Valve's anti-consumer tendencies aren't contained to the Half-Life franchise. The company is notoriously unable to count to three in any of its established series, leaving fans hanging after Left 4 Dead 2 (2009), Portal 2 (2011) and, of course, Half-Life: Episode 2 (2007). And then there's Team Fortress 2, a competitive, class-based multiplayer shooter that's been running since 2007. In an era of Overwatch, Fortnite and live streaming, Team Fortress 2 could have been a top-tier esports title, but instead, Valve let the game languish. As of 2017, Valve had just 16 people on the TF2 development team, and even then, they weren't full-time. When news of the TF2 team size hit Reddit, players joked that it was likely composed of voice actors, janitors and folks simply passing by.
Even in the midst of repeated disappointment, that's generally the response Valve gets from Steam users -- laughter and a sense of camaraderie, as if players are in on whatever joke the multibillion-dollar company is playing on them. There's a cottage industry of friendly Valve-related memes revolving around the number three and hailing Gabe Newell as the patron saint of PC gaming.
Gabe Newell... the patron saint of PC gaming.
Valve's financial and reputational security has created an environment where the company doesn't need to bow to industry pressure, even regarding Steam itself. Early on, Valve established a revenue-sharing model giving the company 30 percent of the sales from any game on Steam, leaving developers with a 70 percent cut. This model was picked up by Google and Apple for their app stores, and for years it was the standard in digital distribution. That is, until the Epic Games Store launched on December 6th, 2018, offering developers an 88 percent cut. Independent studios rejoiced and a handful of high-profile titles were announced as timed exclusives on the Epic Store. Soon after, the Discord Store announced it would offer developers 90 percent.
It was assumed that Valve would be forced to change Steam's business model -- and it did, slightly, just before the Epic Store went live. However, the changes only affected extremely successful studios, offering developers a 75 percent cut of future revenue once their game made $10 million, and an 80 percent cut after $50 million. Essentially, Valve didn't change Steam's policies at all, even as its strongest competitor in 10 years offered a better deal to developers.
Clearly, Valve doesn't need to regularly churn out smash-hit series installments, jump on trends, or offer competitive deals to developers. Comparable studios such as Rockstar Games or Activision Blizzard regularly iterate on their popular franchises and update existing titles because if they don't, they'll have to explain to investors -- and, in Rockstar's case, a parent company -- why they blatantly ignored their audiences. Valve is held accountable by no one. Even after the launch of the Epic Games Store, Steam dominates the PC market and it's bringing in billions for Valve each year. In this position, Valve is free to ignore outside creative constraints and consumer desires in equal measure.
That's not to say this situation is completely terrible. Valve has proven its prowess as an innovative powerhouse, and when the company is good, it's really, really good. Even though Steam comes with its own set of third-party restrictions, the service was a lighthouse during the dark days of digital rights management in the mid-2000s, and it remains the largest repository of PC titles today. And when Valve does actually release a game, it tends to be fantastic. Like, "spawn a new genre of video games" fantastic.
That's why players will wait 13 years to be excited about the wrong game coming to a limited platform. Just like with Steam, Valve is the only company that can deliver this experience -- and in both instances, there isn't really any other choice. Might as well laugh through it.