Who knows the minds of software gaming companies?
June 26, 2015 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone offer insight into the way the market works for videos games? Half-Life remains without a third sequel eight years after it's last release. Portal remains without a sequel four or five years after its release. Aren't these GUARANTEED money-makers?

Can anyone offer insight into the way the market works for videos games? To wit- with Hollywood discovering that using tried and true brands (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc.) with easily understood plots that translate into several international markets, they have made a goldmine.

But in the gaming world- one of the biggest games of all time: Half-Life remains without a third sequel eight years after it's last release. Portal remains without a sequel four or five years after its release.

Aren't these GUARANTEED money-makers? Why are we not seeing more efforts for sequels that everyone in the gaming community seems to want? Am I missing something about how game development works?
posted by tunewell to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Both games are made by Valve. Look at that company rather than any sort of actual trend.

They just don't care, really. They make tons of money on Steam and DOTA2.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:35 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Valve doesn't have a traditional management setup, people work on what they feel like working on, plus they are rolling in cash from Steam, so they have no incentive or direction to work on another portal or half life if they don't feel like it.

There are differing opinions on how well their (lack of) management style works.
Valve's flat management structure 'like high school'
Valve: How going boss-free empowered the games-maker
posted by TheAdamist at 2:36 PM on June 26, 2015

+1 for "It's Valve". They famously have a flat company structure. If an employee wants to work on it and can coordinate with enough other employees, it gets worked on. If not, it doesn't.

Why should they care about "GUARANTEED money-makers"?
posted by CrystalDave at 2:38 PM on June 26, 2015

Valve is already super profitable thanks to the Steam platform; they're in a position, like Apple, to take their sweet time.

That, plus their flat management structure, plus the fact that a multi-year delay isn't going to decrease demand upon launch, probably means that their internal stance is to only launch a game when it's perfect.
posted by suedehead at 2:49 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Valve posted a version of their Employee Handbook (PDF), and this place makes Google sound corporate and regimented.

There's also a lot of material about the development of Portal 2, which spent a decent amount of time without a completed story, and had a couple of technological dead ends (remember the Pneumatic Diversity Vent (YTL)?).

Check out their iOS app "The Final Hours of Portal 2" or just google for "the making of Portal 2" and you'll find a goldmine of info about that.

The best way to make those games happen is to invent them yourself, go to Valve and pitch the shit out of them, both to to gaben and the devs who will have to get behind the project before they'll work on it.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:54 PM on June 26, 2015

Valve does what Valve wants to do and it doesn't make sense if you're used to how other companies operate. Which may be why Valve owns all the things and other companies don't.
posted by Justinian at 3:00 PM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Regarding HL3, I think this is also a personal thing for Gabe Newell. He's talked on the record about how painful it was to make promises about HL2 that he wasn't able to fulfill, and also about the leak of the game that brought criticisms about its incomplete state before it was really ready to demo. I think there's enough evidence to show that HL3 is being worked on, although it's hard to tell how high a priority it is. But I'm fairly confident that Valve will not be saying much about this game at all until it is really, really ready with something exceptionally new to add to the franchise. I believe it's coming. But as stated by others, they have the resources to not have to rev up the hype train either to 1) get people interested in the game; or 2) keep money coming in so that development can be done the right way. And as much as money is important, I don't know that Valve is into money just for the sake of making money. I think they like money so that they can create quality products. I don't think they will just keep kicking out the sequels if it tarnishes the reputation of the franchise or the company.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:10 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Valve also takes its sweet time (Valve Time) on these things. Half Life 2 came out 6 years after Half Life 1, then Episode 1 two years later and Episode 2 another year after that (it was supposed to be every 6 months a new episode, IIRC) Portal 2 came out very quickly after Portal by their standards, only 4 years apart.

It's not a publicly held company, so they're not just trying to churn out another cookie-cutter Call of Duty or Battlefield based on a slightly updated engine.

This is like asking why there aren't more Tarantino sequels...yeah he talked about doing Kill Bill Vol III, but he's going to make what he feels like. There are already enough Disneys and Universals and so forth doing reboots.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:13 PM on June 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

And hey, just because it's relevant, a mod for Portal 2 was released on Steam just yesterday that adds almost 10 hours of storyline. "It tells the story of Mel, who meets a new personality core and faces an undiscovered threat to the Aperture facility." More info. Perhaps this will help satiate your thirst while we continue to wait...
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:16 PM on June 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, folks!

It brings up an interesting point in my own tastes. I'm not a Star Wars fan and I really sort of despise the cookie cutter super hero and sequel bent that Hollywood has taken in the last decade

But when it comes to games, give me the sequels to my favorites and I'm happy.
posted by tunewell at 3:26 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think there is no such thing as a guaranteed money maker. A bad sequel to a good game can still flop, and if it does, the brand is weakened for it. If they make a sequel that's as good as the previous release, yeah that will sell great. But that's not at all easy to do. You could say Valve have a great track record of making solid games, but I would counter that they have a great track record of not releasing mediocre games, and that may be what's happening here. That is, they don't have a sequel for either of these that is up to their standards, so they haven't released it yet. They almost certainly have parts of it, but that could just be a bucket of ideas that don't tie together, and so they're not devoting a lot of time to it until they can be confident it will work out.
And as people have said, there's no real urgency, since they're making a pile of money anyway.
posted by aubilenon at 3:39 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think it has very little to do with quality, or anything, and just that Valve has a money-printing machine in Steam and everything else is basically a side project. Like Google and things that are not related to the ad money machine. I'm sure lots of their employees are there because of the games, but the revenue is not very dependent on them.

