Why Doesn't Valve Spill The Beans On Episode 3?

There’s few things us gamers anticipate more than a big game release. It starts when you first see and hear about the game, and you make a mental note to keep an eye on it. A few trailers later, an official release date is announced and you begin to get excited. As the time edges closer and closer, the eagerness to get your hands on it continues to grow, and before you know it, your coughing down the phone to your boss and telling him about your “gastrointestinal issues” and hoping they don’t connect the dots.

Half Life 2: Episode Three is perhaps the most anticipated gaming work in progress that doesn’t have an official release date. That’s not the only question either; very little is known about what to expect from it or even how far along it is. Episode 3 is a riddle in many ways: What does everyone know about, yet know nothing about?

Even Harry Potter fans, whilst waiting on the original series, had a ballpark figure on when to expect the next book. For Valve’s unfortunate fans, the silence is excruciating. What was supposed to be six to eight month wait has blown out to over three years. That the game can continue to generate so much interest, despite how little effort Valve puts into actively marketing it, is quite a testament to both it’s quality and the dedication of it’s fans.

The community is understandably annoyed at the lack of communication from Valve and recently decided to do something about it, organising a “Play Half Life 2” event last weekend. The idea was that all the people looking forward to Episode 3 would play Half Life 2 on the same day and, via a large spike in the games activity log through Steam, remind Gabe Newell, Valve’s endearing co-founder and managing director, that there are a whole bunch of people eager for news. Unfortunately, despite the 15,000+ turn out, it didn’t change anything, and fans are just in the dark as before.

Ironically, it may be the fans who are their own worst enemy.

In an advertising paradox, Valve gets more people talking about it the less they talk about it. Their marketing strategies encourage fans to spread the word for them, like the alternate reality games they employed to promote Portal 2. They create a trail to follow, and let the community spread the word as they encourage friends to get on board. Forum threads, Facebook statuses and tweets will spring up all over the place as the Internet seemingly unites as one to solve it. Simple, elegant and extremely effective.

Even though they nearly always do the right thing by their customers, which seems rare these days amongst the heavyweight corporations in the publishing industry, they are still a business. Think about it from Valve’s perspective, why on Earth would they put any effort into informing the community regarding Episode 3′ s progress, when they generate so much interest by keeping quiet?

It’s not an entirely bad thing. If it was just about another other developer, we’d probably already given up, but Valve’s fantastic ability to engage with the community has allowed us to have some fun with it. Valve time is a meme all of itself, and no matter how many times someone publicly asks Gabe “When will Episode 3 be released?” we’ll have a chuckle. Having so little to go on creates a breeding ground for rumors and theories. As it stands, the possibilities, like discussion on the subject, are endless. Is it on an alien world? Will Portal be incorporated somehow? Will we still be able to throw stuff around with the grav gun, or perhaps they’ll find some way to top that particularly fun tool?

While the lack of information is frustrating, the community isn’t without options. Though we can imagine a number of reasons why Valve is staying Mum on the subject, the free publicity is an undeniable factor. That publicity is generated by you, me and everyone else who has an interest, and doing so is a pro-active processes.

You want to hear more about Episode 3? Stop talking about. Stop thinking about it. Stop rewarding behaviour you don’t like. If you want to take it really far, boycott Steam and the Mann Co. store in Team Fortress 2. In either case, that’s something Valve will notice.

Having said that, part of me feels like we would lose something sans Episode 3 hype. Maybe it’s just because Valve is so good at getting in our heads, but it seems to me that we enjoy being able to have a laugh at Valve’s and Episode 3’s expense. To lose that would be like if people stopped photo-shopping cats, and who’d want an Internet like that?

What a typical Lolcat of today may look like when Episode 3 is released.

What a typical Lolcat of today may look like when Episode 3 is released.

I think it’s because part of what we love about games, and indeed life in general, is the anticipation we feel looking forward to something, especially when we share that anticipation with others. Be it a sporting world cup or the next triple A gaming title, we engage with a community that shares our excitement.

The other night, I had a dream that a game had broken street. I leapt out of bed and started getting dressed when I suddenly realised “It was a dream. Dumbarse”. I updated my Facebook status to that effect, which sparked up a delightful conversation between myself and my fellow geeks who empathised with my desire to play.

I’m sure you’ve all had a similar experience, perhaps also on the eve of a game’s release, talking excitedly with friends about what your looking forward to, or just gaming in general, having a laugh about that time your mate smashed a light globe with a Wii remote. There’s nothing quite like being able to share our joy with others of like mind, and though we have to wait for Episode 3, we can definitely have fun with it.