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Wardell: Half-Life development thwarted by success of Steam

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IndustryGamers.com recently published an interview with Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, one of the major competitors to Steam (especially since GameStop’s acquisition of their digital distribution platform Impulse, Stardock’s digital distribution platform, earlier this year). He discusses how he came to his decision regarding GameStop’s acquisition, but also give an explanation to the reason behind the (apparent) ongoing Half-Life delay. Hit the jump to find out more, or read the interview for yourself.

Wardell: Half-Life development thwarted by success of Steam

In the interview, Wardell cited a very ‘simple’ reason for the acquisition of Impulse. While Impulse was a significant source of revenue for Stardock, who is both a game development company and the company behind a digital distribution platform, it was having an impact on their development time and resources:

When one of your groups is so ridiculously profitable, every business instinct you have is to throw all your best people at it, because that’s what’s making the money. That’s just sound business. At the end of the day, again you have decide if that’s what you want to do.

Human resources were constantly being driven away by the constant improvements and maintenance required by Impulse, and it was having a significant impact on the speed and quality of their game development. However, upon reflection of Stardock’s own internal issues, Wardell makes the following comparison:

Even though Valve is in Seattle, where you can get developers everywhere, [Steam’s] had an effect on their own development schedule. There’s not been a new Half-Life in a long time; a lot of people have complained about that. They’ve had their own challenges getting new titles out the door, and a big part of that I’m sure is the same problems we’ve had.

It is interesting to note the major changes in Steam versus the release of Portal 2, Valve’s ‘biggest’ and ‘best game ever‘. The game that has suffered two delays in its release and it is suggested that Wardell could be on the ball with his assumption – looking back over the past year, since the Portal 2 announcement in March 2010, Steam has undertaken a handful of new ventures such as the UI update, Mac OS X client release, development of Steamworks on PS3 and the opening of the Translation Server, just to name a few. The Mac OS X client update in itself required a lot of effort as engineers at Valve had to port all of the non-Orange Box Source games (including Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2) over to the Orange Box engine, so it could run on OpenGL (OS X’s ‘version’ of DirectX), and with games as big as Half-Life 2 it’s not hard to imagine what impact this could have had on the development of Portal 2.

If you were to look at a timeline of games developed in-house by Valve – not developed externally and then acquired – and you look at before Steam and after Steam, it’s definitely had an effect. I don’t argue that that’s a good thing or bad thing, but I do know the effect that’s had on us, where I’ve had to put some of my top developers over the years onto Impulse to make sure it was getting better and better.

But one shouldn’t solely blame the success (and therefore required attention of) Steam on the (lack of) development on Half-Life. One must note that Valve has roughly 260 employees (as of March 2011), whereas Stardock only has 60 (as of May 2008). Furthermore, Valve has shown repeated interested in focusing their efforts into new titles, such as the Left 4 Dead series, Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2. One must also note that, according to Doug Lombardi, VP of marketing at Valve, no one at Valve ‘has a title’, in that everyone does a bit of everything.

Take from it what you will, but it is doubtful that Wardell knows the true story behind Half-Life, as does anyone else outside of Valve. It’s not like Lombardi spilt the beans about Half-Life to one of Steam’s biggest competitors, but it’s a interesting theory nonetheless, as it comes from a business standpoint (which would have a lot more validity and reliability that one from pure speculation).

9 Comments

  1. They should be jealous. Valve are doing a great job in expanding their market across the Macintosh and the PS3.

    Plus let’s not forget that Episode 3 will end the current story in the Half Life universe, so it’s not an easy task. People seem to forget that a lot.

  2. I don’t know if Wardell is right oabout Valve’s new efforts hampering Half-Life. They obviously have their hands almost full and cannot tackle all the things they’d like to try, but I’m sure Half-Life is a priority for Valve, and they are developing the new installment in secret, as they did for HL2.

  3. “Everything we do means we’re not doing something else, right? So I was working on this goofy story idea with one of the comic book guys, it was sort of like a take on — my idea was Superman would go insane, because every time Superman does anything it means people are dying. Not that we’re Supermen – it’s a stupid analogy, it’s not an analogy, it’s just like an amusing thing – so, every time Superman sits down with Lois Lane and has dinner, it means a whole bunch of people somewhere died because he was having dinner. But he can’t be having dinner… without somebody on a ferry in southeast Asia drowning, every choice he makes has consequences. If you can hear everybody in the world, you hear everybody dying. You hear everything going wrong, eventually it drives Superman insane. So, probably what I was doing was projecting my own issues with not getting, you know, developer commentary for Half-Life 2 out sooner…”

    • I wonder where that came from. 😉

      HL2 Commentary is a miscellaneous issue though. What makes it even harder is that a few of the folks who worked on the game, such as Kelly Bailey, have left Valve.

      • Sorry, I should have linked to Steamcast. You guys gathered tons of interesting information from Gabe!
        Here I go correcting myself: http://www.thesteamcast.com/episodes/48/

        If I understand right, these words apply to everything, not only the HL2 commentary. So I think this is some kind of a confirmation that the issues Brad Wardell pointed out are present at Valve.

        What I really like about Valve is that whatever they do be it steam development or a new game or an old game, it will most probably be of value to me 😀

        • Please don’t apologize! I wasn’t asking for a link either, haha. It’s just nice to see that the interview’s gotten around!

          I think Wardell’s point, while very much true, is a rather universal one, and can really apply to any company. Fo example if you only have a few artists at a software company, they can’t working on multiple projects at once – they have to jump from project to project. Same goes for musicians, engineers etc.

          The exciting thing I find is that what is there after Portal 2? To be honest, nothing, and I think that’s fantastic! Who knows what we’ll see in the next few months…

  4. Sounds like a jealous competitor that wants to smear steam.

    • Personally I felt that he was being a lot more light-hearted than some of his previous comments about Valve and Steam (which at times were even childish). This is most likely because he no longer directly own Impulse, so he doesn’t have to have this competitive mindset towards Steam (although, I think that future games developed by Stardock will still be distributed on Impulse, not too sure about those details though).

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