Gabe Newell talks DRM, open to developing gaming hardware

Comic off-shoot The Penny Arcade Report has posted a lengthy interview with Valve’s Gabe Newell. While he doesn’t reveal the release date for the next chapter in the Half-Life franchise, Newell does note that Valve doesn’t want to get into a cycle of constantly developing sequels. He also shares some tasty nuggets about DRM. Rather than telling game developers what they can and can’t do with their anti-piracy schemes, Newell prefers to show them data.

Recently I was in a meeting and there’s a company that had a third party DRM solution and we showed them look, this is what happens, at this point in your life cycle your DRM got hacked, right? Now let’s look at the data, did your sales change at all? No, your sales didn’t change one bit. Right? So here’s before and after, here’s where you have DRM that annoys your customers and causing huge numbers of support calls and in theory you would think that you would see a huge drop off in sales after that got hacked, and instead there was absolutely no difference in sales before or after. You know, and then we tell them you actually probably lost a whole bunch of sales as near as we can tell, here’s how much money you lost by bundling that with your product.

Amen, brother. Steam has its own brand of DRM, of course, but it’s less restrictive than the alternatives.

Even more interesting are Newell’s thoughts on gaming hardware and whether Valve might ever produce its own. The company has worked closely with Razer on optimizing games for its Hydra motion controller, and Newell seems bullish on the prospects for wearable computers. He uses his iPad a lot, too, and he’s "really frustrated" with the quality of the gaming inputs. Right now, Newell’s dream project would be designing a tablet hardware interface that’s better for gaming.

Newell doesn’t necessarily believe Valve would be any good at selling hardware, but he concedes that might be the only option to keep driving innovation. Traditional consoles are too restrictive, the Valve chief argues, and he’d rather see gaming systems offer more flexibility for different business models and approaches to content delivery. That’s just a taste; hit the full interview for more.

Comments closed
    • ew
    • 8 years ago

    Gabe is missing the point of DRM entirely. It’s not about preventing piracy it’s about acquiring as much control over the consumer as possible.

      • nafhan
      • 8 years ago

      The point of DRM is pretty much the same point as anything else a business does: increase profits. Gabe and friends are trying to get others to see that intrusive DRM doesn’t necessarily help with that.

      • l33t-g4m3r
      • 8 years ago

      No he’s not. Gabe’s a double talker, he says one thing and does another. The point of him putting down DRM isn’t so much advice for the competition, it’s brainwashing for the masses. He’s pulling a Steve Jobs RDF field over the fanboys. You may think he’s on your side, but he’s not. Steam is DRM, but the masses aren’t awake enough to realize it. It’s all about control, and steam has a near monopoly right now. Your account is completely held hostage to their whims, and any future policy changes, or server problems. Maybe some hackers will steal your personal information, nah that could never happen. OH WAIT.

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    A lot of thumbs up on this news post.

    “…and he’d rather see gaming systems offer more flexibility for different business models and approaches to content delivery.”

    Sorta like a computer. I can’t see Gabe ever pushing for something that would be in favor of his company. Just a little bias to keep in mind when referring to ‘Gabe is Jesus’ talk. I personally would thoroughly enjoy seeing consoles die and computers finally taking over. I’m sure Sony and MS aren’t going to let that happen though. Kinda sad because MS has the means to keep it from happening as they own the OS most people use.

    • Forge
    • 8 years ago

    Ok, throw the idea about ‘making sequels’ away. How about you FINISH THE GODDAMNED STORY. Cliffhangers SUCK, Gabe.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      It seems like it’s quite hard to motivate his team that’s stuck in Nirvana to take on any one project… Portal 2 got some motivation and it plopped out in two years.

      • Chrispy_
      • 8 years ago

      The guy I played Half-life with in College has raised a family and his kid was playing it the other day.

      1) Man, I feel old.
      2) “episodic content will mean we can release titles more often”
      3) My second point demonstrates just no matter how much Valve get right, they still suck on an epic scale.

        • indeego
        • 8 years ago

        Oh please. Look at Star Wars and how visions are lost with episodic content. It’s not like the plot of HL2 was a panacea to all epic tales of video games. Duke Nukem? I think we all agree we would have liked them never to have bothered.

        When Valve releases content, they do it right, and if they want to take 10+ years, BE MY GUEST. TAKE YOUR TIME.

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 8 years ago

          One of the worst Star Wars movies was the one that Lucas had the longest to work on, so I’m not seeing how episodic content ruined it?

            • lilbuddhaman
            • 8 years ago

            i think he’s confusing usages of the word “episode”. SW prequels were a travesty. As was Indy4.

