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AusGamers Valve Software 2011 Video Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 06:09pm 28/03/11 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to chat to Valve's internal marketing and PR head, Doug Lombardi about everything, well, Valve...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for the HD streaming option

AusGamers: Hey guys, you’re here with Stephen Farrelly, your editor and interviewer-extraordinaire (sometimes). We’re out at Valve headquarters in Seattle. It’s snowing outside, but it’s warm in here, and it’s warm because I’m with these guys. [laughs]

Now this is Doug Lombardi, who many of you probably already know has been with Valve for quite a long time. But for the sake of those that don’t: Doug, you came from Sierra [Entertainment] I believe?

Doug Lombardi: Yeah, I came over from Sierra at the end of 1999. I was Valve’s marketing guy for Half-life One and Opposing Force and then I came over right before we shipped Counter-strike as a retail title.

AG: For you, coming into the company when it was still quite small, to this now -- and we talked and joked about this before, that it’s somewhat corporate even -- has there been much of a change in philosophy, despite the growth in the company?

Doug: Yeah it’s really surprising that it hasn’t. I mean, there’s more people now, but it really is kind of the same place. When I came over, like you said, there was about 20 or 25 of us, and it was a one-game team. We were basically working on Half-Life 2; there was a small group of people working on TF2 [Team Fortress 2] that sort of got bigger and smaller as time went by. Then after Half-life 2, the company had grown by that point to about 60 people and since Half-life 2, it’s now up to about 260.

But our hiring policy is all about trying to find people that are the best at their craft, in their field. Always having people that can manage themselves and teams that manage themselves. We don’t have producers; we don’t have a top-down hierarchy. Nobody writes a design doc and hands it to somebody and says “you go build this”. It’s the teams that are coming up with the ideas and pushing in the directions that they want to take the product.

So it’s pretty remarkable, but it still has that small company feel and I often joke with Gabe [Newell, Valve Software CEO] that almost like a family business because it’s been the same group of guys just growing and growing and growing as time has gone by.

AG: Could you attribute some of that to the manifestation of Valve Time?

Doug: [laughs] I don’t know if it’s so much that, as much as it is that we’ve been really, really fortunate that we’ve been able to work on things that we truly are interested at working on. We haven’t ever flipped the bit and said “well let’s just make fancier versions of Half-life for the rest of our lives and collect all the money”. We’ve actually done the opposite, sometimes to our fan’s chagrin.

But going off and doing things like Portal and Left 4 Dead, sort of pushing in different directions -- and now DoTA 2 -- rather than just doing the flat obvious thing that you know is going to make money, but maybe isn’t always the most interesting thing. And taking time between those sequels to let them build fresh ideas, so that when the sequel does come out, it’s truly exciting as an event. I think those are the things that have kept so many people here -- I mean, I certainly didn’t think I would be here for eleven years when I took the job, and it feels like it’s gone by in a heart beat.

AG: You mentioned this just a moment ago, that innovation is a big, huge thing. Obviously Steamworks is one of the biggest that you guys have pulled out over the last decade or so -- well not quite that long, but can we talk a bit about that because it’s starting to become its own platform almost. You’ve kind of created a home, a proper home, for PC games and so many other desktop platforms like that have tried and failed.

What can you attribute to the success of that, and -- I’ll get to another question about it in a minute, that I know the community is in a bit of... I wouldn’t say an uproar, but we’re definitely questioning. But first, how do you feel from how it started to where it is now, that it’s maintained that ability to survive?

Doug: Well you have to remember that it was built as an auto-updating system for Counter-strike. That was the genesis of Steam was, we had this thing called Counter-strike which had come to us from the mod community and at the time, Quake 2 I think was the leading FPS online game with about eight thousand concurrent users. Counter-strike goes out, it goes to eight, 12, 20, 30 thousand concurrent users and at that time that seemed like just this astronomical number of people.

