Left 4 Dead 2: Promises Documented

By Shamus
on Jun 22, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games

The story so far:

Valve announced Left 4 Dead 2. Some fans protested. I was unimpressed with the list of complaints. This did not endear me to the protesters. Then someone posted a link to this movie, which shows Valve employees (purportedly VP of marketing Doug Lombardi and writer Chat Faliszek) talking about adding campaigns and monsters to the original Left 4 Dead. Given the gameplay footage we’re seeing, I’m certain these quotes are before the launch of Left 4 Dead.


Link (YouTube)

The video is made with an overdose of accusation (tossing the charge of “LIE$$$$$” at Valve) and much too little documentation. (Would it have killed them to throw some names and dates over these quotes, along with citing the source? Bad form, guys.) If the protesters had began with this stuff up front, and presented it in a more pragmatic way, it would have saved the entire community about two weeks of bickering and drama, and would likely have drawn more people to their cause.

Culling the cruft the debate has gathered since it began, I see two main charges being brought against Valve:

1) Left 4 Dead 2 is too small / too much the same to justify a sequel so soon, and thus it should be free / an expansion pack.

We’ve been over this one in detail, but for the sake of being pedantic and comprehensive I’ll set it down once again. Left 4 Dead 2 is larger than Left 4 Dead Original Flavor in both scope and content.

  • Five new campaigns, compared to the four of the original.
  • Three new special monsters, to add to the original five.
  • Twenty weapons, compared to the original eight.
  • Four new characters and dialog.
  • New, overarching story.
  • A fresh slate of common infected models.
  • Other changes, like melee combat and incendiary rounds.
  • New music, new videos.

If Left 4 Dead was big enough to be a game (and opinions differ on this point) then Left 4 Dead 2 is big enough to be a game and then some. If you insist on taking us for a few more laps around this rhetorical premise in the comments, realize that I do not plan to accompany you. I expect we’ll end up where we started, and I am sill dizzy from last time.

However:

2) Valve promised the community specific types of content and has yet to deliver, and in fact it looks suspiciously like that content was simply pushed into the sequel.

On this point I consider the protester’s position to be unassailable. Now that the proofs have been furnished, the case is very clear: Valve did indeed say that they were going to do those things. They did so on camera. These things were said by more than one person. In the six months that followed, Valve never attempted to correct or “clarify” what they had said in those interviews. And these things were said by people of importance, not anonymous insiders or low-ranking employees. Specifically, they were said by the VP of marketing, who should be savvy enough to know you can’t go around publicly talking about stuff you have written on your whiteboard unless you seriously plan on doing those things.

Valve said they were going to give away free stuff to people who bought the game. Fans understandably took it to heart. Now it looks like the free stuff has been rolled into a sequel. There is simply no way you can do something like this without losing face and pissing people off.

To be fair, I can see how this could happen. Unlike the protesters, I do not believe that these were lies told out of malice. This is the company that gave us the Orange Box. I don’t think it does the protesters any credit to accuse the notoriously generous Valve of naked greed and deliberate lies. This is much more likely a lack of competence, communication, and planning than an attempt to defraud their newly-cultivated L4D fanbase.

I’m a big fan of developers being open with the community, but this is a very good example of why so few companies do it. Fans invariably are going to ask about what you plan to do in the future, and once you make a statement about what you plan to do, you can’t ever change it without someone feeling cheated. Everything you say will be interpreted as a “promise”, even if you precede it with words like, “we’d like to” or “we’re talking about”. There are no takebacks in public relations, and so most companies keep shut until their plans are nearly complete.

(This is why engineers and artists are usually forbidden from talking to the press. Engineers love to think out loud and artists love to discuss their next big project, and usually neither has the talent for doing so without putting their employer on the hook for their musings. This is why I don’t talk about my day job here on my own site.)

My own guess as to what happened:

Valve began work on additional L4D content. Each change led naturally to others. Perhaps new infected models made area-based damage work better, which made melee weapons more feasible, which suggested new game play, which led to new special infected, which led to AI director tweaks, which led to dynamic weather, which called for new maps, which led to multiple-route maps, and so on, and on. If you listen to the developer commentaries in their games you’ll see this is how a lot of their ideas come about. They usually get one idea while playtesting another. It’s pretty easy to see how organic development like this would grow in unexpected directions.

Pretty soon they realized that all of these inter-related changes were simply too big (either technologically or financially) to be simply retrofitted into the original game. They decided to make it a sequel, and that decision was most likely made without giving thought to what had been said in an interview a year earlier. Oops.

You can be forgiven for forgetting you made a promise, but that doesn’t get you out of your obligation to fulfill it.

How it did not happen:

It’s October. Left 4 Dead is due out soon. Valve President Gabe Newell has summoned Doug and Chet to his office. Less than thirty seconds later they rush into the darkened room of marble and mahogany, panting slightly. (Last month he forbade them from using the executive elevator.)

“Gentlemen”, Newell growls once they have each given an appropriate bow, “We’re not making enough money.”

Doug’s mouth falls open. Mr. Newell doesn’t usually say stuff like this until he’s looking at the end-of-year reports. Doug looks nervously over to Chet, who seems to have better luck with pacifying Mr. Newell when he’s in one of his moods.