Whereas almost every other game company needs to make and sell games to make money. Being the middleman like Valve has lots of benefits.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Portal 2007
Portal 2 2011
portal 3..... 2015? :D (no, probably not.)

And Star Wars had three movies in (roughly) the early 80s; three more in 1999, 2002, and 2005... now it is, admittedly, getting the Disney treatment, but it also confused and angered many people and upset Lucas that nobody liked Jar Jar Binks.

Square-Enix is only just now re-making Final Fantasy 7, arguably one of the best, biggest games in their stable.... (and my cynical, cynical heart says only cause they need MONEY)

But, to the point about games: There are many, many sequels that get made. Some of AAA quality (Halo, Shooter Honor Battle 17) and many of these do really well. Some.... (Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy X2, spiderman reboot 15: Bigger bootening) don't. And that really does hurt. And then theres the games that get a sequel or two, do good enough for the fans, and quietly exit stage right.

However, the game-game is changing, big time. Mobile, casual, free to play, always available internet are all things that are changing the definition of 'gamer'. Consoles come out every so often, and often have huge technological leaps. (same with computers) So, you have half of game A completed, but new console or tech is coming in a year. Do you release the game on Old Console, or try to get it on New Console? Or scrap it altogether?

Also, AAA games seems notoriously hard to manage. You have dozens or hundreds of staff making thousands of pieces try to work. There are tons of infamous glitches in AAA games released recently. So a lot of AAA studios either get lucky, print out easy money (FIFA 2013, 14, 15; NBA 2013, 14, 15....) or are ditching AAA games, or are collapsing.
posted by Jacen at 4:46 PM on June 26, 2015

Yeah, you could say that Valve can just sit on their butts and do nothing because Steam is printing money. But it's also risky for them to develop new games. Half-Life 2 set such a ridiculously high bar that anything short of a visionary experience would damage the brand. It's safer for them to not make Half-Life 3 than to make a less than perfect Half-Life 3. If a crumby HL3 was released, sure, they'd sell a couple million copies, but they would lose credibility for any future titles. It's the burden of success, you might say.

Valve isn't unique in that regard. For eight years, nobody at Nintendo would make another Metroid game because Super Metroid was so freaking perfect, no one wanted to touch it. In the end, it took an agreement with a third-party studio to resurrect that franchise.

Nintendo does this perfectionist bit a lot, actually. Look at the current development cycle for the new Zelda game, for example. Nintendo desperately needs a Zelda game to save their slumping console sales. Any Zelda game will sell millions of copies and push a huge number of Wii U consoles into the market. But it's a Zelda game, so the expectations are extremely high and anything short of a life-changing 10/10 five-star game could damage the franchise beyond repair. Nintendo needs a Zelda game, but it needs to be perfect, so the development cycles are very long compared to, say, Madden, which is pretty much the same game every year.
posted by deathpanels at 8:01 PM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Valve is an outlier as others have already told you, however, there's another aspect that wasn't quite covered... that Valve is both a publisher (of other people's work) as well as a development studio.

A purely development studio is under the gun all the time to achieve cashflow, as it needs to pay for developers, hardware, testers, artists, and so on, but it only gets paid when it achieves milestones on approved and negotiated projects. When a studio does well, and has a bit of a nest egg, it can then afford to strike on out its own, i.e. build something WITHOUT anyone having paid for it yet, just for showing off to publishers, but until then it can only do what other studios or publishers pay them to do.

A publisher with an established IP may or may not go back to the original developer studio to make the sequel. And when a developer makes a game, it may not be able to keep the name for itself. For example, Bohemia Interactive developed Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis game way back when, and it was published by Codemasters. However, later they split, and the name "Operation Flashpoint" stayed with Codemasters, who went on to develop two more games (OFP Dragon Rising and OFP Red River) with their in house studio. Bohemia later developed the "Arma" series and got the original OFP back but had to re-release it as "Arma Classic".

Any way, back to Valve... Valve now is making plenty of money through Steam that it does not need to continue pumping out games (sequels or new properties) to keep itself going. Also, both Half-life and Portal are Valve's original properties. Thus, they really much prefer to do stuff that they ENJOY doing, which is why there is no Portal 3 or Half-life 3... yet. :)
posted by kschang at 12:01 AM on June 27, 2015

spiderman reboot 15: Bigger bootening

as some wag on the twitters said: "on average, every year you swallow 7 spiderman reboots while sleeping"
posted by russm at 5:31 AM on June 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

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