And they were all playing different versions. We’d release an update and we’d break the game for 48 hours and we’d see the concurrent users go from 30,000 down to zero and then we’d sit there anxiously for a week to see if it would come back. And it did and we were like “okay, enough with this inertia”. It was slowing down our releases, because we didn’t want to put out a release and break the game until we had enough that it was worth breaking it for.

We were, like, “this has to stop, it’s not sustainable”. So Steam really came out of that and it was something that came out of a developer’s wish to make the game experience better for the gamer. Steam has always operated on that principle: like, what else can we do? We’ve got Steam Community; we’ve got Steamworks so other developers can use some of the matchmaking and anti-piracy stuff that we’ve put out there. We brought the game to the Mac; you know, just always looking for more ways to make the experience better for the gamer and now with Steamworks, for the developer as well.

The fact that we’re selling games over that platform is just sort of an “oh by the way”. The fact that we have all these other things, that’s where the real value is and the fact that we’ve started selling more and more games is just, oh that’s a happy coincidence that sort of came with all of that. Once we were connected to all of those customers, it was, like, “well if you put a billing system in there, you could sell games over that too” and it was, like, “okay, well let’s do that too”. There was no reason not to.

So I think that’s part of the reason that it’s continued to grow and it’s because it’s been built as a developer’s toolset and always continued to be thought of that way.

AG: One of the big things then, that has come as a result of the selling side is regional pricing, which we happen to take a bit of a punch in the face in Australia over. Obviously, it’s a digital distribution platform, so you’re not really buying physical copies of anything. How do you guys work that pricing system out, because some games are 40 dollars here in the US but even with our dollar as strong as yours it’s still 80, 90 dollars in Australia.

Doug: It’s something that’s just really hard to navigate. The value of currencies, especially in today’s market are going up and down. When we launched Steam, the Canadian dollar was about 60 cents to the American dollar; today it’s flat even. And there’s just tonnes of currencies around the world and we’re constantly trying to match that and work with the third-party publishers and how they want to price their games in what territories and when they want to release. So it’s constantly something that there’s a big army of people downstairs on the Steam team that are trying to manage, to give the best possible results to gamers and publishers for their games.

There’s a balancing act there. Some places we get it more accurately on than we do in other places, but we’re trying to listen to people and adjust things to make sure that it’s a level playing field and that folks are getting a higher service value at the right price for their games.

And folks vote with their dollars. If we’re getting it really, really wrong, that territory or that country will turn off and we have to stop and scratch our heads and say “well where did they all go and what happened? Was it a pricing issue and we need to resolve it?” But it’s something that we’re aware of and we’re constantly trying to manage, but I think it’s going to be one of those things where it’s always going to be an ongoing effort, because markets and currencies are always changing. We’re never just going to get it right, freeze it, and it’s always going to be okay.

AG: Do you think there’s an unfortunate parallel between physical retail and digital distribution at the moment as well that could be factored into that?

Doug: How so?

AG: In that, publishers are still so aware of particular prices that they make for games at retail, that they’re still offering them for the same price across digital distribution platforms despite the fact that digital distribution negates certain sections of the market.

Doug: Yeah I think there’s probably a little bit of that going on. A little bit of that too is probably just that for some folks, different areas of the world are really managed by wholly different teams. So there isn’t one person at a given publisher who controls the whole world. So as we get into that with them, as a world-wide publisher, we’re a little bit different for them, right. Because they’re talking to like EB in Australia; the guy in Australia is talking to them and they have a plan, versus the folks in France or whatever are talking to a completely different retail and they have a different mindset.

We’re in both places, so how do they deal with us? So yeah, there is a little bit of that and I think more than anything else, it’s something that time will ferret out. As digital distribution becomes a bigger part of the marketplace, it will become a different consideration for stuff and we’ll see pricings start to filter out.

It’s still very much in its infancy, I mean it’s only been about the last three years or so that we’ve really been distributing third-party titles in a big way, day in day out, with the monster titles. In 2005 I think it was, there was Ragdoll Kung Fu that was the first third-party title to come out [on Steam] and it wasn’t until 2006 that we saw even another third-party title, and it wasn’t until ‘07 I guess when we started getting the big Triple-A blockbusters and less of the indies and what have you in the back-catalogue. So we’re still evolving, we’ll get there.

