Undoubtedly, Valve is still an amazing company. Excellent and enjoyable bestselling games, an extremely profitable digital game service, and a continuing desire to be a friendly, risk-taking, and downright awesome company.
Yet in spite of all this, many people have spoken of their griefs they've had with Valve's products over the years, ranging from how the games work to the company's decision making process. Some of them are arguably minor, while some would be argued to be major ones that seem to give off bad vibes regarding the company's decision making.
Intrigued by some of the allegations regarding Valve's actions in recent years and titles, I've come up with a list of common criticism had with Valve and their games over time (Though I lack much to say regarding DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike, due to my unfamiliarity with those games. Anyone more knowledgeable can add more detail if they want to, and not just for those games).
-Mod Support: From Left 4 Dead onwards, Valve has used a VPK system to allow users to add content to the games. The purpose of this was to allow people to spend less time "dragging and dropping" various files to get their mods to work, and allow for a simple format and simple location for users to be able to activate their mods.
However, modders haven't benefited from this addon system. L4D2 is the only game that even allows full mod support (model reskins/replacements, new sounds, custom maps/campaigns, some code changes for damage, weapon stats, and the like). L4D1 and Portal 2 only allow people to add maps and campaigns, and doing anything else involves a clunky method of editing "pak01_000.vpk" files, which can easily be undone by game updates and other factors.
Even creating entire new games (Like how certain mods like Nightmare House 2 are seperate entities from HL2:EP2) has been made incredibly hard, as the SDKs (or as Steam merely calls them, "Authoring Tools") do not provide a feature for this to allow users to do so. This has given various mod developers extreme headaches, and has made at least one ("Infra") to have to switch from developing on Portal 2's engine to Alien Swarm's.
Nearly every game Valve has made that doesn't feature Half-Life in the title has its roots from a video game modification. If they're starting to slip off the wayside with mod support, could this say something about their future development process?
-Game Attendance: In spite of Valve's recent desire to focus on making games "as a service", not all of their titles have had a constant flow of updates for DLC or simple bug correction. For some, it is understandable (Singleplayer games needing less concern due to less activity, lack of development with Goldsource engine), but for others, it has made people annoyed for their lack of attentiveness.
L4D2 and TF2, in spite of sub-frequent to frequent patching, have this problem in various ways that will be elaborated on later, but various other games have been left behind with not too much concern for their current state. HL2 still has graphics issues from a glitch with font to lighting bugs from use of certain DirectX levels. Multiplayer games like Alien Swarm or Day of Defeat: Source have barely seen a patch in recent years, and have barely been updated, though they could just be due to a lack of interest from players making them a very low priority for development (though low playerbase could be due to the lack of Valve's attention due to low playerbase and oh gawd I've created a paradox)
Valve staff has said on many occasions that they "cycle" their developers through certain games, leaving many to work on one (mostly upcoming titles) while leaving others less attended. Reports have said in recent months that most people are either on DOTA 2 or CS:GO, with teams of 10 or far less working on TF2, L4D2, and Portal 2. Though updates and DLC takes significantly less effort and manpower to create and implement, it could be said that the lack of people behind it seem to contribute to their lack of attentiveness. While they can't be realistically expected to keep all their games up to date, especially less-played ones, but does it say something about them that even their most popular titles lack certain amounts of attention?
-Development Methods: Going off on the last part of the previous subject, Valve's cycle of game development is said to be motivated mostly by their desire to work on games they "want to" work on. They've said that most titles have been done under the desire to want to do them, such as L4D2.
Logically, not everyone can be thought to all work on certain aspects. People like Kim Swift, who envisioned what became Portal, and Viktor Antonov, who provided Half Life conceptual art. Both individuals had certain games they wanted to work on (puzzle games and epics, respectively), that when the majority of Valve shifted away from, motivated their desires to leave the company.
I have no objection to Valve wanting to determine production by their employee motivation, but could we be missing out on some good game ideas or updates simply because Valve doesn't want to do them?
-Episode 3/HL3: Everyone knows the deal with this one, so let's look into the idea of why we're waiting like Godot's friends.
Valve is known for, with certain exceptions, to focus less on delivering a product in time in favor of making it just right with minimal problems. They have said a few times that they've scrapped their entire plans for the next Half-Life over the course of development in their search for the right conclusion to the current part of the Half-Life saga. Valve is keeping quiet mostly to avoid giving people false expectations if they plan to scrap everything once again, and that they have nothing really to show us. Development has taken them five years now, and by now the hype for it is something that might even challenge Duke Nukem Forever's.
They're trying to keep away false expectations from cut material (perhaps a lesson learned from the material released during HL2's beta stages), but by now, they've done the exact opposite by hyping us to a high point with no material at all. Could this come back to bite them when the game is finally released? Can they produce a game that at this point is expected to be equal, if not greater, than Half Life 2 itself?
