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Risky Business: why Half-Life 3 might never release, even though we desperately want it

Jonathan Lester
Half Life 2 Episode 3, Half-Life 3, Steam, Valve

Risky Business: why Half-Life 3 might never release, even though we desperately want it

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.

Risky Business: why Half-Life 3 might never release, even though we desperately want it

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!

Add a comment12 comments
davidpanik  Jan. 6, 2014 at 13:43

I totally agree - if HL3 does ever materialize, there's a very real chance of disappointment. Not that I'm saying Valve would deliver a sub-standard product, but there's almost no way it could live up to the vision we've all built up in our imaginations now.

What I would very much like to see though, is a conclusion to the story. Half-Life 2, Episode 3. Just a few more levels, running on the same engine - no massive departure. BUT JUST WRAP UP THE DAMN STORY!

Quietus  Jan. 6, 2014 at 15:39

I guess at the time, however, the same could have been argued for Half Life 2.

JonLester  Jan. 6, 2014 at 15:40

@Quietus: hence why we hope that Valve will defy conventional logic again. ;)

Last edited by JonLester, Jan. 6, 2014 at 15:42
Rubisco  Jan. 6, 2014 at 16:06

If HL3 ever does come out then it'll also end on a cliffhanger so anyone hoping for closure might as well give up now X)

Quietus  Jan. 6, 2014 at 16:55

Actually, it'll just be the G-Man laughing with his pinkie to his lips, just like Dr Evil.:D

TungstenShark  Jan. 6, 2014 at 17:31

The thing is that video games are an artistic endeavour not just a commercial one, so I have issues with the idea of -

"the key is to just continue to follow where the customers are leading"
because it's another way of saying we'll make more money doing X rather than Y. You can also tell that from the language used. Finishing, or continuing, the Half Life story is just "level design", while setting up a glorified eshop becomes "designing social multi-player experiences". I don't seriously have any objection to Steam but I also want Valve to have artistic integrity otherwise they're on the road to being another big faceless corporation.

Last edited by TungstenShark, Jan. 6, 2014 at 17:33
musicrabbie  Jan. 6, 2014 at 21:51

Valve aren't doing HL3 because they haven't got the resources; they spend alot of effort on multiplayer games (too much in my view) and have a small matter of getting an OS out. Based on bug fixing progress with that it'll be a year or 2 before they get around to some decent new content. Shame.

SSke  Jan. 7, 2014 at 14:27

The original HL players will be dying of old age soon enough and the new generation of players doesn't even know what HL means.

noblanq  Jan. 7, 2014 at 16:12

the truth is they are waiting for the exact time ... not all the people have a performant 32 GBRAM, 4.20/3.80 GHz processor and 1GB speed Buffer hard drives...cost a lot...and are something like beta...maybe the half life 3 ..or episode 3 (the **** doesn't matter) will be like Call of Duty Ghosts..28 gb memory and requirements are someting god/****/****-like...enourmous...i am from Romania,...and i honestly know what it means to write a story and make a **** game after it..and put it togheter..i thing that valve will release the game somewhere the fall of 2014...or the fall of 2015...just wait for it...paciently...maybe in 2015 will have flying cars for the Gods name...we are not far...

Last edited by noblanq, Jan. 7, 2014 at 16:14
Late  Jan. 7, 2014 at 16:43

...just wait for it...paciently...maybe in 2015 will have flying cars for the Gods name...we are not far...

Even "Back to the Future 2", with it's hoverboards and fission-powered flying cars wouldn't dare to claim we'll have Half Life 3 by 2015... ;)

Trippy9Trilby  Feb. 3, 2014 at 15:20

We'll never see it and we should all just get over it.

curlyboi  Jan. 2, 2015 at 14:26

even today i would take another source-based (im talking source 1, as in hl2 and episodes) sequel. i dont care too much about ultra realistic graphics, i care about the story and amusing gameplay. not to mention not needing to buy a new computer just for new game.

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