The gamer’s God-send – Gabe Newell


The gaming community is a closely knit group, a mini-nation of its own, and Gabe Newell is nothing short of a revolutionary that stood for this nation of people. Revered worldwide for the introduction of a gaming distribution platform and user modifications to games, Newell completely transformed the gaming experience.

His journey, and that of his company,Valve Corporation, began when he decided to drop out of Harvard University. But what truly created this gaming legend was his experience with gaming early in life. Born in Seattle in 1962, the young Newell enjoyed playing games like Super Mario 64,which is “Still my favourite game of all time. I still have vivid memories of all the different levels. It convinced me that games were art,” Star Trek which was “the first video game I ever played… I was hooked,” and Doom which was “the game that made me rethink everything I thought about games – control systems, design, rendering. It convinced me that games were the future of entertainment.”

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Soon after dropping out of Harvard in 1983, he worked for Microsoft,where he developed its first three versions of Windows. After 13 years of his commitment to Microsoft, he finally decided to leave, inspired by Michael Abrash, who did the same to pursuehis own gaming ideas. Valve Corporation came into existence in 1996, when he co-founded it with his colleague, Mike Harrington (who, along with Newell, left Microsoft).

The Valve revolution

Valve’s debut game was Half-Life, a first person science fiction shooter game. Heralded for its superior graphics and smooth narrative, it rightfully bagged several ‘Game of the Year’ awards. After the success of Half-Life, Valve wanted to expand their multiplayer system. For this purpose, they began releasing game mods (modifications that users can apply to games to alter gaming operationsaccording to their needs). This became a huge hit among gamers as it gave them the liberty to mould their gaming experience. Because of the overwhelming response that mods generated, Valve released more for Half-Life. The most popular wasHalf-Life : Counter strike, which became a full-fledged independent game from a Counter Strike mod.

Another famed possession of the Valve Corporation was its Source game engine. Released first for Half-Life : Counter strike and then for Half-Life 2, Source was the replacement of their earlier game engine, GoldSrc. All their games, till date, have been based on this engine that allowed the implementation of noveltechnology during the development of each game. They also released Source SDK,which attracted moddersto Valve as flies to a lamp. It had the potential to become a standard tool to create new features like maps, and game characters.

What Valve is truly remembered for, and what made Newell a legend, is Steam – an application for software distribution.Valve found a way around thecomplications of digital rights and released this software in 2003. Suddenly, gamers had access to countless games,making Newell an overnight hero.Steam could be downloaded onto the system, and one simply had to create an account which opened the doors to an unbounded world of games and gamers. Steam now has over 75million active users and controls around 70 percentof the market of downloaded PC games. Valve also expanded into Steam Machine – computers built specifically forgaming with an OS of its own. Steam Box is another arm that has been extended into the console market.

The company faced some legal turbulence when Newell sued itspublisher, Sierra Entertainment, under the premise that they leaked Valve’s gaming software on the internet. Sierra fought back, claiming that Valve’s gaming distribution was in contradiction with their publishing agreement, and went on to seek intellectual property rights to Half-Life. The judge, however, ruled in favour of Valve, allowingNewell to carry on the distribution of Half-Life 2 through Steam. The company also went though many instances of network infiltration wherein hackers found their way into his email account, customer databases and community forums, and downloaded the codes of the unreleased Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Despite these troubled waters, Valve managed to not only stay afloat but also increase its commercial value. Post 2008, the company made many acquisitions and won awards as prominent game developers. Gabe Newell, and his company that became no less than an independent organism, incited a cult followingamong gamers – so much that a true gamer is marked by his awareness of this gaming legend.