Gabe Newell on the PS3: Fact Checking!!!

Gabe Newell, captured while looking at Google Reader Friday.

You’ve probably read over the last couple days that apparently Gabe Newell says the PS3 Is Like A GameCube. The quote that’s been going around doesn’t make any sense, though, but everyone assumes he’s slagging on the PS3 as usual. Taking the quote at face value, however, it’s hard to understand what he’s trying to express.

Well, to know what’s going on you actually have to go listen to the original podcast of the interview itself over at 5by5. Spoilers: if he’s knocking the PS3, he’s also knocking the Xbox 360, since they are functionally identical in the way they operate counter to his vision.

I can tell you, having listened to the full interview and not simply cut and pasted a snippet from VG24/7 or Destructoid or whatever, that Gabe is actually trying to explain why getting Steam on Mac was more important to Valve than getting Valve games on PS3. His basic argument is that consoles operate under a dying business model and that open platforms like PCs and Mac, where there is no gatekeeper for content, are better for innovation and the industry. He says launching Mac on Steam is more of an investment in the world 5 years from now than it is about immediate profits. I think there is also an element of Valve wanting to stake a claim on games distribution for the Mac before Apple gets a chance to monopolize the OSX market with a desktop version of their app stores.

But he is tap-dancing pretty fast trying to avoid getting into a real discussion about PS3 development, and whether that makes sense for his company. I think at this point Valve probably wishes they had just made the engineering investment in porting Source to the PS3 3 or 4 years ago, just like they did for the 360. And it’s hard to justify the expense now without a major product to hang it on. There just isn’t tons of money to be made on new releases of their back catalog. I think Valve simply feels they’ve missed the boat on the PS3, perhaps having miscalculated on how well it would be selling by now. For the time being, they are just living with that decision. There’s even a sense that Gabe probably gets shit even from his own employees over the command decision to ignore PS3 development and he just wishes the topic would go away.

But when you think about the advent of Intel-based Macs (with built in nVidia GPUs as a baseline), porting Steam and the Source Engine to OSX is a lot easier than porting any given game to the PS3. Couple that with the promise of making money, not just from selling their own games to Mac owners, but by getting a piece of every single game sold through Steam to Mac owners, it’s not hard to see why they would prioritize Steam for Mac over Portal 2 for PS3.

Technically, everything else is already on the PS3 anyway, via the crappy version of the Orange Box produced by EA. If Valve is developing some major, new IP, I think a solid PS3 version is in order, but they’ve burned a lot of bridges with the Half-life brand on the PS3, so Ep 3 and Portal 2 are not nearly so compelling a prospect for PS3 owners.

But the most important lesson here is: when some blog post a quick, controversial and borderline psychotic quote from a major game developer with little to no explanation, it’s always a good idea to trying and find your way back to the source before flying off the handle and filling the thread with 1500 comments of vitriolic lunacy.