Apr 21, 2012
The Internet is often a place for things that don't belong on it. Things like a 56-page internal manual written for the people that work at the most private gaming company in the world.
Yep, you can read that now. What appears to be Valve's 2012 Employee Handbook has crept onto the web, and it's just as insightful to read as that incredible blog by Michael Abrash from last week.
It's a rare, detailed self-description of the company that includes mantras like "We are all stewards of our long-term relationship with our customers," policies like "Nobody has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake. It wouldn't make sense for us to operate that way," and expressions of Valve's independence that include "Fortunately, we don’t have to make growth decisions based on any external pressures—only our own business goals."
Click inside to see the handbook.
The document is also filled with custom illustrations. And at least one Half-Life 3 logo. Sections of special interest include the entries:
"What is Valve not good at?" (p. 52)
"How does Valve decide what to work on?" (p. 13)
"But what if we ALL screw up?" (p. 23)
The handbook (PDF) was originally found here. A bottom-page watermark claims "handbook courtesy Valve." Well, duh. I've uploaded a copy to our server that you can read here.
" is going to be free-to-play. It'll have some twists, but that's the easiest way for people to think about it."
As reported by Polygon, that's what Gabe Newell had to say on a recent Seven Day Cool Down podcast. Valve's big wheel has already admitted to playing the MOBA for a staggering 800 hours, and now he's talking cash. Valve have already developed some interesting ideas on how to reward valued members of the community: the Team Fortress 2 workshop allows people to create in-game items, and make a significant profit if they sell. Now Valve are hoping to reward player's good behaviour too.
"The issue that we're struggling with quite a bit is something I've kind of talked about before, which is how do you properly value people's contributions to a community?" says Gabe. "We're trying to figure out ways so that people who are more valuable to everybody else recognized and accommodated. We all know people where if they're playing we want to play, and there are other people where if they're playing we would be on the other side of the planet."
According to the master of Valve, individual games don't need to have completely separate communities. Valve have already experimented with this way of thinking in Steam's item trading system, where you can feasibly swap a Team Fortress 2 hat for a copy of Portal, if you find someone who's willing.
"When you start thinking about the different games that people play and you try to think about how people can create value or a service in one game and benefit somebody in a different game, you can start to see how the different games sort knit together," said Valve's big wheel.
We'll have more on DOTA 2 soon. If Steam stats are anything to go by (which they are), a lot of you are playing it right now.
Apr 19, 2012
The folks at youtube.com/lore just published a dense, remarkably coherent explanation of TF2's zany family feud. If you haven't yet, watch the animated lore mini-tales of Portal, Half-Life, X-COM, Magicka, and Elder Scrolls.
Revenge! Charity! Stamps! These will be the dominant market forces in Team Fortress 2's economy of death over the next week or so. A post written in the guise of TF2's announcer on the TF2 blog announces that three "absolutely unique one-of-a-kind hats" have been added to TF2. They won't go on sale in the Mann Co store, though. One of each will be awarded every day to the player that gives the most gifts, wins the most duels, and buys the most map stamps during that 24 hour period.
Tying rewards to map stamps is quite a nice move. Each stamp corresponds to a community made arena and all proceeds from stamp sales go to that map's creator. The investment needed to take the duelling hat is harder to justify. You need to buy an item to initiate duels in TF2. The cheaper way is to incite others to duel you and then win, sidestepping the item cost and earning an additional tick towards hat victory. The hat earned for giving gifts could prompt some players to clear out old items they've been hoarding in their backpacks, which will hopefully result in lots of apparently random acts of generosity.
"LET ME GIVE YOU FREE STUFF!" "GIVE ME FREE STUFF!" and "DUEL ME YOU COWARDS!" may become standard battle cries in the TF2 in the days to come. As the madness unfolds, you'll be able to track stats like headshots and gib shots using Strange Parts, which can now be found in crates. These can by used with Strange Weapons to keep track of your actions. "Strange Parts are still a work in progress," says the blog. "So if the mood takes you, visit the TF2 forum and let him know what you're interested in tracking."
