Valve boss Gabe Newell took to Reddit for another ask-me-anything session Tuesday afternoon, as the video game legend answered questions ranging from the future of Valve to how he likes his steak cooked (medium-rare).
Newell, who co-founded Bellevue, Wash.-based Valve in 1996 and is now worth $4.1 billion, spent an hour on Tuesday during the AMA. The 54-year-old is one of the most beloved and popular leaders in the video game industry, so it’s always interesting to see what he has to say in response to fan questions.
He answered several inquiries about Valve and its Steam platform, as well as new technology he’s excited about and general advice to budding game developers. Below are some of his responses — read the full AMA here:
Redditor: Hey Gabe/other valve employees, Just a question out of curiosity really, but interested in seeing what your view is on the direction that valve as a company should take in the future? Such as what would you like to see the company achieve/what improvements would you like to see valve undergo/what role would you like to see valve serve/undertake in the industry as it evolves etc. and if any, have you made any past decisions that you look back on now that you regret/could’ve handled differently? Cheers, Chandler
Gabe Newell: “The big thing right now is broadening the range of options we have in creating experiences. We think investing in hardware will give us those options. The knuckles controller is being designed at the same time as we’re designing our own VR games.
Much more narrowly, some of us are thinking about some of the AI work that is being hyped right now. Simplistically we have lots of data and compute capability that looks like the kinds of areas where machine learning should work well.
Personally I’m looking at research in brain-computer interfaces.”
Redditor: I am a college student who intends to work in the game industry after graduation. Do you have any tips for people like myself who want to design games, both independently and with established teams in the industry?
Newell: “The most important thing you can do is to get into an iteration cycle where you can measure the impact of your work, have a hypothesis about how making changes will affect those variables, and ship changes regularly. It doesn’t even matter that much what the content is – it’s the iteration of hypothesis, changes, and measurement that will make you better at a faster rate than anything else we have seen.”
Redditor: What inspired you to study and go along with the trail you did in what I assume to be computing/science of some form?
Newell: “When I started programming, it wasn’t really an established career path. I did it because it was fun.”
Redditor: What do you think steam needs to improve?
Newell: “I’m thinking about how machine learning applies to connecting users and content (and users in optimal ways). Support has been a big focus for the last while.”
Redditor: “Favourite non-valve game of 2016?”
Newell: “My co-workers just told me it’s Plants vs Zombies, and then they laughed at me.”
Redditor: “What sparked your interest in video games?
Newell: “Playing Trek on a mainframe using punch cards.”
Redditor: “My question is as follows: What is your personal favourite Valve game/series?”
Newell: “I think Portal 2 is our best single-player game. I play Dota 2 the most of our multiplayer games.”
Redditor: “My Question is, how is the employee ratio at valve? For example how many work for dota 2, compared to csgo and other steam related stuff? I would really appreciate an answer :)
Newell: “It changes all the time. There’s no fixed ratio, and people move to the project where they think they can create the most value.”
Redditor: “Does Valve have any plans on making customer support better? And did you ever think of making it into live support?”
Newell: “Yes! We are continuing to work on improving support. Since the last AMA, we’ve introduced refunds on Steam, we’ve grown our Support staff by roughly 5x, and we’ve shipped a new help site and ticketing system that makes it easier to get help. We’ve also greatly reduced response times on most types of support tickets and we think we’ve improved the quality of responses.
We definitely don’t think we’re done though. We still need to further improve response times and we are continually working to improve the quality of our responses. We’re also working on adding more support staff in regions around the world to offer better native language support and improve response times in various regions.”
Redditor: Why does Valve not talk to its community about the games/apps its developing as much as other companies?
Newell: “That’s right. Another way to think about this, and the way we talk about this internally, is that we prefer to communicate through our products. We are all pretty devoted to reading and listening to the community – everyone here believes it is an integral part of their job to do so. And when it comes time to respond, we generally use Steam – shipping updates that address issues or add functionality. Obviously this doesn’t work for everything. Working this way imposes latency on our communication – it takes longer to ship and update than to do a blog post. This can lead to the feeling of an echo chamber, where it seems like Valve isn’t listening. We’re always listening. So sometimes the latency is rough for everyone, including us when we want to address issues quickly. On balance we think it’s usually worth the trade-off.”