Valve Software is hastening efforts to deeply embed itself into a global community of customers, the studio’s president has explained.
The company has launched an extravagant $1 million games competition to coincide with the official public debut of its upcoming project Dota 2.
The International Dota 2 Championships uses technology that streams online gameplay footage around the world via the official Dota 2 website, complete with community commentary in several languages, as well as a range of live statistics and scoreboards.
For Valve chief Gabe Newell, this service allows the community to face itself and that, in turn, makes the game more valuable to its customers.
“A game is a really distributed economic problem,” he told Develop in a new interview available now.
“You have all these people adding value to a game, but 99 per cent of them are not part of the system’s design.”
Newell wants Valve, and the industry as a whole, to integrate the community deeply within a game’s design.
Dota 2, a PvP strategy game, is built on the idea that any player can become a global superstar.
“When you look at competitive players, they add a huge amount of value to Dota 2,” he said.
Reflecting on the quality of e-sports coverage, Newell said: “When I was watching the tournament earlier, I was learning something about how to play every ten seconds. People are creating content for you, so you have to build a system that allows them to create and publish their work.”
To this end, Newell confirmed Valve will be integrating Dota 2 into Steamworks, the company’s development and publishing tools suite that gives its licensees access to every component of Steam.
The Valve co-founder wants more studios integrating community features into games, adding that his studio’s own future projects could use the spectator tech.
Said Newell: “These days I think it’s way more important to think of how we provide an on-going significant value to our customers, and how you get your community to work with you to do that, and how you can get your community to care about what the community is doing.
“With Dota 2, we think the technology we’re building will be valuable to our other games, and we’re going to migrate the tech into Steamworks for our Steam partners to use. So if your studio is building a game for Steam they can use the same tech you’ve used for the Dota 2 competition.”
Dota 2’s spectator technology comes as part of Valve’s wider strategy to build games as fluid, constantly updated products that can adapt to consumer tastes.
The clearest example of this process, so far, is the free-to-play FPS Team Fortress 2.
That game has received over 230 updates since its 2007 release. Team Fortress 2 also has its own economy, allowing users to trade and customise in-game items (players can even swap TF2 items for other Steam games.)
“We think the way people design their own interesting hats in Team Fortress 2 is creating value,” Newell said.
“It’s been a huge success pulling the community in to build assets for the game.
“I mean, they build ten times as many assets as we do. When they do something that’s valuable, rather than having people give them a thumbs-up, they have $40,000 in their PayPal accounts.
“It’s things like that that indicate to us we have a better handle on designing an online system built for the community.
“We think these Dota 2 players are creating value too. We’re trying to design a system that we, and other developers using Steamworks, can recognise and allow the community to value this kind of contribution.”
Newell, who co-founded Valve in 1996, said each of the studio’s games is a “building block” for the future.
“Dota 2 wouldn’t have been possible without a bunch of stuff we learned from Portal 2, and Portal 2 wouldn’t have been possible without a bunch of lessons and we learned from Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead,” he said.
“You build something, find out all the mistakes, then try to extend it and find out if it’s still working.
Dota 2 has been delayed until 2012, meaning the next Valve game to be released will likely be the next Counter-Strike. That game, suffixed ‘global offensive’, may be the next to use Valve’s new e-Sports spectator tech.