Chet swallows hard. The smoke from Mr. Newell’s cigar is stinging his eyes. Then he screws up his courage and says carefully, “Sure thing boss. What do you have in mind?”

Doug nods. Good answer.

Mr. Newell silently swings his high-back leather chair around and looks out over Bellevue. There is a long pause while a column of cigar smoke rises and gathers around him like a storm cloud. Chet and Doug shuffle nervously, afraid he might have forgotten about them again. Eventually he answers in a calm but mockingly polite voice, “What about that ‘Lots of Dead’ thing you’re working on?”

“You mean Left 4 Dead?”, Doug corrects him without thinking.

“Yeeees. That’s the one.” There is a long, menacing pause while the cloud thickens, “I want that game to sell three million copies. That’s one million copies for every year of development you’ve squandered on it.”

Three million?”, Doug squeaks in a terrified voice. “How can we do that?”

The leather chair whirls around, spinning the smoke cloud into the shape of a hurricane. “You do your jobs!”, he roars. A meaty fist slams down on the desk, “You get out there and make people buy the damn thing. You get your stupid jibbering face on one of those idiot TV shows and tell them how great it’ll be. Beg if you must. Lie if you have to.”

Doug is cowering, but Chet retains his cool, “We could always promise them free updates later.”

Newell glowers at him silently.

“Er…”, Chet falters as he realizes he’s miscalculated somehow.

Doug jumps in, “We’re not suggesting we actually give them free updates.”

“Heavens no!”, Chet adds with a forced laugh, “I’m not a complete idiot.” He looks over nervously to Doug, wondering where this is going.

Newell seems to want to know the same thing. He raises his eyebrows and waits.

“Well”, Doug continues, “We could promise them free maps. Maybe new weapons, like we’re doing with Team Fortress 2.”

“Or new monsters!”, Chet practically shouts.

“Yes! Monsters!”, Doug agrees. “Maybe even new game modes or something. Anyway, that should get people to buy the game.”

“And then later”, Chet adds hopefully, “We could… not give them those things?”

Mr. Newell relaxes and smiles, “One of my great joys in this life is when I am able to get a couple of complete imbeciles to think for themselves.”

“Yes sir.”, says Chet.

“Thank you sir!”, Doug adds.

“Now get out of my office.”

Call me a raving fanboy, but I’m just not seeing it. The idea that Valve would – on purpose – promise something which they did not plan to deliver is ludicrous. To believe that, you would need to set aside everything we know about the company. Note that if Valve had never said anything about their future plans, then this entire controversy would have centered around the more mundane topics of how this sequel will affect multiplayer and if the content of the game warranted the pricetag of a full release.

The protesters are justified in holding Valve to their promise, but the charge of “LIAR$” makes no sense to me. Doug Lombardi had this to say to the critics:

I think the short answer is: trust us a little bit. We’ve been pretty good over the years, even with L4D going back just a few months, about supporting games post-launch. Gabe’s always talking about providing entertainment as a service – it’s not about making a game any more. That’s one point of it.

I’ve made it abundantly clear in the past that I’m not crazy about the games-as-a-service model. I’d much rather just fork over money, get my game, and have that be the end of the transaction for both sides. But if we’re going to accept the service model then we’re going to end up with situations like this one, where a game being “done” is a nebulous idea and the only way customers have of gauging the value of the “service” is by listening carefully to what the developer says in public and using that to guide their purchasing decisions. If they buy a game based on the promise of future content, then they can rightly be outraged if you change your mind later. Welcome to service-based gaming, Valve.

Getting down to specifics, in the interview Lombardi promised:

  1. New characters
  2. New campaign[s]
  3. New weapon or a new monster to go with that campaign
  4. An SDK was promised “a few weeks after launch”. I assume that when the guy said “SDK” he was talking about the recently-released level editor. (The term SDK is supposed to refer to a Software Development Kit, but it gets really, really mushy when non-coders start using the term.)

Adding a weapon or monster is probably not that big a deal. They could simply take one of the existing Left 4 Dead 2 monsters or guns and shoehorn it into Left 4 Dead. But the “new campaign” promise is much more difficult. Campaigns represent a tremendous investment of hours in building, testing, and tuning. Adding a new campaign to the original means adding a new campaign for the existing characters and set in western PA. (All of their new stuff is for the Louisiana campaigns, which is built around the new characters and uses the new AI director. In order to keep this promise, they’re going to have to make a new “Bill, Francis, Louis, and Zoey” campaign from scratch. (Although they could recycle / re-work the new lighthouse level to serve as the finale.))

The ball is in Valve’s court. We’ll see what they do for Left 4 Dead.

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20209Feeling chatty? There are 49 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. nilus says:

    Man these L4D Bitchers are acting like Valve raped their dogs. Of all the thing in this world to get heated over, is a game really that important. Of all the 360 games I have bought in the last few years L4D is the only one I feel has paid for itself several times over. I eagerly await L4D2.

    • Shamus says:

      To be clear:

      I still think that L4D was worth the money, as-is. And I will but L4D2 when it comes out. This isn’t about what the game is “worth”, it’s about what Valve promised.

      Also: Dang. That is a long post. I should have broken it up somehow.

  2. Ranneko says:

    This is pretty much why I don’t think I will be grabbing L4D2 on launch, I will get it, but after it first hits a 25% or 50% sale, I am disappointed that they opted to develop a sequel rather than pushing the level of content they originally promised. I also don’t play L4D much unless at LANs, so I can probably stand to wait.

