PC Gamer has an article out today about how DOTA 2 is being blamed for the cancellation of Half-Life 3, and receiving negative reviews on Steam as a result. Some of the negative reviews do their best to make their point, most do not. It's the same story you’ve heard hundred times before with lots of bandwagoning and silly jokes, except this time it’s unique as it’s sparked by the perceived impact upon a game that was never officially announced, let alone released.
I want to be clear right off the bat, as internet people have a knack for assuming they know more about your opinions than you do. Like many gamers, I consider Half-life to be one of the best, it’s in my top 5 favorites, and I very much want to play Half-Life 3. That said, in my opinion, Valve is under no obligation to give us Half-Life 3, but one has to wonder what type of impact that could have on their image in the eyes of their customers. Valve has long been considered a shining beacon of light of the gaming industry due their excellent games like Portal and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and with super sales every few months on their Steam platform, gamers have many reasons to love and support the company. However their image has become ever so slightly tarnished in recent years due to controversies like paid mods, data breaches, and the long wait for Half-Life 3 itself (It’s literally been a decade, we are officially in Duke Nukem Forever territory). Even more recently, pretty strong rumors and most importantly, the release of Half-Life 3’s story by former Valve employee and Half-Life 2 writer, Mark Laidlaw, have led many to believe that Half-Life 3 has been officially cancelled, although no official word by Valve has been made on the matter.
There is an argument to be made that Valve should never release Half-life 3 as they could never possibly live up to the hype that the franchise has received over it’s lifetime. I don’t agree with that argument since I consider video games to be an art form and feel that there should never be a reason to not make more art, but that’s a whole other discussion for another time. But, I do understand that, as a business, Valve could have a lot to lose if Half-Life 3 ended up being “bad”. After all, they’re a much bigger company now, with many more responsibilities than they had back in 2007. So, from a business perspective, cancelling Half-Life 3 could make sense, but is it the right move?
These days image means a lot for a business. Customers, especially in the gaming industry, have a pretty low tolerance for being jerked around, although it seems they tend to show their dissatisfaction on social media rather than with their wallets. But word travels fast on the internet and bad news has a way of going viral, hence our current DOTA 2 situation. The rumored cancellation of HL3 could be viewed as a slap to the face for the fans who have stuck by Valve and patiently waited for the much anticipated sequel, all the while supporting a company they believed in and trusted over the years by choosing spending money on their services over others.
It’s important to remember a few details to this story, first of which is that Half-Life 2: Episode 2 ends on a pretty intense cliffhanger with no resolution to the story whatsoever. It’s also important to remember that Valve’s original statement and plan was to release smaller more frequent “episodes” with incremental upgrades in tech and graphics as a sequel to Half-Life 2 rather than just make Half-Life 3. It was Valve's way of keeping fans happy with new content more often at a lower price to entry by making shorter more affordable games that took less time to develop. This never happened. But we got a Sequel to Portal, a game which takes place in the same universe as Half-Life. We got a sequel to Counter-strike, a game that wouldn’t have existed were it not for Half-Life. We got a sequel DOTA, a MOBA style game based on a mod for Warcraft and a type game no one even knew Valve was interested in making (they had only made FPS games before). And most recently we got an announcement for a trading card game coming up based on the DOTA franchise. Meanwhile, rumors, concept art leaks, conspiracy theories, and Valve’s own ultra tight lips with the occasional *wink* from CEO Gabe Newell himself on the matter have kept fans chomping at the bit for a new Half-Life game for 10 years now. Eventually everyone assumed Episode 3 was never going to come, but certainly Valve still intends on releasing a true “sequel” in traditional form called Half-Life 3… right?
To say Half-Life fans have been strung along is an understatement, but that's not necessarily Valve's fault either. The internet has a way of propping up public figures to cult like status for the most random reasons. Gabe Newell has fell victim to this phenomenon, and the more likeable the figure, the longer their cult like status reigns. This could simply be one of those situations, and it’s may be time for that cult like status to subside. Good faith in a company only goes so far. There is already as of now a fan backlash, but how big a backlash is yet to be seen. Could this be the beginning of the end of Steam’s supreme reign over the PC gaming market? Probably not, but crazier things have happened. Steam isn’t the only game in town anymore, with services like GOG.com, Origin, Uplay, Battle.net, Bethesda.net. Seems like everyone’s got their own digital distribution platform now. If there is to be no more Half-Life, that could deflate the balloon and fans could stop caring about Valve as a company they way they used to. Before you know it, Steam is just another digital distribution platform and those loyal customers could slip away.
One thing is for certain. Valve is not out of the game developing business. Regardless of whether or not Half-Life 3 ever becomes a thing, Valve will continue to releases new games. If those games are good, they will still have fans and gain new ones. Not to mention, new people are born every day, and as much of crime in life as it is, we unfortunately are not born already having played Half-Life, so Valve is sure to gain new fans for every new Half-Life player in the future.