Gabe Newell, the force behind the gaming company Valve, has a head bursting with ideas that he doesn’t express very well, at all. But think about the vision behind these fragments.
Here are excerpts from the conversation that took place in a packed and noisy room with an under-powered speaker system:
On the future of videogame distribution
“Everything we are doing is not going to matter in the future.
[Because of a disruption that is so large that it erases what we are doing now?]
… We think about knitting together a platform for productivity, which sounds kind of weird, but what we are interested in is bringing together a platform where people’s actions create value for other people when they play. That’s the reason we hired an economist.
[Instead of ‘play’ people’s actions online can be thought of as equivalent to ‘work’? It’s an economy not a kindergarten?]
“We think the future is very different [from] successes we’ve had in the past. When you are playing a game, you are trying to think about creating value for other players, so the line between content player and creator is really fuzzy. We have a kid in Kansas making $150,000 a year making [virtual] hats. But that’s just a starting point.
“That causes us to have conversations with Adobe, and we say the next version of Photoshop should look like a free-to-play game, and they say, ‘We have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, but it sounds really bad.’ And, then we say, ‘No, no, no. We think you are going to increase the value being created to your users, and you will create a market for their goods on a worldwide basis.’ But that takes a longer sell.
[Trying to evangelize his vision to other companies isn’t going to work with this sort of verbal expression.]
“This isn’t about videogames; it’s about thinking about goods and services in a digital world.”
On closed versus open platforms
“In order for innovation to happen, a bunch of things that aren’t happening on closed platforms need to occur. Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google. They all wouldn’t have existed without the openness of the platform. There’s a strong temptation to close the platform, because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say ‘That’s really exciting.’”
[I parse the sentence ‘Valve wouldn’t exist today without the PC, or Epic, or Zynga, or Google’ as meaning ‘Google, Zygna, Epic and Valve would not exist without the PC platform’.]
“We are looking at the platform and saying, ‘We’ve been a free rider, and we’ve been able to benefit from everything that went into PCs and the Internet, and we have to continue to figure out how there will be open platforms.’”
[So if Windows 8 and (presumably) Apple offerings are a problem, the answer is Linux?]
On Valve’s interest in Linux
“The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don’t realize how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behavior.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.”
[So, I expect Valve to invest i Linux as the future gaming platform. Maybe build their own open platform for productivity (gaming) and try to get folks to move onto it?]
On the evolution of touch
“We think touch is short-term. The mouse and keyboard were stable for 25 years, but I think touch will be stable for 10 years. Post-touch will be stable for a really long time, longer than 25 years.
“Post touch, depending on how sci-fi you want to get, is a couple of different technologies combined together. The two problems are input and output. I haven’t had to do any presentations on this because I’m not a public company, so I don’t have any pretty slides.
“There’s some crazy speculative stuff. This is super nerdy, and you can tease us years from now, but as it turns out, your tongue is one of the best mechanical systems to your brain, but it’s disconcerting to have the person sitting next you go blah, blah, blah, blah.
“I don’t think tongue input will happen, but I do think we will have bands on our wrists, and you’ll be doing something with your hands, which are really expressive.”
[Gestural interfaces, because hands can be enormously expressive, and instrumenting the tongue is messy.]
On wearable computers
“I can go into the room and put on the $70,000 system we’ve built, and I look around the room with the software they’ve written, and they can overlay information on objects regardless of what my head or eyes are doing. Your eyes are troublesome buggers.”
[You can ignore the eyes, and simply ID objects based on what the camera is looking at.]
An enormously uneven collection of unrefined ideas. The guy is fascinating. Imagine what a day at his office must be like.