Hats and short term sales to the rescue in Greece?

Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2015 - 12:37 PM |
Tagged: valve, greece, economics

In 2008 Gabe Newell contacted a Greek academic economist by the name of Yanis Varoufakis to see if he would be interested in consulting with Valve on how to create a successful shared economy as well as how to balance payments globally and between the real and virtual economies that Valve now has.  He agreed and among other things started a Valve Economist blog which you can start reading here and which shows that he did contribute far more than just hats and the dreaded Steam Sale.  In what seems at first to be a rather bizarre turnaround in his career Yanis has gone from author, blogger and Valve consultant to being appointed the Finance Minister of his home country of Greece.  A closer look at his bona fides provide a good explanation, as he has been focused on how European economies interact since before the beginning of the economic downturns and austerity measures in countries like Greece.  Follow the previous links for a look at what he has accomplished or if you prefer, head to Slashdot for more hat jokes.

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"A turnover in the Greek government resulted from recent snap elections placing SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) in power — just shy of an outright majority by two seats. Atheist, and youngest Prime Minister in Greek history since 1865, Alexis Tsipras has been appointed the new prime minister and begun taking immediate drastic steps against the recent austerity laws put in place by prior administrations. One such step has been to appoint Valve's economist Yanis Varoufakis to position of Finance Minister of Greece."

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Source: Slashdot

Team Fortress 2 Beta Includes "Mannpower Mode"

Subject: General Tech | December 26, 2014 - 05:02 PM |
Tagged: tf2, valve

So Valve is working on a new game mode for Team Fortress 2, called “Mannpower Mode”. It is a variation of Capture the Flag and it is currently available in the beta map pool, accessible from the Play Beta Maps checkbox in Play Multiplayer. While it will change significantly over its development period, this beta launch corresponds with their Christmas promotion.

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Even though it's like Capture the Flag, there are some significant differences. First, similar to many other franchises, the objective is touch-return. Fans of Unreal Tournament, Halo, and many other franchises will know that this is different in two main ways: a dropped objective will return to base instant when it is touched by a defender, and the attacker's flag must be returned in to capture the opponent's one. Second, random critical hits are disabled.

Third, grappling hooks and power-ups? I am guessing the Valve wants TF2 to be more competitive in with the fast-paced shooter crowd, so they are finding ways to increase mobility and map control within the Team Fortress 2 ruleset. Of course, that is not a criticism about TF2's game design – quite the opposite; it is different, not worse. It is interesting to think about the relatively slow characters of TF2 being used in more of a higher-reward, lower-forgiveness game mode. The updates add mobility and incentives to use it, both rewarding flag returns as well as acquiring power-ups.

Team Fortress 2 is still free-to-play, but rarely free-toupee.

Steam Gifting and Trading Are Now Region-Locked

Subject: General Tech | December 21, 2014 - 04:58 PM |
Tagged: valve, steam

Especially with digital distribution, some regions of the world receive different pricing for the same content based on what their target market is capable of paying for it. On Steam, most regions are just about equivalent to their exchange rate with the US dollar. There are a few, most notably Russia, that receive steep price cuts (because the increase in expected customers outweighs the decrease per unit).

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Valve's engineers say...

This leads some thrifty people to purchase keys that were intended for other, lower-cost regions. Recently, Valve has adjusted the Steam back-end to block gifting from certain, reduced-price regions to other regions. It does not affect existing purchases, only new ones. This also might not be their final decision, as Valve claims that they are still “assessing the market”, according to PC Gamer. This currently applies to: Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, and Singapore.

I am quite... conflicted on this decision.

On the one hand, I believe that moving a game from one region to another should be acceptable. Unless Steam requires that users (or gift givers of unactivated keys) declare that the license is intended for members of a given region, which could be fraud to lie about, then I cannot see any reasonable way to prevent this. On the other hand, I find Valve's method to be fair and targeted, even though it is relying upon DRM to restrict user access.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments! (Registration is not required)

Source: PC Gamer

"The Fourth Annual Saxxy Awards" Are Awarded

Subject: General Tech | October 3, 2014 - 02:11 AM |
Tagged: valve, source engine, contest, awards

Once each year, Valve hosts a competition, called The Saxxy Awards, to find the best Team Fortress 2 animation. It is named after Saxton Hale, a character from the game's irrelevant (but amazingly well developed) lore that is best known for being an eccentric action hero and executive of a fictional corporation. Its goal is to promote the use of Source Filmmaker and the rest of Valve's user-generated content tools.

