back to article Popular gamers 'should play for free' – Valve boss

Yesterday I wrote about the desperate need for new ideas to flog digital music. The suppliers need to experiment, and not stand by the bean-counting, unit-sales mentality that's a hangover from the physical world. Valve boss Gabe Newell wants to get away from the subscription straightjacket – and has floated an interesting idea …


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  1. Marvin the Martian

    $100 to piss all and sundry off?

    Seems a cheap source of entertainment --- annoy the hell out of a bunch of (half)strangers, for say 5h/week for say a year? 0.2/h! Best deal ever.

    1. G C M Roberts

      Life imitates art?

      I think at 120USD a year, Leeroy Jenkins has already done this </WoW reference>

      Mine's the coat with +6 to boring.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Hear that, El Reg?

      He's asking you to send a bill for his comment system subscription.

      Anon so I don't get one too.

  2. Tom 15

    Not sure...

    I'm not convinced by Gabe's argument but if anyone is worth listening to then it is Valve, especially with them being so ahead of the curve and owning Steam!

    1. Smallbrainfield

      I hope this is sarcasm.

      Steam can be a resource hog and having to connect to play games you've paid for is not to everyone's taste. I use it and it's great with Valve games, less so with some others. It's worth it for the occasional cheap offers though.

      Still waiting for Episode 3.

      1. StooMonster

        Resource Hog?

        Your resources really must be limited if Steam hogs them.

        Cannot disagree with the sentiment of still waiting for Episode 3 though.

        1. multipharious

          @StooMonster- Resource Hog? - Updates

          Yeah, that hits your I/O just a little bit if a game gets an update.

        2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: Resource Hog?

          No shortage of resources here, Steam is just !#$%ing slow.

  3. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    He'd better...

    ...pull his finger out and concentrate on the Episode 3.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Same Gabe?

    This is the same Gabe Newell that said XBOX Live was going to flop?

  5. lIsRT
    Thumb Up

    This could work, but probably not in the way he's thinking.

    Successfully impersonate (underage) girl.

    Play for free.

  6. Shakje

    This would actually make trolling a hundred times more fun.

    If Steam starts implementing it I won't complain, but doesn't seem that likely, does it?

  7. teebie

    Awful idea

    For any game that involves clans/guilds/whatever you upvote your guildmates and downvote your enemies ensuring any differences in strength are amplified.

    And some mmorpgs try to stop people spending real money to buy in-game items - adding a financial incentive to donating items won't help here.

  8. Barry Tabrah

    Yeah, but...

    I haven't got any friends.

    1. Andrew Moore

      Made me wonder too...

      Is there such a beast as a 'popular gamer'?

  9. GettinSadda

    Hang On...

    Just trying to get my head around this idea.

    So, the idea is to punish newbies and reward experienced gamers?

    Great business model:

    1) Alienate all your new customers in the hope of keeping the current ones happy;

    2) Give current customers a free service

    3) ???

    4) Profit!!!!

    1. Annihilator Silver badge


      Encouraging cliques is an inevitable outcome too. Usually made up of extremely arrogant players that mock new-comers and have their age-old "friends" to back them up.

    2. Paul Harrap

      not quite

      The idea is to punish trolls, sociopaths and asshats and reward helpful friendly people, encouraging a better atmosphere in-game.

      The last high-profile attempt to encourage a better atmosphere in-game was Blizzard's plan to remove the cloak of pseudo-anonymity off everyone. It was not terribly popular.

      1. Aaron Em

        But it won't work

        Because there's no rule that says "popular and also not an asshole". If it's just popularity, then as someone else already said, there's nothing to prevent the assholes from banding together, upvoting or otherwise improving one another's popularity value, and then the wheels come off because they have the power to drive everyone else away and then all you've got left for customers is a batch of dipshits who aren't paying anyway -- basically your game has become Encyclopedia Dramatica, and nobody wants that.

      2. HP Cynic

        Blizzard's idea lasted about 20 mins

        20 mins after a Moderator/Blizzard Staffer posted his real name as a test-case (telling the forums they had nothing to worry about) someone had posted his address and name of his wife and kids - certainly something along those lines. Blizzard hastily backtracked.

        Only a small proportion of people are actual nutjobs but with the internet sample size being so huge you don't want tempt fate and find yourself in disagreement with one of them: even if you are right, polite and helpful the key word here is "nutjob".

    3. Anton Ivanov
      Thumb Down

      Not quite

      The idea is to replicate the realities of playground dynamics.

      In a playground there is always a kid which is always picked for whatever is played and there is a kid which never gets a chance. That is the normal way things have been with apes ever since they started developing more complex social dynamics.

