How Valve Has Fallen: From Half-Life to Dota Underlords

Valve’s created many moments that will remain engraved in players’ minds for the rest of their lives. It was Gabe Newell’s company that created indisputable classics such as the Half-Life and Portal series, not to mention being at the helm of video game digital distribution platforms with Steam.

But those days are a thing of a distant past. Valve isn’t the trendsetter that it used to be and seems content with following a new trend, resorting to game designs that lack the flair that Gordon Freeman once brought us. Valve seems to be following the money, instead of striving for innovation and brilliance like it once did.

It only takes a quick glance at the studio’s latest releases to realize that despite its huge success, Dota 2 was heavily inspired by League of Legends. I’m willing to give Valve a free pass for that, but fast forward a few years to Artifact and we see Valve’s attempt to set foot in one of the latest and most profitable trends; the digital collectible card game. Hearthstone was the obvious game to beat, but Blizzard’s colossal CCG didn’t feel the blow, not even in the slightest.


Where Do We Go from Here?

Artifact’s colossal failure wasn’t entirely expected, but putting a price tag on a game in a genre filled with great free-to-play options felt arrogant. Valve’s ego was so inflated from previous successes that it was convinced players would jump in blindly, and truth be told, many did. Soon enough though, players realized that Artifact wasn’t everything it was advertised to be, especially with Hearthstone or Shadowverse ripe for the picking. Polished, brimming with content, and above all, free. What else is there to say?

Artifact isn’t dead, but it is going through a painful “process of experimentation and development.” No matter how much they change it, the harm is done and even if a business model switch is looming, it won’t make paying players happy. Artifact is in a scary place, stuck between uncertainty and cancellation. So, what’s next for Valve? Perhaps the long overdue Half-Life 3? Another insanely funny and genuinely clever Portal game? Maybe a third game in the awesome zombie co-op shooter Left 4 Dead? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely considering Valve’s adverse relation with the number “3”. Every single one of its franchises hits a dead end with third titles, and this has naturally turned into its own meme.

But I wouldn’t lose hope. Perhaps Valve, in another one of its unprecedented outbursts of creativity, is secretly working on Team Fortress 3. You know, there’s this huge game called Overwatch and the hero shooter genre is timeless, so maybe it can borrow a significant chunk of Blizzard’s player base with a new game?

Valve Dota Underlords Auto Battler Team Fortress 2

This is only speculation, but one thing that is very real and palpable is Valve’s latest game, Dota Underlords. Like a snake eating its own tail, Valve once again turns a mod into a full game. However, unlike Dota 2, where the Auto Chess craze derived from, this Auto Battler game feels bare bones and, quite frankly, deprived of any true challenge or long-lasting appeal. It’s a game where lady luck (RNG, in fact) plays a preeminent role, leaving player skill as a superfluous afterthought.

Dota Underlords doesn’t feel like a true Valve game. It feels like a student project that garnered lots of attention for some unfathomable reason, and that is noticeable in every aspect of its design, from the overly simple mechanics to the rudimentary graphics. Early Access isn’t an excuse for everything, and I always expect more from Valve in every regard.

I strongly disagree with most player claims that Dota Underlords is “fun” and “interesting”, but I do agree with those who say it’s addictive. Loot boxes are addictive as well and that doesn’t make them any more fair or fun. Watching a bunch of heroes having a go at each other is the stuff of generic mobile games, where auto battlers, commonly known as hero collectors until recently, are a dime a dozen. Dota Underlords is an evolution of the hero collector genre, with a side dish of RNG for extra… hmm… appeal?

Dota Underlords Bubble Chaos

The Future Is Uncanny

It’s not like Valve won’t release Half-Life 3 because it lacks the budget, engine or staff. No one is asking it to push the medium forward once more, as it happened with Half-Life 2’s brilliant physics-based puzzles or the exciting and brand-new Gravity Gun. I just want another trip to a world that profoundly affected me, to reunite with old friends and enemies, and to continue a story that was cut short because Valve didn’t bother to release Episode 3. There was no closure.

