When I was invited to go to Valve’s Headquarters last week I was primarily excited to visit the studio of what I consider to be one of the greatest gaming companies of our time. As I learned from my first trip to E3, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the industry in person.
In addition, there was also a part of me that was hoping to meet Gabe Newell for my first time. After all, in the world of PC gaming, there is no figure of greater significance.
Sure enough, after an hour of speaking to the developers behind Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike out came Newell himself. Dressed in a white long sleeve shirt and jeans, he would speak to us for more than two hours. Here is what I learned.
He’s a risk taker
During the virtual reality portion of our interview, Newell spent a great deal of time talking about where he sees the technology going. He made clear that he believes it has tremendous potential, although it’s still unclear if it will ever be a real moneymaker. In fact, he went as far as to mention that there is a chance that virtual reality will turn out to be a failure in the long run. But that’s okay, because in his words experimentation is the only way forward.
Shigeru Miyamoto and other industry legends were brought up during the conversation, and used as an example of people who took risk to try to realize new experiences. Newell sees himself and Valve as risk takers open to trying new things knowing there is a chance for a breakthrough. These breakthroughs don’t happen often, but apparently they are worth the investment.
He’s incredibly intelligent
Newell has been working in the industry for multiple decades, but even then I was impressed. This is a guy who spends a great deal of time learning about game design, engineering, and the business side of gaming. Made better, he’s able to communicate in a way that is both thought-provoking and easy to understand.
When Newell speaks everyone listens with great intent, including the most veteran employees of Valve. You never know what you’ll learn from listening to him share his opinion.
He isn’t always right
Newell has made some big bets over the years, and a large number of them have had a positive outcome. But that doesn’t mean that he’s always right
In one particular example, Newell described how he expected the Nintendo DS to fail, beaten to a pulp by the Sony PSP. As we now know, the DS is the best-selling piece of gaming hardware in history alongside the PlayStation 2. And the PSP? Well, it did okay.
He’s a real person
The overwhelming number of memes on the Internet have painted Newell as a mythological being of sorts. As someone that sees these memes on the regular, part of me was expecting a greater than life figure.
But when Newell walked into the room, it was as if any person of significance had done so. He dresses casually, listens carefully to whoever speaking, and is respectful. That said, he’s well aware of how well-known he is, made clear by his brief two word introduction at the start of our interview when everyone else was saying much more.
He’s always thinking into the future
Each press member at the event walked away with considerably valuable knowledge after listening to Newell speak. He talked about 200Hz virtual reality screens, how keyboard and mouse aren’t the end-all be-all input method, wireless virtual reality, and plenty more.
The thing is, Newell spends a lot less time concerned about the reality of today, and is much more focused on what could change tomorrow.
You can learn more about our visit in our four-part Valve Interview Roundtable.