      The thing however which comes to my mind here is this

      DON'T LAUGH AT ME Lyrics

      Artist(Band):Peter, Paul & Mary

      I'm a little boy with glasses

      The one they call a geek

      A little girl who never smiles

      'Cause I have braces on my teeth

      And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep

      I'm that kid on every playground

      Who's always chosen last


      Sorry, we are _NOT_ juist apes any more. There has to be another way besides setting in stone the "always chosen first/last" paradigm.

  10. Desk Jockey


    Now I know why steam have that player rating system, presumably those caught cheating would be forced to pay extra under this idea while those with a good credit score (like me!) would get a discount? Not a bad idea, but I can just see people setting up new Steam accounts to get round it so it would not be easy to enforce.

    I don't think micropayments are broken. The Total War crowd have used Steam and micro-payments very successfully, EA lesser go, but that is because of their wider problems of being evil!

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      RE: Ratings

      ".....but I can just see people setting up new Steam accounts to get round it...." Worse, it would lead to chronic Steam account stealing. Who would need the worry of jail-time stealing credit card details when you could just run a brute force attack on the password of a "popular" player, then sell it on to some a$$hole? Would the authorities even prosecute for "popularity theft"? I'm betting most of the Steam accounts out there have weak passwords.

      I can also see problems with groups of those with "socially-unacceptable" views grouping together. A Dutch friend folded his Day of Defeat clan after it became clear a few members were stuffing it with neo-Nazis and using his resources to push anti-gay and anti-Semitic material. Under the "popular" system, those neo-Nazis could have down-voted anyone they disliked, and up-voted anyone with their nutty views.

      Considering Steam's most popular games are a "free" mod (Counter Strike / Condition Zero) of a commercial, pay-once game (Half-Life), you have to ask how they intend to charge for a "free" mod?

      1. Shakje


        because it's not free any more.

  11. Daggersedge

    A new horizon

    Gabe Newell should change his name to Charles-Antoine Donteuil and set up an MMORPG called Horizon. He should then put his popular and highly successful players on contract so that he could use them in advertisements for the games. They, as well, could sign autographs, make appearances at conventions, sign sponsorship deals for other products, etc. Of course, when marketing needs change, Donteuil - I mean, Newell - can always discard these players in unfair ways...

    Or perhaps he can look up the plot of a popular web TV series and see where this sort of thing leads to.

    1. Aaron Em

      Mind identifying the show?

      For the clueless among us, that is.

      1. Pollo
        Paris Hilton

        Or you could google it...

        Paris, cos she's been given some french stuff in the past I'm sure...

      2. Daggersedge

        There are things called search engines, you know

        The web series is Noob. It's in French, but there is a version with English subtitles. I don't know how good the translation is because I can understand French, so I don't need to watch it. Here's a link to the main site (in French):

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a brand new

    A brand new way to Grief people no?

    So I guess default price would be 3/4 price or you're shafting those people who play games for themselves and small groups of friends. You'd have to get a bad rep to pay full price and a good one to pay less.

    Still sounds like a fine way for clans to grief each other and anyone else they dislike, I could imagine the "grief someone random" days on 4chan.

    One of your big problem with gaming communities is a good few have a rather large juvenile fan base who sulk even if you do something legitimate, then take the whine out of the game onto forums and to mods and they'll use the mechanic to screw legit players. I ice you in a pvp zone because you happen to be there and look viable and I take your stuff, it isn't personal, you should be more careful. Of course sometimes it is personal, those people that stand around ranting and raving, now they're fair game.

    Sure I'd be out of order if I were playing happy ponies of lala land, fun and frolics. Or World of Ponies. But I'm not.

    Anyway it'd be interesting to see how the idea fleshes out, as at the moment it just sounds a bit meh. Also there are a number of games that discount you if you introduce new players anyway.

    1. Dr Insanity

      Richard's War Cry

      FOR PONY!!!!

      That is all

  13. David 66


    I do not like subsidising discounts for other people, nor would I expect others to subsidise me. But then again, I don't play games like I used to.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh look

    An oligopolist wants to do some market fixing. Snapping the demand elastic of your pricing pants.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "Snapping the demand elastic of your pricing pants"

      I don't know what it means, but I can't wait to use it in a conversation...