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This year's overall winner as Animation vs Animator, embed below, where The Scout makes a movie where he torments The Heavy (who responds in kind). The video is likely a reference to the oppositely-named classic series of Flash animations where a stick figure in Flash Professional fights against its creator. Four videos were nominated in each of the four categories, short, action, comedy, and drama, each with its own winner.

Be sure to check them out if you want something to watch for a few minutes, or sixteen somethings.

Source: Valve

DOTA 2 May Be Running Source Engine 2. Now.

Subject: General Tech | August 12, 2014 - 09:00 PM |
Tagged: valve, source engine, Source 2, DOTA 2

While it may not seem like it in North America, we are in a busy week for videogame development. GDC Europe, which stands for Game Developers Conference Europe, is just wrapping up to make room for Gamescom, which will take up the rest of the week. Valve will be there and people are reading tea leaves to find out why. SteamOS seems likely, but what about their next generation gaming engine, Source 2? Maybe it already happened?

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Valve is the most secretive company with values of openness that I know. They are pretty good at preventing leaks from escaping their walls. Recently, Dota 2 was updated to receive new features and development tools for user-generated maps and gametypes. The tools currently require 64-bit Windows and a DirectX 11-compatible GPU.

Those don't sound like Source requirements...

And the editor doesn't look like Valve's old tools.

Video Credit: "Valve News Network".

Leaks also point to things like "tf_imported", "left4dead2_source2", and "left4dead2_imported". This is interesting. Valve is pushing Dota 2, their most popular, free-to-play game into Source 2. Also, because it is listed as "tf" rather than "tf2", like "dota" is not registered as "dota2" but "left4dead2" keeps its number, this might mean that the free-to-play Team Fortress 2 could be in a perpetual-development mode, like Dota 2. Eventually, it could be pushed to the new engine and given more content.

As for Left4Dead2? I am wondering if it is intended to be a product, rather than an internal (or external) Source 2 tech demo.

Was this what brought Valve to Gamescom, or will be be surprised by other announcements (or nothing at all)?

Source: Polygon

ESPN Carries Valve's The International DOTA 2 Tournament

Subject: General Tech | July 19, 2014 - 04:12 AM |
Tagged: valve, espn, DOTA 2, DOTA

eSports? Did someone say sports? ESPN is there. DOTA 2 is one of the most popular PC Games, #2 in Raptr's listing, and currently the most played Valve game (by more than a factor of two over Counter-Strike: GO). The International 2014 is their fourth multi-million dollar tournament. This year's prize pool of almost $11 million USD.

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And ESPN is broadcasting it on TV through their ESPN3 channel. On Sunday, the second-last day of the tournament, ESPN2 will air "Live from The International" at 11:30 PM EDT (UTC-4). This will have match highlights, discussion, interviews with players, and an interview with Gabe Newell. The tournament will host its grand finals the next day, on ESPN3.

Source: AusGamers

Check out these inventive hacks for a Sci-Fi themed contest

Subject: General Tech | April 22, 2014 - 12:37 PM |
Tagged: hack, valve, glados, tf2, kick ass

Hack a Day have been accepting entries to their Sci-Fi contest for long enough that they have a few worth showing off before the entry deadline of April 29th, specifically the Valve themed ones.  A table top sized level 1 sentry gun from TF2 is being entered, perhaps not as heavy duty as  the one currently guarding Valve HQ but destined to be able to fire paint balls if all goes to plan.  There is a French team who are modifying some personal assistant software called RORI into a replica of GLaDOS, hopefully a version at least slightly less murderous than the original while another team is going about creating a physical version of the homicidal AI complete with a camera to allow face tracking.  Check these entrants and other in the full Hack a Day post.