AG: Now let’s move on to the fact that Steamworks is now on PS3. Obviously it’s in a pretty raw form at the moment, but you’ve also just launched a bunch of new games on Mac and it seems like you’re kind of opening up the idea of division between platforms a little bit more -- well the first time that anyone’s ever been able to boast that they have a game that people can play from Mac to PS3, PS3 to PC, PC to Mac.

Doug: And they get access to all three with one purchase.

AG: Exactly, so what’s the future for that? And I guess at the other side of that question I had was: you obviously approached Microsoft about it, surely, so why haven’t they jumped on board because it seems like there’s a lot of people [Xbox owners] that are going to miss out because of that.

Doug: Yeah, I defer you to Microsoft to find out what their thoughts on it are. We offered it to everybody; our goal is to have folks be able to access their games on whatever platform they’re on and as much as we can deliver that through Steam, the better. It’s worked really, really well on the Mac; we’re going to deploy our first experiment with Portal 2 on the PS3 and folks seem really, really excited about it. We’ve put a lot of time and detail into that so that the experience is highly satisfactory, right out of the gate.

So we’ll see where it takes us. I mean, again, our goal ultimately is that folks pay for a game and then whatever platform they sit down in front of, it’s there for them. That just seems right. That’s the way your music is, right? It doesn’t matter; you don’t have to pay for it on your car stereo and on your home stereo, it’s just your music. So for us, that’s kind of a philosophical goal to get to and we’re taking baby-steps towards it.

I think we made a really nice move last year with the Mac and hopefully this year, we’re able to move things forward on the PS3 a little bit and we’ll see where the future takes us.

AG: Now I’ve got the all-important question; you probably already know what it is.

Doug: [laughs] And I already know my answer. [laughs harder] Or my non-answer I should say!

AG: For the sake of everybody back home, that’s been desperate to know. Will we ever see it [more Half-Life]?

Doug: You will ever see it, yes. We are not done with Gordon Freeman’s adventures. I have nothing other than that to tell you today, but hang in there with us.

AG: Well thanks very much for your time today Doug. The game looks fantastic; the new office looks fantastic; you guys are doing a great job.

Doug: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

AG: Cheers

Latest Comments
Posted 06:42pm 28/3/11
Another great interview :D

I gotta say, apart from the whole regional pricing shamozzle, I love everything Valve is doing. These days every game I wanna buy on PC one of the first things I look at is if it ties in with Steam, if not it tends to stall my purchase.
Posted 06:46pm 28/3/11
Pretty cool they are denying themselves a big chunk of the pie by releasing it the way they are. Even cooler that it seems they are willing to do it even more in the future.
Posted 07:23pm 28/3/11
if you ever get a chance again , ask him why their games are much the same price as the U.S price but 3rd party are often double the price.
Great interview!
Posted 08:21pm 28/3/11
S*** interview, didn't ask the hard question and pull him up on the BS.
Posted 08:24pm 28/3/11
Yeah good interview BUUUTT.

How can he says its to do with currency conversion and changing rates when


Currency conversion has nothing to do with it, thats what your credit card company does, they get US dollars, except some places decide they need to get more US dollars for the same thing if your IP is Australian.
Posted 08:48pm 28/3/11
Great Interview Steve,
There was a bit of BS from Lombardi on pricing, when you're pushing the hard questions just remember: WWKOD!?

(What Would Kerry O'Brien Do?)
Posted 09:06pm 28/3/11
valve make their own games the same price for everyone. it is always the third party publishers that have regional pricing so i don't think there is anything valve can really say about it, they are just doing what the third party publishers what done with their product. if they don't do it, they publishers will pull their products.
Posted 10:52pm 28/3/11
S*** interview, didn't ask the hard question and pull him up on the BS.
As others have already pointed out, the prices of games have f*** all to do with Valve and they'd have nothing useful to say about it whatsoever.