  15. andybird123

    problem is...

    there are plenty of "get your friend to sign up and we'll give you free month/vouchers/other gubbins types schemes out there, kind of surprised no one has thought of applying it to MMO's before

    what he seems to be suggesting too though is "get x number of people to sign up and you play for free indefinitely"

    personally I'd get pretty irked if one of my mates got me to sign up to something at full price and then he got it for free indefinitely as a result

    they would also have to link your accounts so that if people only paid for 1 month then quit you'd lose your Free for Life status or they'd end up with a game with 100% free for life accounts and no one paying pretty quickly

    largely irrelevant to me as I refuse to sign up to anything with a subscription anymore anyway having played and gotten bored of so many mmo's

    what would possibly entice me back is a lower cost option where you get x hours for a smaller fee so that if I get a new FPS and don't play all month I don't get billed, then when I come back for a bit I can do so without getting charged the full £10 or whatever and having to remember to turn it on and off, rather than getting billed for 2 months at full whack where i don't play much and then realise I'm wasting money and quit the game altogether

    like the underground oyster card - if you only make 1 journey you only pay for 1 journey, but if you make loads of journeys you still only pay the "day travel card" rate

    1. Dave Murray

      Someone already has

      The EVE Online Buddy Program - frree time in an MMO for signing up your friends

  16. Chris Lowe


    The photo in the linked Develop article looks curiously like Peter Griffin.

  17. Smallbrainfield
    Paris Hilton

    I agree with rewarding committed gamers

    but voting for popular players (something of an oxymoron in most of the games I've played online) seems doomed to fail, abused by players that can and despised by players that can't.

    I'm sure some sort of reward for gamers that play a lot would be better (Nintendo already thought of this with their stars vouchers given away in Wii and DS games), which players can put towards new games.

    That said, I'm happy when I get a new weapon or a hat in TF2. Maybe hats are the way to go, with lumps of coal for the trolls.

    Paris, because she may or not be popular with gamers.

  18. Dark Horse


    So... basically, it'll be a pyramid scheme?

  19. HP Cynic

    Risky Idea

    Sure the price model might need a rethink but imagine the legal wrangling when Little Timmy is judged "unpopular" and has to pay "$100" for something his sister gets for free.

    All kinds of wormcans will open: racism, sexism, ageism, language barriers and so on.

  20. The Alpha Klutz

    My solution to this problem.

    Is a way for people to get together and buy a cheap volume license for a game or gaming service. A way that does not require any member of the group to expose his or her personal details (e.g. home address of banking) to any other member of the group. The number of people in the group determines the price break.

    What should happen is that the game company has a website where you can create a page for your group of volume licence candidates. As the group moderator, you approve or reject each person who attempts to join (based on whatever personal info they decide to make available to you, the moderator, for the purpose of making that decision - e.g. a username in most cases).

    Each person who does join sets 2 flags, a price and a date. Essentially signing an agreement that "I agree to pay for the game if the price comes down to £xx.xx or less by xx/xx/xx". As insurance, the game company holds banking details for each member, but only until the date they allow. After that, if no transaction is made, the account details are erased and they are removed from the group.

    In order to get the best discounts, people would need to organise on a forum, on Facebook, or anywhere else. All of them agreeing the same (or similar) maximum price and deadline beforehand so that they know they all get the price they want. To facilitate this, the price breaks need to be public knowledge and the moderator can kick people who set unreasonable prices and dates.

    If the conditions set by the two flags are true for every user in the group at any time, the transactions all go through, they are all emailed their licences, and the group (plus all personal details) is securely erased.

    Sounds like a lot of effort, so the discounts better be good.

    1. The Alpha Klutz

      Further to my idea:

      1. If you already have a subscription licence (as in the case of a licence to play online for a year), any licence you acquire through the VLG* will be prorated so that you only pay for what you need. That way, you are not reliant on someone making a group at the exact time your licence is due for renewal.

      2. My idea would be an excellent way to promote and sell a game months before release. It gives people ample time to organise, and assures that they all have licences on release day. It could potentially boost sales.

      *Volume Licence Group.

  21. seidr
    Black Helicopters

    Not convinced

    Is this actually a serious idea, or just a bit of 'look we're still nice guys' fluff in case anyone should be tempted to launch DDoS attacks on the Steam servers like we've recently seen on Sony and others.

    I can't see it being in any way workable. For one, they'd be sued in an instant. For example, I've met a number of people online who are on the autistic spectrum whose condition could easily lead to them being considered 'unpopular' due to their difficulties managing social interaction. Is Valve prepared to start discriminating against people on the grounds of their disability, and risk the legal consequences? Some people are trolls and griefers, of course, but some are just socially inept - how do you tell the difference? And who tells the difference? There's a pretty big risk of abuse of the system if they'd plan to rely on players identifying who they like and dislike.

    And how long before the shiny happy people who are playing cheaper, or for free, become viewed as little more than shills for the company? I'd certainly feel a little uncertain at a recommendation from someone who's discount relies on the company's goodwill towards them. And that's not good for the game developers either, if all the popular people playing their game become wary of criticizing it or pointing out flaws in case they suddenly find themselves paying full price again.