    EDIT: I guess to be clear from my front, I don’t think L4D was quite worth the money I paid for it (pre-order Steam price) as-is. It was indeed a little small, On the other hand, I would easily pay the price I paid for L4D for TF2. I still play that reasonably often.

  3. TehShrike says:

    Hah, I liked the storytelling part in the middle…

    Also, for anyone who hasn’t seen it: http://www.l4d.com/blog/post.php?id=2599

  4. Zee says:

    Thanks for the nice consolidation Shamus. I was wondering what the big deal was (I don’t play L4D). Good to see rational thought still exists on the internet.

    Honestly, people who still think internet petitions matter are a bit naive.

  5. Krellen says:

    I think the end of that video is prophetic; most of the “boycotters” are probably going to “piss and moan like impotent jerks” and still “bend over and take it up the tailpipe”.

  6. The S Ninja says:

    I understand how some people feel a little miffed about it but I think that they’re going a little overboard.

  7. Wood says:

    I just pretend that I paid full price for TF2 and that I got L4D in the Orange Box.
    This illusion makes everything fine.

  8. toasty says:

    ” Fans invariably are going to ask about what you plan to do in the future, and once you make a statement about what you plan to do, you can’t ever change it without someone feeling cheated.”

    This is why Blizzard has done such a good job. They’re one of the few companies with very long devolpment cycles that have been able to balance the “new info” with secrecy.

    Though how they managed to keep Starcraft II a secret for so long has got to be something of a miracle.

  9. Duffy says:

    Just to add to Shamus’ point a bit, I don’t think it was so much that they opted to make a sequel and that it was more like their only option to deliver what they thought up. A lot of their changes (specifically AI, map manipulation, weather) sound link fundamental engine changes more then simple load this instead of that changes (guns, infected, characters, maps).

    I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of this is due to L4D being available for the XBox. Patching L4D to use L4D2’s engine changes on the PC would not be an “issue” (annoyance yes, issue no) if there was no XBox market for the game.

    I know people like to compare TF2, but that’s a bad comparison. A decent portion of the time the only fundamental changes are weapons, all of which use mechanics already in the game, with a few minor tweaks for effect. However the XBox gets these updates at a very delayed rate.

  10. Thijs says:

    I don’t know how Valve decided to make a sequel instead of free content. While I do agree that the story you tell is (probably) not the case, I think the other story is also a bit unrealistic. Valve has some credit, especially earned by the quality of their games, but they do tend to make empty promises (can you still remember that they promised us quick episodic games in the far past?).
    I think there are a lot of people at Valve who really want to be there for the gaming community (hence their approach on TF2 for example) but that sometimes their wishes do not weigh against a bunch of shareholders or directors who want to maximize their profit.
    In all, I think Valve messed up, and they should handle this delicately. My advice would be to sell the game at full-price to new customers, but at an add-on price if you already own L4D, and, in addition, make L4D2 backwards compatible, so L4D2 buyers can buy L4d as an add-on. This way the community does not divide itself, and Valve can focus on support for one game.

  11. Patrick says:

    Maybe I just don’t get it but why is everyone assuming that a sequel automatically means there won’t be new content for the original. I know that in most cases once a sequel is released that development of the original usually stops, but this is Valve. Valve really seems to believe in the service model and they have asked us to trust them (an odd move for a company to make but in this case I am inclined to wait and see). Perhaps they are doing both, developing a sequel and working on new content. Has anyone from valve said that development on L4D1 has stopped? I don’t disagree with the protesters I just think they may have jumped the gun a little bit.

  12. bbot says:

    I was going to complain about not being able to phrase my response in the form of an image macro, when I thought of a devious workaround.

    (In case my point is insufficiently ham-handed, the L4D2 non-issue is of such apocalyptic unimportance that if another gaming blog posts about it I may die of terminal apathy. But Gabe-as-plutocrat was amusing.)

  13. Thijs says:

    Patrick: I agree, although I think it would be easier to make new content for one zombie-survival game than for two…
    I agree that chances are big that Valve is still providing service, but it all feels a bit clumsy

  14. Ron says:

    I’m going to agree with Patrick here. From what I’ve seen of Valve’s track record. My guess would be, once they work out the bugs for the new content in L4D2, they will have a huge patch for L4D1 with the new Mobs and Weapons. I say give them 3 months after L4D2, if they don’t do anything for L4D1. Then you have a right to be pissed.

  15. smIsle says:

    I agree with Thijs – IF I played L4D, I would be happy with a discount on L4D2 rather than new content. Especially if the sequel is better than the original. Of course, this is if they *aren’t* planning on ever releasing the promised content.

  16. acronix says:

    The sequel can´t be better than the original. The reason is evident: nothing can compare to Francis´ “I hate stairs.”

  17. Vladius says:

    These people are almost as bad as the “Bu$hitler lied, people died” crowd.

    Seriously. Quit whining. You don’t have to buy something if you don’t like it. At least Valve is telling you what’s new about it instead of keeping it under wraps to wait for you to say that the game is identical to the first.

  18. Brigdh says:

    This question came to me as I read this article:

    If Gabe Newell is pushing games as a service rather than a product, doesn’t releasing a new game (with a similar premise to another) go against that?

