Valve is one of the most important companies in all of gaming, but it often prefers to stay out of the spotlight.
While most know it as the development studio behind Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, Valve is a lot more than just another games studio. The Washington state-based company has a long history of modifying existing games and developing new series out of them. On top of that, Valve own the most popular PC gaming platform in Steam. Here’s a peak into the mysterious nature of Valve Software, one of the most important companies in gaming history.
In 1996, two Microsoft employees by the names of Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington decided to leave their jobs at Microsoft and start a video game development studio. Two years later, Valve released its first game called Half-Life. It was immediately a hit and formed the backbone of what Valve would go on to become.
After Half-Life, the studio would go on to formally publish such popular Half-Life mods as Team Fortress Classic, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, and more, all based on Half-Life’s engine. After using a modified Quake 2 engine for its work on Half-Life Valve would release its own in-house engine called Source some time later. Source remains one of the most iconic game engines even in 2022. Recent Valve single-player titles and Dota 2 all run on the Source 2 engine, and CSGO is rumored to soon transition to Source 2 as well.
Valve is also the owner of Steam, the world’s largest online digital games store. Launched in 2002 as a way for Valve to update their games over the internet, it now rakes in an estimated $3 billion or more each year.
The first thing separating Valve from other developers is its business model. While known as a game developer, Valve actually makes most of its money from the Steam digital storefront. The digital games retail market is the default platform for studios to release their games on. Valve’s own software tends to be free to play and monetized through cosmetics. Dota 2 effectively invented the seasonal battle pass, and CSGO greatly innovated on the loot crate concept.
Valve is also famous for its silence. Aside from a handful of exceptions, Valve developers rarely speak on the company’s projects. The “show, don’t tell” system works well for most projects, but it can make it frustrating to be a fan of the company’s service games like CSGO and Dota 2, or mysterious project like the infamously missing Half-Life 3.
The final big difference between Valve and most other developers is that it almost exclusively uses its own engine for development. Source and its successor Source 2 run every one of Valve’s most popular games. Other developers also sometimes use Source as the engine for their own games.
In addition to software, Valve also makes gaming hardware related to PC gaming. Valve released the Vive virtual reality system in 2015 alongside Japanese developer HTC. This was the first room-scale VR system released to the general public at a three-digit price tag. Valve would independently release an updated system called the Valve Index in 2019.
For gamers without a computer, Valve also offers the Steam Deck. The handheld computer is designed for playing PC games on the go, though some games are better suited for the Steam Deck than others. Valve previously worked with computer manufacturers to sell PCs called Steam Machines 2015, but that program quickly died out.
Valve has transformed from a game developer to a retailer, but the company still makes new video games from time to time.
Valve’s most recent game release is Half-Life: Alyx, a virtual reality game released in early 2020. Valve more recently created Aperture Desk Job as a tech demo for the Steam Deck, but it’s not exactly a full game release. The studio also released multiple Dota 2 spinoffs in 2018 and 2020, but both Artifact and Dota Underlords failed to gain traction and seem to have been quickly abandoned.
Valve is often rumored to be hard at work on producing new games, but information is kept sparse and is dubiously unreliable. The company is also famous for canceling numerous games and projects. Anything the studio is making today could be tossed out tomorrow, so don’t get your hopes up too high for any new Valve games anytime soon.