they arise and creators are by and large smart and circumspect. Most people don’t make things that need policing.

In business terms, how does ‘games as a service’ compare to the traditional boxed games or download models? Is it proving more lucrative?

It’s fundamentally different. The traditional fixed-product to consumer model – delivered via retail or digital – is just more limited. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be some continued success in that, but there is far more opportunity when the game is connected, alive, and has a host of valuable features.

How do you expect this business model to look in two, three, five years’ time?

It certainly won’t be a buzzword like it is now. It will simply be the baseline of all the best and most successfulvideo games.

Are there ways for other industry companies – such as platform holders, publishers and retailers – to get involved?

Platforms are doing just that. We hope that we are making great tools for developers to use to have these opportunities.And at the same time, we hope that video game developers find what we are doing interesting and that they want to participate and explore the possibilities.It’s early and there’s a lot of learning and experimentationtaking place.

* NOTE – This interview was conducted before Valve suffered a security breach of its Steam forum

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