Also, are they working on it? Valve's said before that they lack any real content to show us, and that their development process is often determined by what their employees want to do. Could it be we're not seeing anything about the next Half-Life simply because a majority of Valve staff would rather work on something else?
Team Fortress 2:
-Attention to Detail: Valve likes to look at gameplay over presentation, that has been made clear. Nonetheless, the amount of various cosmetic bugs has annoyed TF2 fans to no end. Rocket launchers that feature no rockets in the reload animations, grenade launchers that don't have a proper animation, textures and bodygroups that don't appear right, audio sounds that don't sync up or even play right, the list goes on and on and on.
There have been a few statements that tell us that they are aware of these grievances and want to fix them, but would prefer to work on more important aspects of the game. However, some of these glitches have existed for years without attention, and when updates and patches sometimes launch almost weekly, the expectation is that they would be addressed sooner rather than later.
Do the developers have their attention in the right place? Or are these bugs a sign that Valve is beginning to not patch games right?
-Community Content: While their attention to modding has been a subject of concern, the introduction of the Workshop has shown that Valve is paying attention to custom game content and wants to work to let fans have the honor of it being introduced into the game. Even before it, the amount of fan content Valve has accepted into the game is outstanding, and shows that they can listen to fans when they have bright ideas.
Though with the Workshop, there has been complaints. Monitoring slips for illegible submissions aside, many people were annoyed during the period of time when, between major updates, Valve began accepting in items from the Workshop on a nearly weekly basis. The problem was that most of these items were hats or miscs, and very few of them were among the top-supported submissions.
While Valve does need time to perfect new weapons, and they have said before that they like to save the best submissions for the next big update, some don't like that they're being treated to "sub-par" content in their long waits for the next big update. They also note that many many of the accepted submissions are often from people who already have had items accepted. While it is all well and good to see reliable content producers have more and work added, some would prefer that underdog, newer content makers could be allowed to see their work reach the top. Also of minor note is a lack of people releasing their custom items as mere mods after their submission, to allow people to use them in the time before they are or if they don't get to be accepted ingame.
Is Valve prioritizing the acceptance of Workshop items right, or do their methods need work?
-Hats: Lauded as one of the biggest examples of Valve being careless in what's important in a game (an attitude adopted by the TF2 development team themselves in self-ridicule), hats and other cosmetic items are central to how the game has developed an "economy" within itself and become what it is today.
It is common to prefer new weapons and game mechanics over simple appearance updates, as the former allow for more variety and playtime within the game. From a technical standpoint, it takes more time to create new weapons and gamemodes and other gamplay-central additions, while adding a new hat or misc item is much easier in comparison. Nevertheless, with several updates, from minor weekly ones to major, brand-spankin'-new-page ones, hats have occasionally been the only thing added to the game in regards to content beyond system features like replays or training or allowing Mac support.
It is arguable whether or not the many, many hats in comparison to maps and weapons is an indicator of lazy development or the result of simply a quick addition to the game in between the finishing of more important things, but something more major to consider is something that is directly connected to the popularity of ingame hats:
-The Ingame Store: Next to going free-to-play, the introduction of hats, or the very first content update, this is the most major, game-changing addition TF2 has received. It is how many people manage to find a way to explain how Valve could be starting to feel the sensations of greed that many feel ruin such game companies as EA or Activison.
People often disapprove of spending money on a store within a video game on general principal. And with good reason: Why would I want to waste good money on small additions that let me give my character a top hat? To their credit, Valve has given players different alternatives to let players earn the items available within the Mann. Co Store elsewhere, and barely any of them are exclusive to it. The problem comes with the limitations of said alternative methods of item-gaining (Drop system is based purely on luck, trading is nigh-impossible with the development of its economy, crafting anything that isn't a weapon relies on a great deal of chance), the keys and crates and their lure of the Unusual hats/"Strange" items, and minor practical issues (backpack limits, F2Players needing to spend at least $5 to unlock certain features of the game).
There are few things that force people to need to spend money in the ingame store, and Valve, barring a few expectations (Crate keys, Polycount set hats, Holiday 2011) has been good with not forcing people to use the store to access certain content. But there are subtle pushes to it, and are they enough to give us the idea that Valve might one day let greed get the better of them?
-The Artstyle: This has elected the most controversy in the arguments against Valve's treatment of TF2 in recent years. When it was being finished and first released, it's cartoony, spy-flick-inspired theme and art style was considered core to the appearance of the game. Much care had been given designing the characters and their identifiable outline, as well as what kind of weapons were used. When it first came out, and with the first several set of updates, stuck close to this theme.
