Valve’s Gabe Newell talks wearable computers, why consoles should open up, and game ownership
You’ve gotten, or Valve as a company has gotten more involved with the consoles, especially with Steam coming to the PlayStation 3. Is there anything that you think is very important to be included in the next generation of consoles, across the companies?
If you contrast what goes on in the movie space versus what goes on in the game space it’s clear that the games developers are moving several times faster than the movie developers, but then if you look in terms of thinking of ways to be innovative per providing higher value content, I mean if you look at the revenue numbers and the profitability numbers of the game space versus the movie space it’s clear that we’re moving a lot faster, and if you look at within the game space and you look at where a lot of the interesting things happening whether it’s World of Warcraft, whether it’s Facebook and social games, whether it’s innovations in things like free-to-play, they happen where people can experiment and do different things and they don’t happen in places where there are rigid, enclosed rules that restrict people. You know, we still don’t have World of Warcraft on consoles and as a World of Warcraft player and as a console owner I find that super frustrating. I think the same thing happened in the past with a lot of hardware innovations, so there was way more opportunity for – you know, Nvidia and AMD existed in the PC space and that’s why they end up, you know, rather than internally developed proprietary graphics solutions on the consoles, they’re all gone, everything in the console space is coming from the PC now, and I think that we really need to see the same thing in terms of just general attitudes about platforms and that whichever console vendor sort of embraces that, I think they’ll see huge benefits. It’s not the games that are out there today, it’s the games that we don’t – haven’t even thought of yet that are gonna end up being important. I would push them very hard to stop thinking of themselves as being a platform for everything that already exists and start betting on the inventiveness and the benefits that you would get by embracing a more open approach to the internet and game delivery and game business models and things like that.
Do you think that’s something that the corporate culture of places like Sony and to a greater extent it seems Microsoft would ever be willing to embrace?
I think that you either embrace the new approaches or you go away. I mean Sega and Atari and lots of other, you know, Vectrex, Commodore, you either figure out how to move forward or you get left behind and I don’t think it’s any different. As soon as Valve stops doing interesting, innovative work we’re gonna be left behind and we’ve all been around long enough in the game industry to know that and you have to be pretty myopic not to realize that just because something used to work a certain way there’s absolutely no reason for them to expect that that’s going to be the tickets to being successful in subsequent iterations. So whether or not they do it is a harder question to answer than is change inevitable and some people manage to make transitions. You know, if you ask me I thought Nintendo’s ability to make the transition from 2D to 3D was one of the hardest and yet also one of the most successful transitions that occurred in our industry. So people can do it but as soon as people stop somebody else will step in and keep the industry moving forward. That occurs a lot faster when you have open approaches. There’s sort of a hedging strategy, you can say everybody has to do everything exactly our way and as long as everybody has to put up with that degree of oversight and control on your part then your margins probably go up and your ability to make other people do stuff probably improves, but the problem with that is that when you fall you fall really fast and I think there’s so many examples of that in the history of our industry that you just, you know, some people will embrace those lessons and other people will be sending out their resumes.
From the conversation we’ve just had it really seems like the strategies and the products that come out of Valve are very fluid, almost on a month to month basis. If you were willing to kind of put on the crown and pick up the scepter what would be a dream project for you that the company is not yet involved with that you would love in the fantasy land to kind of put 100% of your resources behind?
So I use a tablet a ton, so if I could pick one magic wand I would have us all sit down and design a new, more gaming friendly tablet hardware interface and then build some content that really was designed at the same time as the hardware. So if I could pick one thing that would be it. Because I’m really frustrated as a tablet user with how mediocre the gaming inputs are.
And you know this is going to be on all the blogs the next day, when you pick up a tablet to use it, what tablet do you use?
Oh I use the iPad. I have an iPad 2. We at the Penny Arcade Report would like to thank Mr. Newell for his time, and now it's time to see where the science happens!