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).