Nowadays, Valve likes to say that the game has a different kind of theme, one a bit more cartoony and time-spanning. Others would like to say that the theme and artstyle is more describable as "dead", "destroyed", "trashed", and perhaps a couple other words not safe for the kids who shouldn't even be playing this game. Many blame promotional tie-in items made to help sell pre-orders for upcoming games, which brings in items from games not always fitting the world to TF2 even after being adapted (most infamously, the Deux Ex items). Others include the blame on the ability to paint hats, which in itself isn't bad, but isn't helped by such infamously unfitting color options as completely black and white, pink, and lime. And many more would simply blame a long list of hats that don't seem appropriate at all, like an umbrellia hat for heavy, a Dr. Seuss-inspired top hat for Soldier, or a seal mask for all classes. Even Valve will admit they've gone too far at times (such as Demoman's Dangeresque Too shades).
It is highly unlikely that these elements offending the originally intended artstyle and theme can be taken away at this point, and it is equally unlikely that they won't stop coming. All we can ask is if they are really as bad as people say, or if we'll seen enough "fitting" new inclusions to help balance it out.
Left 4 Dead
-L4D1's Support: Very early after the game's release, it was once said in an interview that Valve would give Left 4 Dead updates more frequently than TF2. Obviously, things turned out different than expected, and at this point in time, the games most major updates were Survival Mode, Crash Course, and the Sacrifice. Notable was that the Sacrifice was to be a L4D exclusive until Valve decided that they wanted to not let people who had L4D2 only miss out.
It has also been said that when working on the future update content for L4D1, many of Valve's staff decided that they had enough in the works to make an entire sequel to the first, and combined with other reasons, they decided to do so. This made many fans angry, leading to a memorable boycott campaign from L4D1 fans saying they would not buy the new game. After the heads of the protest were flown to Valve HQ to see the new game for themselves, they gave their approval, retired their positions, and the boycott mostly died out.
Notable about Crash Course is that people often feel that Valve made it in a rush simply to prove to boycotters they wouldn't give up L4D1 support fully. It can be seen that way in some aspects (extremely short length, based on scraped ideas for connections between the campaigns, failure to acquire Bill's voice actor for it), but Valve has never confirmed that rumor.
Did Valve perhaps jump the gun too soon to make a sequel? Perhaps they could've treated L4D1 with more additions before then?
-L4D2's Release: With the announcement of Left 4 Dead 2 at E3 2009 came a release date in November of that year, and Valve made the promise that they were fully intending to make the game on time for that date. Coming from the company that cemented the idea of delaying release of a product in the name of producing the best-quality experience, this was quite a shock. Valve themselves admitted that they were partially just doing the game to see if they could meet a deadline for once.
And true to their word, the game came out in November 2009 on time. But was this the best idea? There were various problems with the game on launch, ranging from lag to crashes to installation issues, and several shortcomings in the animations (such as no walking movement in firstperson pistol animations and inaccurate aiming of downed survivor models in thirdperson) were present.
Valve does like to experiment with their game production, with TF2 that much is clear. And perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from L4D2's quick release that they've taken to heart. But as explained in the next part, they haven't quite made up for some of the mistakes seen in their "on-time" game.
-L4D2's Support: Even though it's now the more supported game in the series, L4D2 still has a hard time with its various bugs and glitches. Updates come rarely, maybe once a month or so. Various exploits or glitches with both versus mode and singleplayer/co-op are left unattended for extreme periods of time. Cosmetic glitches remain unfixed, some even from the time the game launched.
Valve's L4D team has dwindled, naturally, from their numbers that they were at during development proper. But even still, it seems that they haven't given the game as much attention as it might've been hoped for. With the Passing and the Sacrifice, they have cranked out relatively good DLC in the past, but a more recent release seems to cast the team in a different light:
-Cold Stream: This was an experiment on Valve's part to try what they did with TF2 and get more user content into the game, letting a fan work on their custom campaign with Valve support and getting the community to help out with reporting glitches and other imperfections.
The problem comes with the custom campaign developer they chose. IN the fan community, he was known as subpar, not being able to apply his ideas in a manner that really benefited gameplay and somewhat ineffective at actually responding any bug reports given from players. He was often slow with Valve regarding updates, and by the end of it, left the job of finishing it up to the company itself.
The "update" the campaign came with included all remaining L4D1 campaigns not yet ported to the second game (No Mercy having previously been ported with the Sacrifice update), satisfying the fans who wanted L4D2 features in L4D1 campaigns, while giving much less reason to want to play the first game once more. Furthermore, all campaigns went into the PC version before the official update release, and despite their purpose to simply allow the community to playtest them before official "release", contained several unaddressed glitches and oversights even after official release.
Did Valve, with this "fiasco" of an update, fall from the level they were at with previous L4D2 updates, and show that they were far less adept at patching the game than they ever were before? Does this show that they are starting to lose any sort of focus on maintaining the game at all?
I have a few more ideas I can add here, but I think I'll try and edit them in at another point.
I'll admit, I haven't checked my sources on this, mostly drawn from memory. But I'd like to have this topic here just to serve as a way to approach this subject of Valve's flaws in a single topic, not affected by the spread over various game management. Feel free to add corrections, or your own opinions and information.