This abrupt cliffhanger felt like a genuine cop-out, one that could tarnish the reputation of a studio for good. It’s been over a decade and the promised third episode is now an illusion. With Arkane Studios pumping out two fantastic Dishonored games during this interval, I’m starting to wonder if Valve’s staff isn’t being pushed around for lesser, potentially more profitable projects, such as Dota Underlords.

Valve Campo Santo In the Valley of Gods

It is rumored that Valve has other games in development, something that isn’t surprising. There is so much untapped potential in the studio’s catalogue that it would be a crime not to take advantage of it. However, I’m guessing that the next big game is going to be a “borrowed” one: In the Valley of Gods, developed by Firewatch creators Campo Santo, now a Valve subsidiary since 2018. I’m utterly convinced that this will be a remarkable adventure, but it won’t be a tangible way to gauge Valve’s current expertise.

I have such an admiration for Valve’s previous efforts that I’m reluctant to watch it transform into a bland trend follower, failing to realize its own ideas because of too much reading into charts and figures. Valve made a name for itself when it didn’t care about what was hot, setting out to create the games that its staff wanted to play. Those days appear to be behind us. Right now, Valve seems to be on autopilot, pretty much in tune with its latest release, an auto-battler.

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Dota Underlords – A Roll of the Dice

I hope that the future will prove me wrong but we may be on the verge of the birth of another gaming trend: Auto Chess games. Dota Underlords and League of Legends’ Teamfight Tactics are the hypothetical precursors of the genre, but this style of gameplay harkens back to the origins of mobile games. It’s heavily RNG-based, with luck playing a major part in your experience, while your effect in a match is akin to rolling a dice as the battles unfold automatically.

At this stage, Dota Underlords is a conundrum of massive proportions. It’s not that different from the dreaded hero collector games that you find on mobile, yet it gets praise for a depth that simply isn’t there. It works as a harmless game mode for Dota 2; as its own standalone game, it’s shallow and unrewarding.

Dota Underlords Round Start

RNG: The Game

Currently in Early Access, Dota Underlords feels strangely rudimentary. Valve virtually rushed it to the store in an attempt to thwart Riot Games’ Teamfight Tactics from taking the spotlight. The clueless tutorial is proof of this, teaching absolutely nothing substantial about the mechanics of the game with round after round of generic and useless info. Only after googling some tips I was able to understand what was needed to level up a hero.

Hint: you need to get three copies of the same hero to merge into a two-star hero and three two-star heroes to create a powerful three-star hero. It’s not about combat experience (kills, matches, etc.) as I initially expected it to be.

Dota Underlords isn’t a game that you can play to kill some minutes since a successful match can take up to an hour. You’re not facing a single opponent; instead you participate in an eight-player tournament where you face one rival at a time. A defeat will take some of your health, with each participant being eliminated as their health drops to zero.

Matches have the problem of being mostly decided by lady luck, as you take the heroes that you get from the shop. If you’re lucky enough to get a few heroes to fuse into two-star heroes during the early rounds you may have a shot at the top spots. Otherwise you’re likely to find yourself in a situation where it’s impossible to catch up with the other players. Spending gold to reroll the shop with no worthwhile upgrade showing up is a guarantee that the goddess of RNG isn’t by your side. No matter the heroes that you choose or their board placement, Dota Underlords is mostly about hero level with skill playing a lesser role.

Dota Underlords RNG Shop

You can also spend gold to upgrade your overall player level with each stage granting an additional hero spot on the board. This is essential as to not fall behind but I always make leveling up my heroes the top priority. Having a full team of one-star heroes ultimately amounts to nothing much but it’s all about balance… and luck.

There are other ways you can affect the performance of your heroes, thanks to loot rounds. During the first three match rounds you will face AI creeps. If you win you get to pick one item from a pool of three, and if you lose stop playing immediately because you’re bad beyond belief… I mean, the game chooses one item for you. For example, some items can be used with one hero while others have overall boosts that affect a specific class. Further loot rounds happen at round 10, 15, 20 and so on.

