Valve’s Gabe Newell loves VR, but realizes it could be a “complete failure”

Valve is one of the biggest gaming developers in the world, and unlike many of its rivals and contemporaries, it is fully supportive of the current virtual reality trend. It developed the SteamVR platform that is being used for the HTC Vive headset, and it is working on three full VR games on its own. Yet in a recent interview, Valve founder Gabe Newell did admit that their VR efforts might not succeed.

In a round-table interview with the press that was attended by Polygon,  Newell stated:

We’re optimistic. We think VR is going great. It’s going in a way that’s consistent with our expectations. We’re also pretty comfortable with the idea that it will turn out to be a complete failure. If you don’t try things that don’t fail you probably aren’t trying to do anything very interesting. So we hope that we’ll find stuff that gamers will say is awesome and is a huge leap forward.

Newell also said in that same chat that he believes PC gaming is still locked in the old fashioned mouse-and-keyboard control and interface. He said that there are “opportunities to build much more interesting kinds of experiences for gamers” and that virtual reality could be one of them.

Valve is certainly a developer that is open to trying new things. The launch of its Steam service for purchasing and downloading full PC and Mac games was perhaps its greatest risk, and it came at a time when many in the industry thought the PC game platform was on its last legs. Steam, almost by itself, turned that around by letting publishers and developers bypass brick-and-mortar retail stores in favor of selling and downloading PC games directly. As a result, Steam is now the biggest online store for PC games by far, and it has helped to bring not only its own titles but ones from indie game developers into the spotlight.

However, the company has not seen much success from its SteamOS efforts. Launched as a beta in December 2013, the Linux-based OS was Valve’s attempt to compete with Windows as a platform for PC gaming. Indeed, Newell said in 2013 that he thought “Linux and open source are the future of gaming”. In 2015, a number of PC makers, including Dell, launched Steam Machines, or PCs that had SteamOS pre-installed. However, gaming performance on SteamOS and Steam Machines were found to be much slower compared to Microsoft’s Windows 10. Valve has done little to promote SteamOS since 2015, and hasn’t revealed any numbers on how many Steam Machines have been sold. However, it does seem extremely unlikely at this stage that SteamOS will supplant Windows for PC gaming.

So, what’s the lesson from all this? Valve is still a hugely influential game developer and its Steam platform will continue to be a massive success, for both gamers and developers. However, their “all in” move into virtual reality is still in its early stages and, as we have seen with SteamOS, it may not turn out the way Gabe Newell or Valve think it will.

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