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"While most of the entries to our Sci-Fi contest come from movies and TV shows, a select few are based on the Valve universe, including a few builds based on Portal and Team Fortress 2."

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Source: Hack a Day

Ars Technica Estimates Steam Sales and Hours Played

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | April 16, 2014 - 01:56 AM |
Tagged: valve, steam

Valve does not release sales or hours played figures for any game on Steam and it is rare to find a publisher who will volunteer that information. That said, Steam user profiles list that information on a per-account basis. If someone, say Ars Technica, had access to sufficient server capacity, say an Amazon Web Services instance, and a reasonable understanding of statistics, then they could estimate.

Oh look, Ars Technica estimated by extrapolating from over 250,000 random accounts.

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If interested, I would definitely look through the original editorial for all of its many findings. Here, if you let me (and you can't stop me even if you don't), I would like to add my own analysis on a specific topic. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the PC, according to VGChartz, sold 3.42 million copies on at retail, worldwide. The thing is, Steamworks was required for every copy sold at retail or online. According to Ars Technica's estimates, 5.94 million copies were registered with Steam.

5.94 minus 3.42 is 2.52 million copies sold digitally. Almost a third of PC sales were made through Steam and other digital distribution platforms. Also, this means that the PC was the game's second-best selling platform, ahead of the PS3 (5.43m) and behind the Xbox 360 (7.92m), minus any digital sales on those platforms if they exist, of course. Despite its engine being programmed in DirectX 9, it is still a fairly high-end game. That is a fairly healthy install base for decent gaming PCs.

Did you discover anything else on your own? Be sure to discuss it in our comments!

Source: Ars Technica

Getting burned by the Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech | April 11, 2014 - 03:37 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller, gdc 14

At the Game Developers Conference last month The Tech Report had some one on one time with the Steam Controller and walked away with a less than positive impression.  It would seem that the learning curve for this device is rather steep, especially when they tried Portal 2.  Fine aiming, circle strafing and other tasks which come naturally to those used to a keyboard and mouse were quite difficult to accomplish on the new controller.  When asked, the Valve rep admitted it took them about 8 hours to familiarize themselves with the Steam Controller.  Is that too steep a learning curve or is it simply part of the fun of playing with a new type of console and controller?

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"Valve's Steam controller looks great on paper. It promises not just greater accuracy than conventional console gamepads, but also support for point-and-click titles that traditionally required a mouse and keyboard. There's a downside, though. As TR's Cyril Kowaliski learned first-hand, the Steam controller has a pretty steep learning curve—steep enough, perhaps, to put off some potential converts."

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Now Valve Doesn't Have Michael Abrash OR Jeri Ellsworth

Subject: General Tech, Displays | March 28, 2014 - 04:21 PM |
Tagged: VR, valve, Oculus, facebook

Today, Oculus VR issued a statement which claims that Michael Abrash has joined their ranks as Chief Scientist. Abrash was hired by Valve in 2011 where he led, and apparently came up with the idea for, their wearable computing initiatives. For a time, he and Jeri Ellsworth were conducting similar projects until she, and many others, were forced out of the company for undisclosed reasons (she was allowed to take her project with her which ultimately became CastAR). While I have yet to see an official announcement claim that Abrash has left Valve, I have serious doubts that he would be employed in both places for any reasonable period of time. With both gone, I wonder about Valve's wearable initaitive going forward.

Abrash at Steam Dev Days

This press statement comes just three days after Facebook announced "definitive" plans to acquire Oculus VR for an equivalent of $2 billion USD (it is twice the company Instragram was). Apparently, the financial stability of Facebook (... deep breath before continuing...) was the catalyst for this decision. VR research is expensive. Abrash is now comfortable working with them, gleefully expending R&D funds, advancing the project without sinking the ship.

And then there's Valve.

On last night's This Week in Computer Hardware (#260), Patrick Norton and I were discussing the Oculus VR acquisition. He claimed that he had serious doubts about whether Valve ever intended to ship a product. So far, the only product available that uses Valve's research is the Oculus Rift DK2. Honestly, while I have not really thought about it until now, it would not be surprising for Valve to contribute to the PC platform itself.

And, hey, at least someone is not afraid of Facebook's ownership.