    Maybe I need to see Gabe’s definition of service, but when I think of games as a service, I think of MMOs. Either subscription services, or paying for in game items and upgrades.

    Then again, I’m not sure how it would adapt for L4D, but I think TF2 would be a good example of this. You want to have the new sniper update? Pay $5.

    I guess I’m wondering, how does Gabe (or Valve) argue releasing L4D2 as another $60 game (with no announced discount for L4D players) is different than what the industry has been doing for 20 odd years?

  19. Kronski says:

    Valve is a corporation. Their job is to make money. Saying that unbridled greed alone motivated this decision does sound unlikely, but saying that money didn’t even come into consideration is even more asinine.

    • Shamus says:

      Kronski: And if I had claimed otherwise, I guess you would have a point.

      From the article: “Pretty soon they realized that all of these inter-related changes were simply too big (either technologically or financially) to be simply retrofitted into the original game.”

  20. Flying Dutchman says:

    I don’t play this, but looking at the content of the sequel, I think people would be mad if it were an expansion too. Upgrading the game to contain the content of the sequel (like a 500-hour patch right there) would really change the original game, I mean: melee combat for one just changes the whole dynamics of a shooter.

    You’d probably get some old-skool servers that play pre-expansion and a lot of new-skool servers playing with the expansion and they piss each other off as well as be mad at the developers for adding so many new features to a game “that was already fun”.

    The only thing you can hold these developers accountable for is screwing up their marketing; they created a lose-lose situation, and that is just too bad.

  21. Danath says:

    Good post, also they have stated that they began work on Left 4 Dead 2 shortly after Left 4 Dead 1 was released. http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=23911

    Theres the whole article on that bit. I highly suggest reading the last paragraph as well, it’s not too promising on the “new content” of L4D. Frankly I am happy with L4D, I however DID expect more from Valve’s promises and it is why I’m holding them to it. I did not expect more from Mass Effect, I did not from Dead Space, I did not from Mirror’s Edge or any other games I have played, but they never really made those promises like the L4D team did, which they *directly compared to TF2*. That direct comparison is probably what most people are outraged about, because TF2 is more than 4x the size it was when it first came out, thats for sure, new maps, weapons, game types, achievements, etc. And as I stated earlier, when I didn’t get what I was promised, it looks like its being put in L4D2, well I feel like I paid 50 dollars for a beta game, unfinished, whether thats true or not isn’t actually important, which I know, sounds silly.

    I also agree it probably had nothing to do with money, I think the boycott has gotten a bit sensationalist, which is so often the way to get attention, even if it doesn’t properly support your cause (I’m looking at you PETA & evironmentalists).

  22. Danath says:

    @Shamus
    Yeah, I’m just pointing out it happened rather early on (at least by this article), and that the final paragraph holds my attention in shooting down my hopes for L4D content. I have never been a fan of no comment, and after what they have said it is a bit disheartening, but oh well.

    I am not disagreeing with them starting work on L4D2 cause the changes were too big, I was posting that cause it fits with what you described in the first situations, and pointing out the end of the article in regards to L4D1.

  23. Blackbird71 says:

    Shamus, thanks for the write up. I have to agree with your interpretation of the flow of events, this does feel like something that may not have been initially intended, but rather evolved over time.

    As for the boycott instigators, it’s unfortunate that those who are quick to take action are not necessarily that eloquent. I agree that had their case been better made at the beginning, the issue would have been a lot more clear, and they would have generated more support at the outset.

    @Patrick (12)

    Call me the eternal pessimist, but in my experience, whenever someone says “trust us” without backing it up, nothing good ever follows. Yes, I know that for some people, Valve has built up a decent reputation for themselves. Even so, I prefer to follow the motto “trust but verify,” and so far, there has been nothing given for verification.

  24. briatx says:

    I think your comment about this scrutiny being the natural outcome of a ‘games as service’ model is spot on.

    Look at how active Blizzard is in communicating with their customer base, *and* look at how much outrage there is in the community every time a (real or perceived) promise isn’t kept.

    On a related note: I wonder if Valve realizes how much the value of their product depends on their reputation. Right now, I value a game on Steam as much as (if not more than) a game that isn’t on Steam. That will probably change if I can’t believe promises like “if Valve goes under we will unlock all those games.”

  25. Patrick says:

    @Thijs
    I haven’t been following this that closely but don’t I recall reading somewhere that all add-on packs for LFD2 would be backwards compatible (maybe it was the other way around). Either way, perhaps there is a way for Valve to kill 2 birds with 1 stone and develop for both games at the same time. This, however, actually increases the biggest (and only in my opinion) real complaint of the protesters/boycotters – the fracturing of the community.

    @Blackbird71
    I agree with you completely that in this instance valve hasn’t done anything to back up their promises. Well, actually they sorta have with the Survival Mode add-on, but for the sake of argument lets agree that that isn’t enough. My question is, have the upset people in the community given Valve enough time to make good on their promise? The protesters/boycotters remind me of the guy who borrows you money and asks you to pay him back on Wednesday but then he starts bugging you about it on Monday. I am saying that while they haven’t done enough yet there is still a lot of time.

  26. Dane says:

    What it comes down to for me is this: It doesn’t matter if you think Left 4 Dead got enough post-release content or not. It doesn’t matter if you think Left 4 Dead 2 has enough new content to justify it being a new game.