Alliances need to be taken into consideration as well. You must pay attention to the icons under each hero, as they represent their faction: Assassin, Druid, Mage, Human and many more. This is a system where having multiple heroes from a single faction on the board will reward you with some boosts.

Dota Underlords Ship of Doom

Am I a Player or Am I Being Played?

At the end of the day, Dota Underlords can be incredibly infuriating. When you win it feels unrewarding as it’s mostly down to luck, even if you’re unwilling to admit it during your first victories. When you lose it’s mostly due to a case of bad luck. Leveling up heroes, using items and creating alliances… everyone is doing it as well. You either have good high-level heroes, and hero balance is a serious issue right now, or your odds of winning are seriously affected.

If this was proper chess instead of Auto Chess, you know just like the classic Battle Chess series, each match would surely have several layers of strategy to it. As it stands it’s just a frenzied rush of heroes while tactical prowess sits at the sidelines, depressingly eating popcorn and shaking its head in disbelief.

Monetization is yet to rear its ugly face but you should expect an unhealthy dose of hero skins. This should add to the mess that happens on the board as the heroes aren’t that easy to recognize to begin with. That takes me to another worrisome issue, the clunky UI. It feels unintuitive and ugly, certainly not up to the standards that you would expect from a company such as Valve. Eventually you’ll grow used to it but that is not the same as appreciating its design. Teamfight Tactics’ UI looks extremely clean and polished in comparison while Dota Underlords’ interface seemingly designed without flair and with mobile devices in mind. This game is available for PC and mobile devices but that’s never an excuse for lackluster design.

Dota Underlords Bubble Chaos

When you perform well Dota Underlords grabs you and you feel tempted to keep playing, raising your ranking in the hopes that you’ll become skilled enough to turn into a respected player.  By skilled I mean having a broad knowledge of each hero’s strengths and a four leaf clover in your pocket. Dota Underlords has obvious eSports ambitions and additional features may eventually turn it into a richer game, or a proper game, one where your actions have real repercussions.

Right now Dota Underlords feels more like a weird emerging trend that is more frustrating than interesting. A game where your role is more of a spectator rather than that of a player. It’s akin to rolling the dice and hoping that you get the desired results. In my book this doesn’t count as a proper game, let alone spawn an entire gaming genre. Sure, it’s addictive but in a very exasperating and punishing way. I would never trade the challenging depth of Minion Masters for any Auto Chess game.

And boy, that shop bell really gets on my nerves.

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MMO Money: EA Eyes Battle Royale and Crowfall Hits Funding Milestone

We’re back again with another look at the world of MMO business. This week we’ve got more funding milestones, Superdata has released another month’s revenue report, and there’s more lootbox news. Oh, and we can’t forget the Battle Royale games. Battle Royale forever!


Crowfall Hits Funding Milestone

Crowfall Hits Funding Milestone

ArtCraft Entertainment has now raised $20 million from a combination of investments, partnerships, and their crowdfunding efforts. The Kickstarter campaign finished with more than $1.7 million donated back in March 2015. Later that same year they had raised $10 million through investments. Now, in the time since then, they’ve doubled their money and raised another $10 million. This was announced in a press release by the company in which they also announced an international distribution agreement that will see Crowfall released in Russia and the CIS.


Source: Press Release


Netease’s SpatialOS Investment

Netease has invested $50 million in SpatialOS which they’re calling a small equity stake to act as a strategic investment. How anyone can consider 50 million anything small is beyond me. Improbable has said that they’re establishing a presence in China to support game developers while also actively seeking other partners in Asia. In the press release announcing this investment, they also say: “the investment will increase our ability to help game makers in China and beyond to build previously impossible games, by helping game makers to benefit from a neutral, openly available technology platform supporting the next generation of online gaming.”

At the moment, SpatialOS is being used by Worlds Adrift, Mavericks, and Fractured. Last year they also received a half a billion dollar investment from SoftBank. What does this all mean? We’re like to see a whole lot more games made with SpatialOS in the future. Though, it should be noted that earlier this year Chronicles of Elyria dropped SpatialOS. It’s not clear yet if Netease will be using SpatialOS in any of their future games, but it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s outside the realm of possibility.