  22. Thomas 4

    I think people are overcomplicating it

    Take Heroes of Newerth as an example.

    This is a game filled with some of the most wretched and evil people I have ever played with (and this is coming from someone who played EvE Online). Trolls, griefers and asshats are a growth industry in this game and woe betide any poor newbie that makes a mistake. A system such as the one described by Gabe would do wonders for this game and could be surprisingly simple.

    The reductions should only be reserved for players who really go the extra mile to help the community, with guides, a popular and helpful forum presence, etc, not the "10 clan mates allow Y to play free". As for the price increases, putting this in the hands of the players would be like handing primates the key to the shit slinging factory. No, the way I would see it working is in the hands of GMs and so on - a player that has verified and repeated reports of griefing or being a rude and arrogant fuckwit gets to pay more. If his behaviour improves, the price comes back down.

  23. The Alpha Klutz

    "a player that has verified and repeated reports of griefing or being rude [..] gets to pay more."

    Which means that you must have a way to track said player (reliably, so that they can't assume a new identity and start paying the regular price again).

    And if it's possible to track them, it's possible to ban them.

    So why not just do that? Evidently these rude players are not worth having as customers if they put other people off.

  24. Tinal
    Thumb Down

    This is terrible.

    Only people who get upset over words on the internet and their own inability to ignore idiots would support this terrible terrible plan.

    What happens if some kid is unpopular at school because they're a geek? They have to pay more for video games because all the cool kids at school voted them as an unpopular gamer? What if that kid was already poor and could barely afford games to begin with? Way to ensure he'll never get any enjoyment out of his pathetic childhood.

    You think this will punish the griefers (who will all just vote each other up anyways) but all this is going to do is marginalize people who don't deserve it.

  25. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Would -this- work?

    Popular player = other players pay for the privilege of playing the game with you. This discouts or zeroes your own game playing fees.

    As for jerks-pay-extra-to-get-to-be-jerks - no. How about, other players get to choose whether to put you on audio or not. If you're a jerk, no one wants to play with you: maybe play against you.

  26. Peter H. Coffin

    Pay for voice?

    We're setting aside that the Steam overlay/shell/interface/"interfering whatsit" already provides a free in-game voice chat system, right? Do try to keep up with your own product, Gabe...

    1. Steve Evans

      re: pay for voice

      ...a feature I switched off within the first 20 minutes after discovering I seem to be playing on a server full of high pitched teens with all the communication skills of a three year old... Aka a constant, one-way stream of incomprehensible babble.

      The total inability to adjust a microphone level correctly (even though a pretty level indicator is provided) can lead to only one conclusion, they are all deaf from the terrible music they listen to these days... So in conclusion Simon Cowell has destroyed multiplayer online game communication.

      I think you'll find my theory is solid.

  27. Andy Farley
    Black Helicopters

    Gabe, where's Half Life 3?

    Where's Half Life 3? Where's Half Life 3 Gabe?


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      Where's Half Life 3 Gabe?

  28. ArkhamNative
    Thumb Down

    Gabe goes splat

    I thought he might be serious until he mentioned the jerks and $100. Gabe more than anyone (because he runs STEAM) should know that there are more than enough jerks with $100 to completely overwhelm his whole network, and with lawyers to recover that money 1000-fold should they get banned for violating ToS after paying $100 to be exempted from certain clauses in the ToS.

    But for the discount part, how does he plan to rate players? Any metric he can devise can be gamed, especially by rabid gamers. The mediocre/casual/solo may find their prices going up just by attrition.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice try...

    But I think what he's trying to sneak through the door is the subscription model to replace the one time purchase retail model. You can't have the "nice guys play for free" idea without subscription, how else do you know he's a nice player if he doesn't already play it?!

  30. Gith

    not a bad outline proposal from valve

    whilst not covering every possible angle, its nice to hear valve's outline of a reward system for 'good players'.

    Obviously, prior to the discounts being given, some background checking would go on - its a bit naive to think that just because a clan voted their own members up, it would give them a guaranteed insta-discount on all games.

    Also, i don't feel this is a persecution of new players - it's an incentive not to be a dickwad - something which plainly hasnt been made available or indeed addressed up to press =)

  31. Lamont Cranston

    Who decides who's popular?

    Gabe Newell, or the die-hard loonies who spend their whole lives on-line? I can probably live without the approval of either.

    Much like the music industry, maybe Valve should concentrate on producing quality games, that people will be prepared to pay for? This endless shift to on-line play, subscriptions and DLC (for a extra fee), leaves me rather cold.

  32. Katie Saucey


    instead of creating a new account + changing my IP every time I get the perma-ban (yeah, I'm one of those fuckers) I can just shell out some cash? I'm in. Internets gamers beware bahahahah!

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