    • odizzido
    • 8 years ago

    If DRM is so useless, why does gabe use it himself?

      • Meadows
      • 8 years ago

      Note that Steam itself is not noticeable to the end user, and not intrusive. Those are very important differences that suddenly make it all palatable when compared with other common DRM.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        It’s not noticeable because it starts up in the background to play a game that uses it? Have you ever tried using steam in off line mode? It’s very… finicky.

          • sweatshopking
          • 8 years ago

          don’t bring facts to r&p discussions. steam’s drm is magic. I just had to spend 3 days redownloading just cause 2 because my “decryption key” wasn’t right anymore. that takes a long time on 1mb internet.

          • rohith10
          • 8 years ago

          So many times, and it works just the same.

          (as long as you’d connected it to the network in the past 4 or 5 days or so)

        • burntham77
        • 8 years ago

        Exactly. I log in to Steam, generally only during the first time I install it, and that’s it. I can run any game without being bothered, at least with Valve games. Sure there are other games that still bug you with things, like some titles that ask you to copy and paste a code, but even that has been provided in a little windows with a Copy button instead of asking you to type in all those characters. And some GFWL games require an extra step or two, but even that is minimally annoying. My biggest complaint are games that require always-on connections, like C&C4 for example. I have a pretty reliable Cox cable connection, but even that occasionally hiccups.

        • nafhan
        • 8 years ago

        Not only that, but it also does stuff like managing stupid Windows crap like Direct X and .Net versions (which goes a LONG way towards making stuff “just work”). I still don’t like DRM, but at least Valve is doing it in a way that ADDS value for the majority of their users.

      • Arclight
      • 8 years ago

      Some sort of anti piracy should always be used and it has. The issue now is that it’s ever more instrusive and restrictive to the point that it makes you regret buying the game.

      Edit: Uh oh, my bad i confused copy protection with DRM, silly me.

      • Kurotetsu
      • 8 years ago

      If Steam had no DRM built-in I suspect game makers would be far less willing to distribute games on the platform. Or, if they did, they’d all flock to 3rd party solutions like freaking SecuROM. I’ll take Steam over that anyday.

      • indeego
      • 8 years ago

      Because his DRM is more convenient, less intrusive, includes bonus features like cloud sync that beats pirating at [spoiler<]any[/spoiler<] most cost points. Piracy is a business model problem. You beat the pirates by beating them at the consumer decision process.

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    Actually, there is nothing stopping developers from publishing a game on Steam with no DRM whatsoever, not even Steam. There are plenty of indie and legacy games available through Steam that will happily run without needing the Steam client.

    What we need right now is for a current mainstream developer to do the same.

    • bittermann
    • 8 years ago

    Gabe, shut up and finish HL3…

      • ImSpartacus
      • 8 years ago

      It’s ok, gaben. Make it perfect. Don’t release it until it’s fucking perfect. I got time.

    • plasticplate
    • 8 years ago

    It would be great if Steam could come up with a semi modular console which can be up-gradable. Some components of a console are more important to gaming performance than the others (re: GPU). If Steam can come up with some sort of console where u can upgrade a module (Just plug and play like a 360 hard drive with universal drivers. Same architecture, diff number of shader units. Just have 2 to 3 variations. stuff like that) to upgrade performance and stick to keyboard and mouse, that could be a winner. U could hit the 250 price point for the console owners with a base graphics config, around 350-400 for a mid level graphics power and around 600-700 bucks for enthusiasts. That way games can just recognize the configs and modify settings accordingly. Combine that with the best elements of steam network and it would be a win win situation for both steam and the PC gaming community.

      • lilbuddhaman
      • 8 years ago

      That model has yet to work in the real world.

        • DeadOfKnight
        • 8 years ago

        Captain Obvious much?

      • ImSpartacus
      • 8 years ago

      Meh, Steam should just sell a media center-friendly PC, if anything.

      Perhaps something like the Alienware X51? For less than a grand, it gives you graphics slightly better than a 550 Ti all in an Xbox-sized package. Plenty of GPU muscle for Source games at 1080p or modern engine games at 720p.

      Then throw in an HDMI cable, a wireless keyboard/mouse and a bunch of old Valve games (Orange Box, L4D, etc) already on the hard drive. Now you’ve got a winner.

      • Zoomer
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah. It’s called a computer.

        • Geistbar
        • 8 years ago

        Was about to same the exact same thing myself. Once you open a non-PC gaming platform up to upgrades, it loses any potential advantage it has over an actual computer (consistent hardware), with none of the advantages (doing other, non-gaming stuff).

