Taking Lessons from Valve

In the floundering economy, where layoffs and budget cuts are a stone’s throw away, eyes hungry for guidance are turning to symbols of success. Gabe Newell of Valve Software is one such guru of the videogame industry, who’s business philosophy has garnered the company high profits and a whole lot of attention. With frequent game updates, thorough play testing, active community support, and a game-downloading service that seems to appease both sides of the DRM war, Valve has managed to earn the almost universal respect of gamers, critics, and industry insiders. Thus, when Gabe Newell addressed the audience of the DICE Summit in Las Vegas this past weekend during his keynote speech, everyone was paying close attention.

Stephen Totilo of MTV Multiplayer has a great rundown of some Newell’s more industry changing prophecies. Some highlights include frequent content updates, digital rights management that makes access easier than pirating, and consistently fluctuating prices. But what I found most interesting from Newell’s speech is this bit taken from a recent Wired article:

"The next big game-machine war won’t be fought over graphics or fancy controllers, says Valve founder Gabe Newell. Instead, victory will go to the hardware firm that helps connect software publishers with their customers… Newell values this more than anything, and believes that any game console maker who gives publishers such insight will garner the most developer support in the next round. ‘Consoles will succeed or fail to the degree to which they enable better customer/publisher relationships," he said. "It’s a critical battleground among the various console holders.‘"

Though this prediction doesn’t sound farfetched, these are some pretty serious claims. Naturally publishers want to forge a connection with their user base. The appeal of brand recognition and community support is strong. Such behavior brings in new players and, more importantly, keeps them come back for experiences they know will be enriched by a company they can rely on. It would be a stretch to suggest publishers or developers have such a relationship with their user base in the current console market.

The Ninentdo Wii still doesn’t seem hospitable to third party publishers and all three consoles act as intermediaries between creators and consumers. The Xbox 360, though often considered a productive model for online play, still clouds its interface with profitable clutter. I’m fairly certain I saw an ad for ShamWow trying to download newly released demos last night. Even downloadable content can be hard to find without a simplified way to facilitate player-publisher communication. Some software developers have implemented in-game strategies to overcome this hurdle, one example being Criterion’s recent interface additionsto Burnout Paradise.

But I am in agreement with Newell in thinking the onus of responsibility lies in the console maker’s hands. Amidst the murky waters of Microsoft’s "Xbox Experience" are some additions that add detail about available games, updates, and community events. Likewise, though Sony’s Playstation Home has already received hefty criticism, some publishers have already taken the opportunity to build impressive themed areas to encourage community participation. It is yet to be seen whether these are serious trends to expand publisher-consumer relations or simple marketing tools, but those industry professionals interested in the future of videogame marketing and community management will learning what they can from Valve well into 2009.


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Author: Jorge Albor View all posts by

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