    LEFT 4 DEAD HAS ONLY BEEN OUT EIGHT MONTHS.

    Eight months! Holy crap, EA Sports waits longer than that before they churn out their next Madden game.

  27. Blackbird71 says:

    @Patrick (27)

    I don’t really think it has anything to do with what they have already done, it’s more of a question of what they are doing in the future. So far, they’re just saying “trust us,” without giving any reason why. I.e., no indication of what they have planned for LFD, no reinforcement or update of the old promises/statements, etc. To me it’s more like the guy who asks to borrow money from you, but refuses to give you any idea as to how he intends to use it or when you can expect to be paid back. Regardless of whether he has repaid you in the past, this type of behavior arouses suspicion, and I think is cause for unease at the least.

  28. James Pope says:

    I think it would be terribly funny of someone over in Left For Dead Central is being chewed out RIGHT NOW because your “ha ha funny” explanation for how things went over happened to read like a transcript:

    Mr. Newell relaxes and smiles, “One of my great joys in this life is when I am able to get a couple of complete imbeciles to think for themselves.”

    “Yes sir.”, says Chet.

    “Thank you sir!”, Doug adds.

    “Now get out of my office.”

    “Send in Smithers! I want a report on that “AIDS” thing we started down in Africa!”

  29. Patrick says:

    @Blackbird71

    I see what you are saying. I agree that they have communicated this rather poorly. If they wanted to mollify the community they really should have announced L4D2 and some new content for L4D1 at the same time. Or, afterword, reinforced their earlier promise with some kind of specific statement about upcoming content.

    My point still stand though that they haven’t released any new content yet. I just don’t see why people are upset now that some future thing hasn’t happened.

    Also I do think what happened in the past matters. If this was almost any other developer the “Trust us” line would have gotten them laughed out of the room. This is Valve, I say give them time.

  30. Lanthanide says:

    I haven’t read the other comments, but you really scored and own-goal here Shamus:

    “This is the company that gave us the Orange Box.”

    I guess you don’t know the full history behind that, do you? The Orange box contains Half Life 2, Episode 1, Episode 2, Portal and TF2. Previously unreleased games from the above list are Episode 2, Portal and TF2. Many, many people interested in Episode 2 when it was first released had already purchased Half Life 2 and Episode 1 and were expecting Episode 2 to be priced as an expansion. Instead they had to shell out full price for all 5 games, when they already owned 2 of them.

    So what, it’s still a fantastic bargain, even if you’re buying HL2 and Episode 1 for the second time. That’s fair enough, except that Valve had planned and publically announced a collection called The Black Box, which was Episode 2 and Portal. So the options were:
    Orange Box: HL2, Ep1, Ep2, Portal, TF2
    Black Box: Ep2, Portal, TF2

    The Orange box was priced at ~$50. The Black Box was priced at ~$40. And then a month or so before Episode 2 was released, they cancelled The Black Box, forcing everyone who wanted Ep2 to buy The Orange Box and taking a sweet $10 premium on the price.

    Personally I already owned HL1 and Ep1, and was not interested in TF2 at all, so The Black Box was perfect for me. Instead, due to Valve’s greed, they forced people in my position to pay extra for stuff they already had, or didn’t want.

    Luckily enough for me Valve had already made a deal with ATi to include special coupons for The Black Box in their next generation of graphics cards (as they had done with HL2 back when the Radeon 9800 Pro first came out), and evidently due to contractual arrangements they still had to follow through on that deal. My boyfriend at the time bought a new PC with a new graphics card and gave me the voucher, so I was lucky enough to get Ep2 and Portal for free, and avoided Valve’s money-grubbing ways with the Orange Box.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Orange_Box#The_Black_Box for more background.

    So yes, I think you well and truly scotched your own point here by bringing up the only other time that Valve have clearly put profits ahead of fans.

  31. LintMan says:

    I haven’t bought L4D, but I did consider it, and as part of that consideration, I had factored in that Valve was promising to add a lot more stuff to the game. Given what Valve is doing with TF2, if wasn’t hard to imagine L4D getting the same treatment. And so, if I HAD bought L4D, I think I’d be pretty unhappy with the L4D2 situation. Unhappy enough to not buy L4D2, so I guess I sympathise with the boycotters, even though boycotting a non-released product is rather silly.

    @Lanthanide: To be fair, even if you already owned HL2 and Ep1, Valve still gave you another copy of them, which you could gift to someone else.

    I paid $45 for my copy of the Orange Box at release. If they were priced individually at release time, Ep2 would probably have cost $30 and Portal $20, so $45 for gift copies of HL2 and Ep1, plus Ep2, Portal and TF2 is still a pretty damn good deal, even if the Black Box might have been a more economical one. Cutting the Black Box doesn’t bother me much.

  32. Duffy says:

    @Lanthanide

    Yes they canceled the Black box, but every title was available separately on Steam the day of release. In all honesty it seems a little silly to waste money producing a Black Box with only 1/2 the content of the Orange Box when the people who would buy it can already grab the pieces they want through Steam. Just like they bought the previous episode. The Orange Box makes sense as a package deal for the rest of us that were late to the party.

    So is your complaint that you couldn’t get the same deal as people who bought the Orange Box or that they didn’t have physical copies for sale?