Netease was also in the news recently for another reason, they’re taking over publishing EVE Online in China starting in October. They’re also responsible for bringing Blizzard games to mainland China.


Source: Official Announcement


At EA Battle Royale Is On Everyone’s Mind

During EA’s Q1 earnings call executives fielded questions from investors and it seemed that everyone had Battle Royale fever. There were questions about if Battlefield V’s model might resemble Fortnite. EA held firm saying that the game’s Battle Royale mode would be just that, another mode. But there was also a hint at the possibility of EA releasing a comparable game in the future. “We’re interested in experimenting with a free-to-play standalone game that might be in a shooter genre or another genre. But I don’t think that’s how we’re looking at the Battlefield stuff right now.”

EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson also said that the company is open to cross-platform play. “We’re looking at key franchises in terms of how we should deliver cross-platform play in a similar way that Fortnite has, especially some of our titles that have a broad and diverse player base,” he said. “The ability to bring PC to mobile or mobile to console can bring family and friends together, and we think that’s an important part of our future development profile. Expect more from us on that front in the future.”

So, expect more Battle Royale from EA in the future.




Top Grossing Games in June

Superdata released their monthly look at the top grossing games with a look at June. PUBG got a massive boost thanks to the Steam sale. In June the game sold 4.7 million units, but at a reduced price. That being said it was still the second best month the game has ever had. On the list, PUBG jumped from 9th to 3rd for PC.

Pokemon Go also had a fantastic month, they were previously in 7th for mobile games back in April but have now jumped up to 3rd. They owe their success to the warm summer months and to very popular changes to the game which have brought a lot of players back. Including regular community events like the upcoming Eevee event in which Eevee will be a whole lot more common and boosts will last longer.

Much of the rest of the list remains the same, however.


Source: Superdata Report


Vainglory Made $50 Million Since Launch

Mobile MOBA Vainglory is one of the great successes of the MOBA genre and is widely considered the best mobile MOBA available. So it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that they have brought in $50 million since they launched in 2014. This actually makes it the third most successful mobile MOBA behind Arena of Valor and Mobile Legends. 32% of that revenue comes from the United States while Japan is the next highest at about 12%. Almost 64% of all revenue comes from iOS which isn’t really much of a surprise given that it launched as an iOS-only title. While everyone keeps talking about battle royale games it is nice to see former trends can still succeed.


Source: Sensor Tower Report



For Dutch players of Dota 2, it is now plainly obvious what is contained inside lootboxes now. They’re following in the footsteps of Path of Exile who have done this previously. In doing so they put the power in the hands of the players, letting them decide if they want to buy it or not. While some people have said that it has taken the thrill out of opening the box, others welcome it as they’re now getting only what they want to pay for. While Valve hasn’t come out and said that this is because of the Dutch Gaming Authority’s ruling earlier this year, it isn’t a stretch at all to assume that it is. Yay progress!

Meanwhile, Rocket League has published a blog post which has the drop rates of crate rarity levels and they promise that any changes they make in the future will also be announced. The rates range from 55% to 1% and also include Painted and Certified Attributes.


Source: Rock Paper Shotgun, Rocket League

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MMO Money: Huge Disappointment for Tencent

Seed has raised more than 8 million dollars for development of the unique MMO, while Niantic has acquired another game studio. Fortnite is still making more money than anyone could ever count, but a massive mobile game from China has turned into a huge disappointment for Tencent. Plus, we have more lootbox news, which includes some very interesting statistics that show most players don’t care about them at all.


Klang Raises $8.75 million for space MMO Seed

Space colony MMO Seed has an extra $8.75 million to work with for the development of the game thanks to recent fundraising efforts. This brings the total the studio has raised for the game up to $13.95 million, thanks to a previous funding round in March. Speaking about the latest funding Klang’s CEO Mundi Vondi said: “We’re truly humbled to have secured the Series A for the development of Seed, a project that we believe will play an integral role in the next generation of social simulations. We are honored to share our vision with Northzone, and are more excited than ever to tackle this very ambitious project.”


