A common joke regarding Valve is that they “used to make games but now [they] make money.” This is a reference to how the game development studio ended up leading the biggest digital marketplace for PC games.
The criticism has been valid, as Valve went through a period where its development slowed to a crawl, and their original releases seemed to come more and more infrequently. For a company responsible for so many beloved titles, many fans were worried they’d never see another mainline Valve game again.
The Valve logo suggests something special
There was a time when all of the Valve mainline series were massive successes. Its mainline series, Half-Life, Portal, and Counter-Strike, were all genre defining games in their own right. In addition to those, Valve also created pivotal sequels to popular mods, with Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2.
Perhaps the only game created by Valve that didn’t go on to become a huge success in its genre, was their attempt at an online collectable card game set in the Dota universe, Artifact. Newell actually brought that up himself, and said that it is something they are still working on.
Aside from Artifact, every game made by the internal development team at Valve has been a major entry in its genre. Most recently, Half-Life: Alyx raised the expected quality for VR games, both in terms of gameplay, narrative, and scope.
Why Valve releases so few games
Most companies the size of Valve enter into a development cycle and release games regularly on an annual schedule. Studios like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision seem to put a new product from their main series every couple of years.
Fans of Half-Life have had to deal with incredibly long wait times for new games. Prior to Half-Life: Alyx, the last new entry in the Half-Life series was Half-Life 2: Episode Two, released in 2007. Since that time, fans have had minimal information released regarding the next entry in the series, until a surprise leak seemed to imply that Valve had given up on Half-Life 3.
Valve reportedly has a very high expectation of quality for any entry in the Half-Life series. They went as far as saying that they won’t make another Half-Life game unless they can develop a fun and original mechanic that the game would allow them to explore.
This emphasis on game mechanics over anything else means that even though Half-Life has more story to tell, that story won’t get told without the correct vehicle to experience it.
This is why the latest Half-Life entry was a VR title. The new technology expanded the potential design space for Valve to explore, and allowed them to experiment with new tools.
Gameplay-first game design has paid off for Valve in the past, but it’s fair to say that fans have been more than anxious for a new entry in their favorite Valve series.