  33. Matt P says:

    @Danath: I’ve never liked “No comment” either, but if there’s one thing Valve has learned from this debacle it’s that they need to employ it a bit more often. If they had said nothing about post-release support their Survival Pack would have been acclaimed instead of received with an air of “Finally something!” The same would be true of the L4D2 reaction.
    This is why I don’t think the current PR model of “slick trailers and little information” will ever change substantially; there’s just too many pissed off fans when you renege. What’s worse, the fan reaction seems to be directly correlated to how good you’ve been with your fans and your promises thus far. This makes sense in a way, but it’s a little bizarre when routine mouth-shooter Peter Molyneux is merely laughed at behind his back, but Valve, with its many cases of near-charity and as-promised content, receives this kind of bile. I think a lot of devs are watching this and concluding that the Valve model is too much effort for too little appreciation. The extreme wing of this protest has, paradoxically, probably scared many devs and publishers away from the previously tempting Valve way.

  34. JKjoker says:

    I think the whole thing comes down to the failure of the “games as a service” idea.

    This is an idea related to the micropayment push that has a really bad smell to it, any other developer would not have gotten away with even using the term, but Valve is not just any developer, they somehow got “Jesus” status to the point that comments, reviews and specially previews about their products could be categorized as Pornotextual.

    They released a game that even the most fanatic of fans have a very difficult time not to describe as extremely light on content, obviously a lot of buyers looked at TF2, heard some real or imaginary addons promises and thought “what the hell, i can trust Valve” and forked the money, a few months later, after hearing of several TF2 updates, already tired of the out-of-the-box content, they were understandably waiting for an update announcement, instead they got a “hey, L4D2! coming soon! rejoice!” presented with the usual Valve excitement and it felt like a kick in the balls.

    Valve probably thought the previous addon and the SDK releases were enough for the community (and they probably are) but they completely screwed up the timing, if they had announced the sequel after ppl were playing around with mods and custom content they would have taken it much better, and since its Valve we are talking about here, chances are that the game will get seriously delayed anyway so they shot themselves on the foot for nothing.

    Fans overreacted ? Yeah, but are they *wrong* ? I don’t think so, it all comes down to the fact that the buyers didn’t know what they were getting with the game, some thought it was enough, other thought it was not, the first time i heard about episodic gaming and games-as-service the first thing i thought was “what happens if a game loses popularity and consequentially support? huge cliffhangers that will never ever get unraveled ?” and “what happens if its TOO popular ? will they finish a good, short story leaving us wanting for more or drag it out until it bores everyone ?”, i knew sooner or later they would disappoint the public and here we see a real world example, it wasnt exactly what i was expecting but it turned out just as disappointing.

    and here i agree with what Shamus said: “I’d much rather just fork over money, get my game, and have that be the end of the transaction for both sides”

    from the beginning they should have done that, or even just plainly state what they had planned as “free updates” and leave it at that, nobody will fault you for extra updates if you want to keep adding things (as long as you don’t break anything like some thought about newer diablo 2 patches) but they have to be clear that their responsibility for new content ends at some point, promising stuff on camera you are not 100% sure about sends mixed signals and gets you dangerously close to Peter Molyneux’s personal Twilight Zone.

    now we need to wait and see how Valve and other developers adapt to this development, they could become smarter and start being more open about their plans, times and updates… or they could take the usual path, shutting themselves up, probably never release a free update ever again and promote their games only with teasers that have no gameplay footage talking ambiguously about how “epic” and “groundbreaking” it is without actually saying anything.

  35. Danath says:

    @Matt P

    People laugh at Molyneux cause he promises grand things and ends up failing in some catastrophic manner to deliver what he promised. And don’t forget, many people salivate on hearing “Valve” put on any game, just having its name on the game means a game will sell well, this is thanks to their reputation. And no comment bugs me in THIS scenario because they had already made these promises, saying “no comment” at this point isnt acceptable.

  36. “(Would it have killed them to throw some names and dates over these quotes, along with citing the source? Bad form, guys.)”
    Unless you’re actually disputing the authenticity of the clips (which you don’t seem to be), then this is just an ad-hominem attack.

    “If the protesters had began with this stuff up front, and presented it in a more pragmatic way, it would have saved the entire community about two weeks of bickering and drama, and would likely have drawn more people to their cause.”
    You’re a grown man, you don’t need to blame other people for you not having known about the concrete promises.

    “1) Left 4 Dead 2 is too small / too much the same to justify a sequel so soon, and thus it should be free / an expansion pack.”
    You don’t, nor have you before, addressed the key part: “so soon”. I hope you realize that it’s an unusually short lifespan for a non-episodic multiplayer* game. (Yes, I said “lifespan”. Yes, player counts drop like a rock when sequels come out.)

    “I assume that when the guy said “SDK” he was talking about the recently-released level editor.”
    …are you joking? He said “the mod community” several times before saying SDK, and provided examples of games which are mods. Give the dude some credit, he knows what SDK means.

    * Before, you’ve mentioned the Half Life series as an example of games that these same fans want released sooner. In case you still don’t understand the difference: single-player games have LIMITED replay value (in the half life series, none), and do not magically become less fun to play when their sequel comes out. Good multiplayer games have UNLIMITED replay value, until their sequel comes out and their playerbase dies.