Valve have just announced Steam Collections: a new feature which will let anyone create lists of Steam Workshop mods that let players subscribe to the lot in one click. You can make Collections of anything in the Steam Workshop, but right now only Team Fortress 2 and Skyrim have Workshop content live. Skyrim is where it works best: all the mods in the Workshop are available to play, and Collections make it even easier to get them into the game.
Case in point, we've created two to get you started and show how they work: The PC Gamer Skyrim Mod Collection: Improvements, for the community's best tweaks and touches, and another for our favourite New Content - much more substantial additions that change the game, but still for the better. You can subscribe to either in one click, add both, or even pick and choose from within our selections.
The idea is to let the community help filter the vast amounts of awesome player-made content coming out. You can rate Collections, so the community favourites will be easy to find and subscribe to. Future Workshop games can let players bundle mods, maps and campaign tools into a Collection, making it super simple for us to expand our games. They're already pretty diverse: our Skyrim packs are loadouts of mods that you can install and play all at once. The TF2 community, meanwhile, are making themed sets of content, sometimes by multiple authors, assembled into packs like Valve's class updates.
Expect more games to get support soon. Earlier in the month, Paradox announced that Gettysburg: Armored Warfare will ship with an editor and integrated sharing via the Workshop. And Valve have already mentioned they'll be using the Workshop for Portal 2 maps and Left 4 Dead 2 content.
Just like the Steamworks toolset and Steam Cloud features, it’s up to developers whether they’d like to use Steam Workshop and Steam Collection features in their games. As far as we can tell, it's a massive win-win for modders, gamers, and modding gamers alike. We'll be updating our Collections as we find more cool stuff, and starting a few new ones. In the meantime, here's Valve's blog post about them.
Mar 15, 2012
Sometime soon, I'm going to be called to defend the honor of PC Gamer against Notch, Robin Walker, Yogscast, Freddie Wong, friends of PCG Brian Brushwood and Veronica Belmont, and other people that are more important than me. The men behind TF2 Mix-up have organized another showmatch, a 9-on-9 battle royale between web celebs that benefits Child's Play.
Want to play with us? Donators are eligible to fill a vacant player slot. On April 1, the event's organizers will randomly pick three donors who will each be offered a place in the match along with some signed merchandise. Donate more, and you'll increase your chances. Donate here. The match's date is secret, but it should be held sometime in April. We'll post the match video once it's available, assuming I don't dishonor you all.
Mar 12, 2012
Would Bomberman have been better if its little arsonists were replaced with angry one-eyed men with grenade launchers? Absolutely yes. A pair of modders spent just 24 hours coding this multiplayer Bomberman mod for Team Fortress 2. The rules are simple: use sticky grenades to blow a path to nearby enemies, and then reduce them to a blood splatter using more bombs when you get there.
It looks like the bombs don't behave in quite the same way as they did in Bomberman. The old explosions would obliterate almost the entire length of a corridor, but there's still plenty of destruction, and a lot more blood. There are power-ups, too. These will increase your Demoman's running and reloading speed. The map's currently playable on rotation on the modders' server. You can get there using the link below the video on the MechatheSlag site.
Mar 10, 2012
Evan, Josh, Tyler and Chris reflect on our week of coverage, talks, and appointments at the Game Developers Conference right here in our backyard of San Francisco. That includes MechWarrior Online, Valve's "History of TF2" talk, the infamous Steam Box, SimCity, PlanetSide 2, and (duh) Mass Effect 3. Josh also checks in about the SWTOR guild summit, reported on in more detail here.
