Gabe Newell has gone on record to explain why Half-Life 2 Episode 3 or Half Life 3 still haven't materialised, suggesting that it just hasn't been a priority for the company over the last few years. It's illuminating stuff, but explaining the 'how' is only half the story. Reading between the lines, we reckon that the reason for their reticence to deliver is likely due to a simple matter of potential reward... versus potential risk.
In fact, logic suggests that never releasing Half-Life 3 might be the smart play, at least from a business perspective. Even though we desperately want an announcement during their CES presentation.
First off: the official line. Speaking to the Washington Post, Newell outlined the reasoning behind Half-Life 3's current hiatus - suggesting that they had other more important concerns to work on. "When we started out we were a single-player video game company that could have been really successful just doing Half-Life sequel after Half-Life sequel, but we collectively said let’s try to make multiplayer games even though there’s never been a commercial successful multiplayer game.
“Then we tried to do Steam. There were a bunch of people internally who thought Steam was a really bad idea, but what they didn’t think was that they would tell the people who were working on Steam what to do with their time. They were like “that’s what you want to do with your time, that’s fine, but we’re going to spend our time working on Half-Life 2. We think you’re kind of wasting your time, but it’s your time to waste.”
“So, if somebody becomes the group manager of X, they’re going to really resist it when X is not what you want to do in the next round of games. You don’t want them to sort of burrow into that – you want them to recognize that being really good at Half-Life level design is not as nearly as valued as thinking of how to design social multi-player experiences. You’ve had them feel like they have an organization and title tied up to something when the key is to just continue to follow where the customers are leading.”
“We definitely in a sense have an army of customers who are always helping us stay honest…,” Newell concluded. “We’ve essentially crowd-sourced supervision of a lot of these decisions to our customers and it works way better than almost any other system we could design. They’re rabid, they’re passionate, and there are a lot of them.”
There certainly are, and we're among them. Braying loudly for some story resolution and some sweet Polaris action.
However, we can't help but wonder if there's a simpler reason why Half-Life 3 has taken so long... and may in fact never see the light of day. It all boils down to simple risk vs reward.
Of course, the obvious reward is money. Great heaped sackfuls of filthy lucre. Something that any company would like in abundance, but something Valve already has in near-infinite supply thanks to Steam. Beyond that, Half-Life 3 might convince a few more holdouts to sign up to Steam, which would arguably be useful since the Steam Machines and SteamOS are just around the corner.
So what about the potential downsides? Surely there couldn't be any risk to releasing Half-Life 3 whatsoever? Well... there is one. Disappointment.
Half-Life 3 will have its work cut out. It follows one of the most beloved shooters of all time, a game that many hail as perfect. It follows years of insane hype and demand. As such, it would have to be nothing short of perfect just to live up to our completely unrealistic expectations, both in terms of graphics, gameplay and the all-important storyline. All three will have to be peerless. This would already be a big ask, but the fact is that our hopes are so impossibly high that even a superb game would probably end up disillusioning a large and vocal proportion of the fanbase, and ding Valve's reputation in the process - not to mention that of the series.
Compared to just earning more money - something they already have pouring in by the bucketload - this potential pitfall is risky business. After all, Half-Life 3 is arguably more useful as something that might release down the line, a figurehead to keep us guessing and continually keeping Valve in the news as more 'leaks' and hoaxes emerge. The logical safe option is just to concentrate on other stuff. DotA 2, Left 4 Dead 3, hell, that Richochet sequel would be a laugh.
But you know what? Sod logic. Valve are known for flying in the face of conventional logic and smashing all expectations in the process. A strict DRM platform that we all love. A first-person puzzle platformer that works. Making Team Fortress 2 free and earning money from... hats. We still have high hopes for Half-Life 3, since taking the easy way out is absolutely not how Valve does business. Hopefully.
What do you want from Half-Life 3? Would you buy it? Or have you moved on and made your peace with the cliffhanger? Have your say in the comments!