    • Shamus says:

      Alex:

      It was not at all an “ad-hominem attack.” They should have cited their sources and given the viewer some context. We can’t even tell if the video itself was made before or after the boycott began, before or after the level editor was released. They swiped someone else’s footage, and threw it at the community without names, dates, sources, or context. The number of people who know who Doug Lombardi is and what he does is quite small, and the number of people who can recognize him on sight is even smaller. A slight effort on their part would have made this video far, far more useful.

      Thank you for acknowledging that I’m all grown up here at 37 years old. Or are you calling my maturity into dispute? The boycotters were bitching about promises in vague terms without saying when or where those promises were made or where we could go to find them, and they couldn’t even be bothered to throw some names and dates on the video. If they want us to join them in their indignation, the ball is in their court to cite what they’re on about. THAT’S the grown-up thing to do. It’s what I do all the time. I link to stuff I’m talking about so readers can inform themselves and get up to speed on the conversation. I don’t gesture at google: “Somebody, at some point in the past said something to someone else about Left 4 Dead content coming out at some later point.” Oh yeah. That sounds like a fun search. Let me get right on that.

      I said I wasn’t getting into the content dispute again, yet here you bring it up. I made it clear three posts ago that I LIKE getting more games in less time. If you disagree, fine. But I have most certainly addressed that point, multiple times.

      To me, an “SDK” means .lib files and .h header files that I can feed my compiler. To me, a level editor does not usually meet this definition, but some level editors have a LOT of mod power. UnrealEd was capable of editing scripts as well as geometry. So, no I am NOT “joking”. I am pointing out that the term “SDK” is nebulous and I don’t have any idea what is in the “level editor” they just put out. Perhaps it is the SDK, perhaps no. It seemed a reasonable assumption on my part.

      This is the last confrontational and accusatory comment of yours I’m going to entertain. You can either keep it friendly or unload the angst on someone else. Goodness knows there is no shortage of people out there who want to have angry threads about this.

  37. jng2058 says:

    I still can’t get all worked up about this. I guess the question seems to be Time vs. Money.

    Yes, TF2 is getting a lot of free content. But…

    But its taking a long time. The Orange Box with TF2 in it came out in October of 2007. As of the end of June 2009, you’ve had updates to 2/3rds of the classes and a pile of maps. Assuming that they consider TF2 “done” when they’ve updated all the classes, that’s been 20 months to get 2/3rd of the way, with another 10 months to go, call it April 2010 for completion.

    Sound fair? After all, one of the things they repeated in the video over and over was “like Team Fortress 2.”

    Not bad, I grant you, but let’s parse this over into L4D terms.

    Would you rather have things spaced out like that have in TF2 over two and a half years? Does a new weapon every three months work for you? How about one new campaign every six months? A new playable character every seven or eight months? One new monster every nine months?

    Or would it be worth $40 to you to get it all this upcoming November in one coherent burst?

    Recognizing, by the way, that the money you spend isn’t going to a third yacht for each designer but is instead being used to buttress the company in difficult economic times and ensure that they survive to put out more Left 4 Deads, Portals, Team Fortresses, and Half-Lives?

    Oh, and allowing all those poor bastards with crappy or non-existent internet or Xbox Arcade machines to play too?

    For me its easy. Forty dollars to get it all five months from now is well worth the investment to me. I’d rather get a new version of the game every November, even if I have to pay for it, than have the content fed to me in dribs and drabs in two and a half year intervals.

    Do what you want, boycott if you must, but don’t expect to get much traction when your argument boils down to “Keep stuff away from the people who are willing to buy it so I can have it for free.”

    That is not, I’m afraid, a very convincing line of thought to a business that requires money to survive. Nor would said business survive very long if they followed that logic very far.

  38. Nicke says:

    I have never played L4D, but this story has been entertaining to follow.

    I agree with Shamus that citations are needed. I don’t know if someone put the video on youtube just to bitch about things or to actually convince others, but if it is being used as proof it is rather useless.

    I would assume that these are clips from interviews intended for fans, before the release of the game, but as far as I know from this video, they could be anything (say leaked internal videos to inform the owners what the developers are planning). Also, these are most likely not the full clips. As far as I know, they cut away the parts where they said:

    “We’re not sure what we’ll do. Depending on sales, the economy, what we think the players want and unless we get excited making so much new stuff it’s better as a new game, the downloadable content could be just some minor tweaks, but I hope and”

    cut in

    “I think there will be new missions, monsters,…” and so on.

    and then cut away

    “Of course, it’s still a bit early to say for sure, we’re not promising anything!”

    Or maybe it wasn’t the guy who made the youtube video, perhaps the interview went something like:

    Valve-dude: “Oh we will try to make some downloadable content, but we still don’t know for sure.”

    Interviewer: “Oh come on, give us something, what kind of extra material have you been talking about!”

    Valve-dude: “I really can’t say!”

    Interviewer: “Pretty please, it sounds so cool!”

    Editor thinks “Ok, that was boring, let’s put up the intersting part which starts here.”

    Valve-dude (excited): “Oh we have so many cool things planned, maybe some new campaigns, monsters, etc.”

    Valve-dude finds out how the interview was published a month later and that the fans think he promised them that, he calls up the editor telling them they have to show the whole interview and the editor goes “Nah, this is much juicier. And we can’t tell our viewers we do things like this. If you ever tell anyone what you actually said, we will never talk about your games again!”. And Valve-dude figures “Oh well, the fans usually forget, editors don’t.”.

