There’s an old joke in gaming circles that Valve can’t count to three. The meat of this, of course, is in the evidence that the developer seems to only make two games in a mainline series before moving on. Team Fortress, Portal and Left 4 Dead all fit this pattern and, up until now, Half-Life has too. Enter Half-Life: Alyx.
Yes, for a lot of years Valve has been frustrating fans by resting on its Steam-powered laurels and counting its Scrooge McDuck-like piles of money but, at last, they have deigned to offer gamers the highly anticipated, 3rd Half-Life game that they’ve been asking for for over a decade. Unfortunately, it happens to be a VR exclusive.
That’s right, Valve is finally giving gamers the holy grail of sequels we thought we would never get, and it’s only being marketed to a microcosm of the population. And we don’t come by this statement lightly. As it stands in 2019 only around 11% or 13% of gamers own or use VR at the moment. To make matters worse, a sizable chunk of those paltry figures are almost certainly PSVR owners, and that platform won’t even be seeing a release of Half-Life: Alyx.
Now, the argument can be made that Valve has been a vastly cynical company for the better part of the last decade and, as such, it isn’t really all that surprising that they’ve opted for this strategy. After all, with the launch of Valve Index and SteamVR, what better way to get gamers digging into their pockets then with a highly-coveted sequel that they’ve been asking for since 2007? No, like any well-meaning parent, then, we’re not so much surprised by Valve’s actions — we’re just disappointed.
There were so many better ways to go about this. Half-Life: Alyx could have easily been released as a Steam and PC exclusive with little blowback, after all Half-Life 2 was initially released this way when Steam first launched back in 2004. Another path would be to follow Capcom’s strategy for Resident Evil VII: releasing both VR and standard versions of the game and letting consumers decide which to opt for.
Instead Valve is attempting to strongarm gamers into purchasing pricey hardware with their most valuable IP as the bargaining chip. Never mind that the minimum specs for Half-Life: Alyx are rather high, even for those few who already own a Steam compatible VR headset. The shorthand here is that even the people Valve is marketing to will likely have to pony up extra cash in order to enjoy the game.
Now, the PC market is a different beast in this regard, much more prone to upgrading their rigs for this or that must-have game. Still, with the game price being a likely $60, VR headset thrown in for $500-800, and the requisite upgrades, gamers looking to play Half-Life: Alyx might be looking to pay as much as $1200+ to play something many of them have been looking forward to for over a decade.
So, while competitors like Epic Games lead with ethical choices and developer benefits, Valve hasn’t changed. Rather they’re leaning further into the practices that have rightfully earned them derision and resentment for years. Now the latest Half-Life game isn’t just a pipe dream for the majority of gamers but an extravagant expense designed with only the top earners of the gaming population in mind. The rest of us are left to either rake up a massive credit card debt or simply watch a stream of the game online. Shouldn’t we be asking for better from Valve?