          • Bensam123
          • 8 years ago

          Hah, I didn’t even see this before I posted… right on.

          Yup to all of the above. There is no reason to brand it a console then besides the content distribution system, which is what xbox live is… A console really is just a ultra old school computer that can even run a OS if you hack it.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Sorta like a computer… lets say… a HTPC hooked up to a 60 inch TV with Steam on it.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 8 years ago

    Steam is both a DRM and delivery mechanism. As a delivery mechanism, its one of the best there is out there and I’m an avid user of it.

    As a DRM system, it’s one of the most user friendly versions of DRM available. Wipe my computer? Install Steam, re-download anything/everything I have purchased.

    Lots of people will complain about Steam’s prices, but that isn’t in Valve’s hands most of the time.

      • Madman
      • 8 years ago

      It’s a bit like drugs. They are bad, bad once people start using them and get the addiction, they don’t see they’re screwed over.

        • StashTheVampede
        • 8 years ago

        Example of how using Steam is screwing users over.

          • Madman
          • 8 years ago

          Internet is down, publisher pulls content. That’s it, 5 years passed and anything you “brought” is worth nothing, you can’t install, you can’t play.

            • StashTheVampede
            • 8 years ago

            “Internet is down, publisher pulls content.”

            When is the internet ever completely down? You can lose your individual access, but the net is always up. Steam also has an off-line mode, just in case you don’t have ‘net access. Publishers pulling content is an issue with *any* digital delivery service (look at Whitney Houston on steaming, its no longer available), it is not unique to Steam.

            In this example, publishers are screwing users over. Steam is the enforcement, not the policy maker.

            “That’s it, 5 years passed and anything you “brought” is worth nothing, you can’t install, you can’t play.”

            List a title that Steam no longer carries/offers/denies launching because the publisher is out of business. Origin specifically has a clause about denying this (and has done so), but I cannot recall a single instance where Steam has denied the use of a game based on a publisher pulling the title or the publisher running out of business.

            • Madman
            • 8 years ago

            If, if, if, if, and if, and it’s never enforced, is just not good enough for me.

            I’m sorry, I like the DVDs with CD keys and no DRM that I’ve purchased. I can pop them into DVD drive anytime and just play.

            It’s my money, I don’t want it hanging in the air on ton of if’s.

            Give me an option to purchase disk images, or digital download + DVD shipped on the same day, and I’ll be buying a lot more titles, because, unfortunately, I have to boycott most of the AAA titles right now.

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            Where do you find DVDs with no DRM?

            • ImSpartacus
            • 8 years ago

            Excellent point. Madman should demand DRMless CDs.

            • StashTheVampede
            • 8 years ago

            Don’t apologize for liking the physical medium. I know a lot of people that still prefer physical means to deliver anything, but these choices will continue to shrink. As it sits now, I prefer to purchase physical music (LPs, more recently) form and will definitely purchase BluRay discs over anything online — both of which have higher bitrates than their online offerings.

            Games are a different medium: there isn’t a current bitrate difference between digital and physical delivery.

            • Sargent Duck
            • 8 years ago

            I’m in the same boat. I still buy games on DVD’s, still buy movie DVD’s and still buy music CD’s. I LIKE having the physical media. But let’s be honest here. In the past 5 years (longer than that probably), I can’t think of a single store bought physical copy DVD software that doesn’t have some sort of DRM. It’s out there and we have to live with it. I don’t like it either, but Steam is the best of a bad situation.

            If you had to choose, would you prefer Steam or Ubisoft installing Starforce on your machine. Neither are great, but Steam is a whole lot less intrustive and actually has some benefits.

            #13. Agreed. I understand Valve doesn’t want to get into a cycle of rehashing games, but they can at least finish the story with HL3. And they’re garunteed to make a bajillion dollars with it.

        • Mentawl
        • 8 years ago

        Drugs also keep people alive and going long after their body would have naturally failed. There’s an up and downside to everything ;). Steam just happens to make the best of a bad situation.

        Also I’d be interested to hear of a downside to Steam that isn’t purely theoretical (Internet may disappear in 5 years oh noes, Valve may go bankrupt oh noes, etc).

        *Edit : dammit, I got dragged into a “Steam sucks | No it doesn’t” argument again -_-

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 8 years ago

    Here comes Steam for your phone!

    • Madman
    • 8 years ago

    In reality, though, stuff on Steam is leased, not sold. The duration of the lease is as long as Steam servers are up, an you have Internet connection. As soon as one of these go down, you loose all the investment which can easily be around 500$ for 10 games (we are talking about Steam game prices in Europe).