    I’m not saying I believe it was like this, just that this video doesn’t really add much to the discussion.

    And even if we just look at what they are saying in the clips shown in the video, I think it is quite strong to say that they promised specific things. There are a lot of “maybe”, “I think” and “We will see what feedback we get from the players” and not a lot of “We promise”. Some downloadable content sure, but exactly what and when, not so much.

    I think Shamus’s guess is pretty much how it went, maybe in addition with a bit of “the economy is going to hell and it’s affecting us more than we thought. We have to put out a new game within a year or we’re not paying salaries next year!”, combined with a bit of “we are giving them some downloadable content and a whole new game, they should be happy” (either forgetting or not realizing (that the fans think?) that they have promised specific new content). Now that they are aware of it, the response is “Trust us!”, hoping for some time to get together a new campaign or something, not “We screwed up!”. Should they tell the fans what happened? Sure. Would I expect it from any company? Not really.

    Oh my, how did I produce this much text, about something I don’t know much about and care even less about (except that Shamus cares). Did I even manage to offend either side?

  39. Kalbron says:

    The only thing about this article that bugs me is the suggestion that campaigns take a huge amount of manpower and time to create and test. Give any community a proper toolset for building levels and you’re pretty much guaranteed dozens upon dozens of custom levels within months, many of which will be far better than the originals. Some of those better ones will have be thrown together by a single individual in only a matter of hours.

    This pretty much always happens, so it’s silly to suggest it would be different for L4D.

  40. MuonDecay says:

    I know people like to compare TF2, but that’s a bad comparison. A decent portion of the time the only fundamental changes are weapons, all of which use mechanics already in the game, with a few minor tweaks for effect. However the XBox gets these updates at a very delayed rate.

    Just from the patch notes that I have read while TF2 updates I assure you that there have been several significant changes to the game engine itself for TF2 and that these have gone over just fine.

    The team responsible for the xbox version of TF2 even had to put a reasonable amount of work in to keep the game within the console’s memory limitations with the new content and engine changes they had made. The TF2 DLC was nonetheless still free for owners of the xbox version, and this is despite Microsoft being fairly insistent that DLC for the xbox should come at a certain monetary cost.

    You make a perfectly valid argument, but Valve has already tackled the hurdles you speak of before; therefore it stands to reason that those points are not a significant reason for l4d2 to be a separately released game.

    Whatever the reasons are for this debacle, they are probably not this straightforward.

  41. Simplex says:

    I used to trust valve and assume their decisions make sense in the end. I stopped after the European Steam fiasco:
    http://www.steamunpowered.eu/index.php

  42. Jeff says:

    How much effort would it really have taken to pop in a new gun or two and a melee weapon?

    The only real change necessary, as far as I can tell, is animation. The rest would just be tweaking numerical values. Melee and the guns already exist – I suppose the difficulty would be fitting it into the game’s weapon spawning code.

    Even a short campaign – perhaps opening up the light house connection area, and a toy or two would have pretty much silenced all possible complaints.

    “We gave you a campaign.” “It’s not as good.” “It’s just a bonus campaign – it even says right there, Bonus Episode.”
    “We gave you some shiny guns.” “Wee!”
    “…and a frying pan.” “Awesome!”

    Just link it to L4D2. “To celebrate the upcoming release of L4D2, we have a bonus episode for L4D, with a shiny new gun and baseball bat!”

    Sure, it’s not exactly what’s promised, but it makes you sound generous and awesome, and nobody would complain.

    Heck, you could secretly use it as a testing area to see how people react now that they have melee weapons.

    As opposed to “That’s all you get, now here’s the next one.” which will definitely result in this sort of response.

  43. Kerin says:

    @Alex Ponebshek: Ad hominem is rather specifically when you are trashing the source’s credibility to weaken their message. Shamus is criticising their sensationalist methods and the framing of their message, which (quite legitimately) damages the source’s credibility and undermines their collective character.

    I’ve had clashes with the blogger in question before, but Shamus is pretty muchly a reasonable individual. It isn’t necessary to take such pains to misconstrue everything the man says.

  44. BikeHelmet says:

    Good article. Didn’t bother to read the comments as they’re far too long.

    Two things:
    1) Valve promised more content, so they should deliver. I understand delivery dates get mushed around, but so long as I get another campaign shortly before or after L4D2 is out, I’d be quite happy.

    2) An alternative is a discount for L4D buyers. If it only costs $30, I’d snap it up in an instant.

    Don’t forget that many content-filled games(like WoW) cost an arm and a leg. $180/yr; potentially $750. I won’t fret over $50 + $50 for L4D/L4D2. While L4D has less content, it is still giving me lots of enjoyment for the price.

    Though like I said, a discount would be nice. ;)

  45. Irridium says:

    The could probably rehash existing campaigns.

    All of L4D’s campaigns look like they can be reworked into new paths, and they may be able to update the AI director through a patch, essentially making L4D new again. Blood Harvest alone could have a crapload of other paths.

  46. Dice says:

    The only thing that really bugs me about this, is the fact that I bought L4D about a month ago. I could have waited for, and purchased, the sequel if it was coming out not to long after the original.

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