It's not up to them. It's up to the publishers. You want to protest it, stop buying their f*****g games and just buy Valve games!@#

By the way, we HAVE asked the publishers why they do this. We get bulls*** answers that basically just cover up the fact that a) they're doing it because they can and b) they're doing it because chumps keep buying the games anyway.

Import, teach others how to import, and stop paying the Australia tax. We're doing what we can about it; educating gamers and making sure they're aware of the price differences, but the rest of it is up to you guys.
Posted 11:01pm 28/3/11
good call trog
Posted 05:25am 29/3/11
Yeah what he said. Just buy Valve games. All the other companies make s*** games anyway so save your money.

I don't expect to be able to do this but it would be cool if I could login to steam on PC and PS3 at the same time so I can play co-op with my housemates (who aren't hardcore into games so wont buy it). Lucky I have internet friends
Posted 09:24am 29/3/11
great interview would love to know more info on DOTA 2 though, everyone seems very quiet
Posted 09:36am 29/3/11
Thanks for doing the interviewings - it's good to see the mindset of these guys. Steve & AG, you rock!
Posted 12:44pm 29/3/11
Import, teach others how to import, and stop paying the Australia tax. We're doing what we can about it; educating gamers and making sure they're aware of the price differences, but the rest of it is up to you guys.
Importing is inconvenient, better to just buy a steam key from a 3rd party site.

I'd like to know what justification there is for regionalised release dates as well, he can't make up some bulls*** about different currency values when explaining that.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 12:50pm 29/3/11
The point he was trying to make is that the platform is just that, a platform. A tool for publishers to use. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo don't dictate to publishers specific release dates for their platforms, that decision is made entirely in-house within a publisher. The platform supplier is a middle-man.
Posted 04:16pm 29/3/11
infographic time?
Posted 04:17pm 29/3/11
Hey steve, good interview but i think you should have asked an important question. Will Valve ever go the regional pricing on their own games?
Posted 04:21pm 29/3/11
valve likes to keep their customers happy so i doubt they ever will.
Posted 04:21pm 29/3/11
It's not up to them. It's up to the publishers. You want to protest it, stop buying their f*****g games and just buy Valve games!@#

Yeah good call, and thats pretty much what I do, I refuse to pay more the "Australian" product and just dont buy the game, or as I've done a few times, jump onto a server over the WAN and "import" the product.
Posted 11:11pm 30/3/11
Contrary to what people are suggesting here, Valve do have a say in what publishers charge and strongly encourage them to follow Valve's way of pricing.

Even if Valve didn't affect publishers' prices, they charge unfair prices for their own products in different currencies as well, so that argument falls either way.

It's not a difficult balancing act in any way. Give people the option to buy in USD (like it used to be) or adjust the prices automatically on a daily basis based on currency fluctuations.

They overcharge because they want to, and as long as some people will buy at inflated prices they will claim success. Until they try fair pricing they won't know if they could be selling more and actually make more money.

Until that time, make sure you have some friends in the states who can gift you games at american prices.
Posted 11:56pm 30/3/11
All arguments aside valve is a great developed and steam is a great gaming platform.

Looking forward to Gordon Freeman's adventures : )
Posted 12:30am 31/3/11
Steam was a pile of ass.

These days it's brilliant and I'd make out with it for hours if it was a chick. I haven't even come close to finishing anything other than just cause 2 since the december steam sales. (only 44% completion though the story is finished)

So many more games to go.
Posted 08:03pm 31/3/11
Good interview. Perhaps try and get some radio mics for future interviews? They might help in keeping the interview casual and relaxed.

Valve mentioned a "philosophical goal to get to" or essentially a consumer Right to be able to play the same game on different platforms without additional costs, and so I believe it should also be a consumer Right to pay the same price for the same game, irrespective of which country or region the consumer is from.

I’d like to see Valve lead more from the front on this issue, their answers in this interview were weak in my opinion and they can do more if they wished too.
Posted 03:56pm 01/4/11
This dude is a cool interveiwer! love your work man.
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