Bad call, Valve, bad call


— 10:28 AM on June 25, 2009

Today, I'm going to get away from ridiculously controversial subjects. Instead, I'm going to visit with a smaller controversy, one that already seems to be dying down a touch. I am, of course, talking about Left 4 Dead 2.

I won't disagree with anyone who says announcing Left 4 Dead 2 at E3 this year was a bad move on Valve's part, a slap to its best customers. That Valve would have the gall to announce a sequel, for release this year, to a game that just came out less than a year ago is completely nuts, especially since it still can't seem to bring itself to talk at all about Half-Life 2: Episode Three, a game whose window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Episode Two was a fantastic game, but the enthusiasm wasn't quite there the way it was for Episode One or the original Half-Life 2. Delays have a funny way of doing that to a game. Would anyone be excited if Duke Nukem Forever finally came out tomorrow, or would you just shrug and go, "Thank God that's over?"

A lot of people on Valve's forums were up in arms over the content announced for Left 4 Dead 2, suggesting that this is content that was promised to them by Valve from the get go with the original Left 4 Dead. For starters, I don't think Left 4 Dead was worth $50, much less $60 when it came out, and I have a hard time even with $30. The game didn't really have any more content than Team Fortress 2 did at release, and free patches to Team Fortress 2 have brought it nearly in line with the Survival Pack for Left 4 Dead, which added just enough content for me to consider it "complete." But I don't think it would be far-fetched to suggest that in some ways, Team Fortress 2 and its massive support and continued patching kind of ruined Left 4 Dead.

I'll come out and say it: I don't think what Valve has announced for Left 4 Dead 2 should come for free to those of us suckers who purchased their rough draft. The sheer amount of content and the breadth of changes being discussed for the sequel are just too vast to warrant anything but a new release. If we all swallowed Doom II when it came out, Left 4 Dead 2 should be a walk in the park. Far-reaching changes to level design, reworking of the AI director, new melee weapons, new special infected...we're, in many cases, talking about major changes to the core gameplay that will require moderate to substantial rewrites and additions to the existing game code. This doesn't even feel like an expansion pack. It feels like a true sequel.

Where Valve dropped the ball was not just sitting on L4D2 and doing its due diligence in planning and updating it behind the scenes. Left 4 Dead's player base is still growing, and the recent release of the SDK for it feels, quite honestly, kind of pointless. It's not a bone being thrown to the community; it's just a waste of a good opportunity. If Left 4 Dead had been struggling in the marketplace, the way Unreal Tournament 2003 did back in the day, a rushed sequel might have been warranted. Yet Left 4 Dead is more than healthy and doing better every day. If nothing else, there's still a great deal of money to be made off of it. There's a game here to grow, and at least waiting another year would've been by far the smarter play for Valve. In the interim it could maybe, oh, I don't know, release Half-Life 2: Episode Three.

This announcement cuts Left 4 Dead's useful life drastically short. I'd be surprised to see too much mileage out of that SDK, since now most of us are pretty much just going to be playing to prepare for Left 4 Dead 2, which by all accounts is beginning to look like the game Left 4 Dead was supposed to be. I suspect Valve wants to make the case that it's releasing the sequel so quickly because that's the game it wants to expand and build on, but it could still have just piecemealed out one or two more small updates to the first one or even just finished off with the SDK and waited to announce the new one. I doubt anyone would be complaining then, and I doubt there'd be the kind of backlash we've seen. As it stands, though, announcing Left 4 Dead 2 this soon is just bad business sense, bad consumer relations, and bad timing.

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