PC Gamer US Podcast 308: GDC 2012 Recap
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Mar 9, 2012
The American eSports fan faces a dilemma tonight. Do you brew coffee and stay up until the Intel Extreme Masters finals start at 3 AM Eastern (9 AM Central European Time), or do you go to bed early and wake up in time to watch the games? Or do you do none of the above and catch the replay? The day starts with Counter-Strike, ESC v. Na`Vi, then moves on to StarCraft 2 and PuMa (Terran) v. MC (Protoss) at 6:15 AM Eastern. Finally, it's the League of Legends final between M5 and Dignitas, and even that, if the last few days have been any indication, will have a far, far larger audience than either StarCraft or Counter-Strike. If you need to be caught-up on what you've missed at the IEM, you can check out the video archives here.
As dilemmas go, choosing how to enjoy the IEM finals is not a bad one to have. Especially when you compare it to what the Evil Geniuses team is dealing with right now. One of their new contractors, StarCraft caster Jake "Orb" Sklarew, was caught using a racial slur in StarCraft 2 matches. EG CEO Alex Garfield quickly dimissed Orb and released a lengthy statement explaining where he stands with regard to racist behavior in the gaming community. Shortly thereafter, Orb made his own apology to the StarCraft community. Look for us to follow-up on this story soon.
But back to games. Last weekend, shooter fans could tune into the ESEA LAN tournament, where the Counter-Strike: Source championship went to the Dynamic team, and the CS 1.6 title went to Back2Back Gaming, the first non-Evil Geniuses team to win the finals in five seasons, now that EG has stopped competing in Counter-Strike.
But perhaps some of the best competition at the ESEA was the final between Classic Mixup and defending champ Quantic Legacy. Despite Quantic holding a match advantage from an extended series (as they had defeated Mixup in their first meeting, and that win counted in the final), Mixup took the championship by winning two consecutive best of three matches. You can see the start above, and the entire match should be available on eXtv's YouTube account.
Replays from the MLG Winter Arena are now available online. As I've said before, they are well worth watching.
Korean Zerg powerhouse DongRaeGu has been on a tear this last week. He kicked it off last Saturday by winning the GSL final and then helped help out his MVP team into the Global StarCraft 2 Team League.
The IGN Pro League is at SXSW this weekend. The main attractions are tomorrow, with a LoL all-star match at 4 Eastern and a one-on-one StarCraft 2 match between Stephano and White-Ra at 9 Eastern.
As always, this is not meant to be a comprehensive eSports news and events roundup. That way lies madness. Please feel free to suggest other events and videos in the comments.
Mar 8, 2012
We’re fresh from Valve’s “Team Fortress 2: From the Orange Box to Free to Play in Just Four Years” GDC 2012 panel hosted by programmer Joe Ludwig with some fascinating numbers. I know, you’re probably thinking you know the whole story already (HATZ!), but we there were more than a few cold hard numbers from TF2’s four year journey that surprised the hell out of us. Want to know where and why Valve is spying on you, or how much they pay community contributors? The answers are below.
That’s how much Team Fortress 2 increased its concurrent player base by once they threw the free-to-play switch in June 2011. That was by no means a “last resort” decision, the kind made by many a languishing MMO, but one hard learned by Valve’s unbelievably awesome tendency to drastically lower the price of its games on Steam. We’ve all seen games drop by 75% without warning, and it goes without saying that such measures will undoubtedly increase sales. However, Valve’s Joe Ludwig revealed something even more interesting in TF2’s case: the volume of new games sold at sale price actually offset the loss in the discount.
But live games of Team Fortress 2’s magnitude rely on continued developer support, which requires money, which back then solely hinged solely on the sale of the game. And therein lay the problem. “Each person can only buy the game once,” said Ludwig, also adding, “We can only earn revenue from people who have never played our game.” How do you encourage new players, while maintain existing fans? The solution to that equation was somewhere between that magic “hey, under $10!” price point, and how to fund consistent updates that’ll keep people coming playing. So not only did the decision to take the three-year old game free-to-play increase player counts by four hundred percent, it did the same for revenue... You know the rest of this, don’t you?
