I think Valve are awesome. They make great games, Steam while not perfect by any means is still a fantastic digital distribution platform and they have a corporate culture I would do morally questionable things to be able to work in. I would argue that no one company has done more to advance and evangelise the ideas and strengths of PC gaming than this company. Their founder and “leader” (you can’t really call him that within their structure) Gabe Newell is an incredible genius and business driver who I would place on a podium right beside the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I would consider it the thrill of a lifetime to be able to meet and talk with him for even five minutes.
He also likes to make waves in the press and has once again by commenting that the upcoming Windows 8 is “a catastrophe” and that it is, among other reasons, why Valve is beginning to heavily invest in Linux. This originally came from AllThingsD which is to Apple what Fox News is to Republicans so it’s possible the context of his quote is being twisted but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true. Now, I’ve not yet written about Windows 8 because I haven’t used it enough to form a full opinion but I have my worries about its radical changes as many others do. These changes are significant but I would hardly call it a “catastrophe”, especially since everything that’s great about Windows 7 is still there and not going away any time soon. Nonetheless, when someone with the knowledge and clout of Gabe Newell speaks, people listen. As well they should.
Before the fanboy press uses this as a reason to point at Microsoft and go “SEE! We were right!” (they’re already doing that anyway), I think it is important to also consider Newell’s history with strongly worded comments like this and how his company’s view has often not followed through on them. Back in 2005, Newell commented that the Xbox 360 “makes his life a lot worse” because of justified gripes like the optional hard drive. He’s also recently railed against Microsoft’s ridiculous certification process and insistence on charging for all DLC, both of which I also agree with. Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped them from releasing all their recent titles on it to very healthy sales. He also called the PlayStation 3 a “total disaster” but ended up embracing the platform to an even greater extent by putting a version of Steam on it with Portal 2 and taking PS3 development internal after EA buggered up its version of The Orange Box.
I don’t consider him a hypocrite for these statements really. That Valve ended up supporting both systems isn’t an indication that his feelings weren’t genuine or that his gripes weren’t real, just that they had the talent to overcome them. Still, that he seemingly comes out against something publicly doesn’t mean that Valve won’t support it and in the end, possibly end up liking it. Newell likes to speak his mind, something I’ve said I think more people in this industry need to do. I think he intentionally makes these bold statements about new platforms yet to come out because he knows people listen to him and he wants to see people both inside and outside of Valve take it as a challenge and rise to the occasion. He knows this stuff will get quoted and if there’s one thing about Gabe Newell I’m sure of, it’s that he never says anything without a lot of thought having gone into it.
Personally, I still don’t think Linux will ever gain major desktop or gaming adoption. There’s too many editions with inconsistent features, not enough hardware support, it’s a technical support nightmare and while it’s an incredibly powerful and flexible platform, it’s still built first and foremost by engineers. Even after using editions built for more “mainstream” users like Ubuntu, I still don’t feel they fully understand ease of use and there’s still too much elitism within its community. That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to see it gain traction (especially given it’s wide open nature) and if anyone can make it happen, it’s Valve. I eagerly await the chance to try out Steam and Source Engine games on a Linux drive at some point soon.
I do wonder if Newell is less worried about the major interface changes in Windows 8 and more about the fact that it comes with a built-in store that could compete with Steam, something I’m not big on either. Microsoft hasn’t yet been able to do a digital store elegantly (especially on PC) but I think more competition is always better. I would love to be able to hear him speak on this subject in greater detail and hear how his experiences with it differ from mine. I’m hoping to get to spend enough time with it to be able to write up my own impressions soon.
What Gabe Newell said was important and should be talked about but as fanboys chalk this up as another reason why Microsoft, Windows and PCs will be dead in a few years, I think it’s important to remember his history of saying such controversial things and what’s really ended up coming out of those statements. He’s a brilliant man and part of a brilliant company but one of its many strengths lies in that they tend to find slick ways to embrace, rather than ignore the things they’ve talked down about. Despite what he’s said, I’m guessing we’ll see Steam playing very nicely with Metro and if Valve’s really smart (and they are), quickly getting a version of it made for Windows 8 tablets as well and putting their flag down in a whole other market. I very much look forward to what they do in the future but Valve is still one company in an industry and I think people shouldn’t take Newell’s carefully planned statements as die hard gospel.