    The real service would have to operate like this:
    1) On release game you buy the game on the service, download, play
    2) The same day, DRM free DVD is mailed to your address

    So simple!

      • bhassel
      • 8 years ago

      Or, more fitting with their distribution model, just have an option in Steam to save the DRM-free installer to your hard disk 🙂 But can’t imagine that actually happening…

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        Pretty good idea… in the rare case someone protests about prices, offer someone the option to pay like $5 to get a burned copy of a game sent to them.

        • EsotericLord
        • 8 years ago

        Direct2Drive used to let you download DRM free installers. I remember when I bought Deus Ex from them years ago, i just downloaded an .exe file.

        This was before they started to suck. Now that they have been bought by Gamefly, I have basically written them off as a company.

      • l33t-g4m3r
      • 8 years ago

      Or copy how Impulse does it. Single activation per install, and no background client requirement. I like the DVD idea though. Perhaps you could have a roaming cd-key that can be sold with the DVD.

        • odizzido
        • 8 years ago

        Impulse ties the program to a specific hardware configuration. The second you upgrade all your programs break.

        Unfortunately I didn’t find this out until after I had already purchased one of their games at full price.

        Now they have joined steam in the $5 club.

          • l33t-g4m3r
          • 8 years ago

          Then you just reactivate it. What’s the big deal? It’s still a lot less restrictive than steam, especially since steam randomly forgets your password and makes offline unusable. At least with Impulse you know when you’ll have to reactivate, which isn’t often, and it’s not forcing you to run the client in the background 24/7.

      • Draphius
      • 8 years ago

      i have a feeling that wont last forever for them and they will be brought ot court to change there policy. mp3 music sites are starting to get hit with lawsuits cause u arent allowed ot sell the music u bought to someone else like u can with a cd, its just a short leap to bring the same arguments over to steam and other gaming distrubution systems

      • shank15217
      • 8 years ago

      So you are saying games bought on steam have a expiration date? How many times have steam servers gone down? You lose an investment? what about if your house burns down and all your dvds get burnt into a steaming pile of puss, how about that investment? These arguments against steam are wearing thin, the service works 99.9% of the time, people have access to more games from more indie developers than ever. The PC platform has a greater chance of survival, just about everybody wins, try to get your head out of the 90s and welcome to the new world.

    • demani
    • 8 years ago

    While the idea of Valve making hardware makes me roll my eyes right down the street, I could certainly see (nay, would love to see) one of the console makers integrate Steam completely into their system-so far that their own stores would disappear, since they all seem to have far more glaring issues than benefits when compared to Steam. And then watch as developers had an open platform to develop for (with the nice tools, advertising budget and steady system requirements that consoles excel at providing). Then let the manufacturers take their cut, Steam continues to grow and make slimmer margins on the console software, but gets an immensely larger market to sell into. Developers would be able to really push the limits, knowing that Steam can support that stuff, and the flexibility of multi-platform purchases/gaming would be used to best effect.

    That would make me happy.

    • Vulk
    • 8 years ago

    Wow, I really enjoy it when intelligent people who have an analytic brain look at DRM and point out the obvious.

    • bthylafh
    • 8 years ago

    <insert “where’s episode 3?” comment here>

    • CuttinHobo
    • 8 years ago

    Obviously they’re planning to make their own, more flexible console – the xSteamStation 360! 😉

    I don’t really think that. But they certainly have the online system in place for an Xbox Live-y experience – and because of that they would be about the only company that comes to mind that would have a chance at cracking that nut. (Followed shortly thereafter by EA’s console, which self-destructs when it detects ‘suspicious’ activity.)

    • Kollaps
    • 8 years ago

    The thought of Valve making hardware disappointments me more than excites. I don’t see what strengths Valve would bring that would result in improvements for the end user. They make awesome games, I like Steam, but their customer support is actually rather poor, they couldn’t lower prices, and it’d all be contracted out anyway.

    Instead I’d like to see Steam become a full software platform for games. It’d be awesome if a game was a Steam game instead of a Windows game. This would separate my choice of OS from gaming, an issue I personally find very annoying.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<] I don't see what strengths Valve would bring that would result in improvements for the end user. They make awesome games...[/quote<] So if they designed the way you play it, why would that make it less awesome? They aren't talking about building the PS4. They're just acknowledging that tablets and eventually phones will replace consoles - and that the input method sucks. The bar is low. It's not far fetched for them to say that, as game developers, they could do better.

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