That’s how many item trades have gone down in Team Fortress 2, courtesy of 8 million transactions between 1.7 million players totaling for one incredibly successful HATSTRAVAGANZA! But have you ever wondered “Why hats?” Ludwig made the answer seem so simple. Before embarking on Valve’s first free-to-play venture, their research revealed three basic player reservations under the umbrella attitude of “Paying for items is icky.” First of all, they found players hate to be nickel and damned in fake, virtual currency. Okay, not a problem. Obviously, not every game will have the benefit of reconfiguring a platform like Steam to float the idea of real money worth, but it’s because of this that TF2 was immediately able to skirt horrible, horrible problems of basic math. “This will cost you this, and you won’t have $1.67 of Space Bucks left to do nothing with.”
The second micro-transaction hurdle was that players hate the idea of “paying to win.” Early experiments with boosted apparel fell flat, as people disliked the idea of giving big spenders even the smallest advantage, and much more interestingly according to Ludwig, because “players don’t like being told what to wear.” So it was decided that only cosmetic alterations were to be sold in the item shop, with unlocking skill left to Achievements, crafting, and other more traditional means.
Lastly, players, especially ones who are part of a long-established game, don’t want to be forced to purchase anything. And honestly, what’s more useless than a hat? “It grafts simply to the headbone,” claimed Ludwig, making them easy to compatibly model, and thanks to the highly distinct look of each class, they barely so much as alter character silhouettes. Players who originally bought the game were given an “Proof of Purchase” lid to kickstart their reluctant obsession, trading hats has since become an in-game currency of its own and have continued to randomly drop ever since.
That’s how much money has been handed out to community contributors, who receive a cut of what their hats make in the item shop. No, hats can’t give you advantage. But they’re still awesome nonetheless! They can be simultaneously worn as badges of honor, show support for a passion, and be waved like a flag of individualistic flare. So technically… they’re invaluable in a way. The TF2 team couldn’t crank out enough to meet rabid demand, even after the allowed players to submit their own designs for approval.
Enter the Steam Workshop, where the dev team could finally let the community decide what items made it into the game and when. Obviously, the cream rises, but using fans as a filter also eliminated duplicates, infringements, design theft, and thanks to the second-to-none expedience of Steam’s certification process, even had the ability to be topical and reflective of the zeitgeist.
Seemingly overnight, TF2 was able to raise $300,000 for Japanese earthquake relief last year, and the desire for hats has virtually redefined how we trade, gift, and purchase all digital items (at least on Steam) without fear of being scammed. Currently, there’s only one other game integrated with Steam Workshop, but if you know what it is, you know TF2 is in good company. (*coughSKYRIMcough*)
That’s approximate amount of views Valve’s “Meet the Medic” short has enjoyed on Youtube. It’s fairly safe to say you’ve probably seen it, but within those quirky, enjoyable promotional materials, which include all manner of teasers, posters, and comics, lies the shadiest thing you didn’t know Valve was doing. Wait, that should’ve sounded more fun… okay, remember the Meet the Engineer teaser?
You may remember going apeshit over a robotic glove and-BOOM- it was in the update. However, in less than thirty seconds, Valve crammed in a dozen or so references, winks, hints, and yes, even misleads. They’re Valve, that’s what they do, and almost immediately TF2 fans everywhere went about creating volumes of speculation threads… where Valve is watching you. Why would Valve spy on fans pouring over teases that aren’t even real? Because they’re not real yet. The TF2 team keeps a keen eye on what hidden glimpses are getting attention on message boards and social media avenues because that’s where “players are secretly voting on what goes in the update.” Ludwig slyly exclaimed. Valve loves to stir up speculation, but it takes the sting out of the head-scratching a bit once you realize they’re basically focus testing what you want, and what makes it into the final game. Such is the case with the Engineer’s glove: it hadn’t even been developed until eagle-eyed viewers caught a glimpse of it in the teaser and went nuts.