Fornite Earned $1 Billion From In-Game Purchases Alone

Yes, Fortnite has become one those topics we’re covering every week and starting next week we’re going to lump all the Fortnite news into one section. This week thankfully we only have one thing to talk about, and that is that Fortnite has earned 1 billion dollars just from in-game purchases. Monthly revenue for the game has done nothing but climb since October as shown by the graph above. In May viewers watched almost 700 million hours of battle royale content, 83% of that was Fortnite. More on Fortnite coming soon…


“Coming Soon” No Longer Allowed in German Preorders

star citizen like eve online

A recent court ruling in Germany may have a ripple effect around the world as it was declared that using vague terms like “coming soon” in preorders isn’t allowed. Part of the ruling said: “in the view of the judges, this information was too vague to comply with the statutory information obligation of the providers. According to this, potential customers should know before the end of the ordering process how long the delivery time will be at the maximum.” Exactly what this means for the future of gaming isn’t clear yet but it could possibly put an end to vague release dates, Kickstarter claims, and much more.


Video Game Kickstarters Equal Almost $10 million So Far in 2018

ICO Partners have put out their regular report on Kickstarter campaigns for video games which shows that video game Kickstarters have brought in $9.82 million so far this year. That’s up just $400,000 from the same period last year. This was in fact done with fewer Kickstarter campaigns than in previous years, just 723, the lowest first half of the year since 2012. Kickstarter is generally seeing a bit of a slowdown when it comes to video games, as people are learning how difficult it is to put a successful campaign together.


Niantic Acquires Seismic Games

Just last week we were talking about Pokemon Go creators Niantic acquiring a company and now here we are with another, their fourth acquisition in recent months. This time they have acquired Seismic Games, the makers of Marvel Strikeforce and VR experience Blade Runner: Revelations. John Hanke, the CEO said this in a statement: “We recently gave a peek under the hood of the Niantic Real World Platform, and we see the addition of Seismic Games as a significant accelerant for realising our vision of an operating system that bridges the digital and the physical worlds. At Niantic, we’re committed to our mission of motivating people to exercise, be social, and discover new places. We’re confident that Seismic Games will help us deliver on that mission – faster, and better.” All of these acquisitions are putting Niantic in position for a lot of awesome in the future which makes you wonder, what are they coming up with next?


Mobile Game Spending Up in the First Half of 2018

Mobile game revenue is up 19% in the first half of 2018 in the App Store and Google Play. App Store spending was about $6 billion higher than Google Play. Combined, the estimate is that global spending on the two platforms was at $26.6 billion. That’s a 19.1% increase year on year. One thing that may have an impact on Google Play’s revenue is that it isn’t available in China, at all. Also, many Android apps are available in third-party stores which isn’t the case for iOS. The top grossing games across both stores were Honor of Kings, Monster Strike, and Fate/Grand Order. But, PUBG mobile was the most downloaded. All of this just goes to show that mobile gaming is here to stay and there’s a lot of money to be had.


Arena of Valor Revenue Passes $3 million in 7 Months

Arena of Valor

Its only been 7 months since Arena of Valor launched in the west and in that time they’ve brought in $3 million. For any other game that would be fantastic, but Arena of Valor is Tencent’s Honor of Kings, one of the most successful mobile games at the moment. The Chinese version of the game has 200 million players and in 2017 brought in $1.9 billion in revenue. The founder of Sensor Tower, the intelligence firm who released this information spoke about the launch of the game and why they think it’s underperforming. “Arena of Valor launched in the US just as the battle royale craze was beginning to heat up, with Fortnite hitting mobile three months later-and subsequently dominating the time and wallets of the very users Tencent’s MOBA is gunning for. Undeterred, the publisher has continued to build out the game in the West, adding new modes, content, and characters, most recently the eagerly anticipated debut of Batman as a playable hero.” All fair points…also, Batman will be playable? Where do I sign up?



A patch was introduced to CS:GO for Dutch and Belgian players that locks containers, making it so you can’t open lootboxes in those countries. In June, Valve disabled item trading in the Netherlands in response to the threat of prosecution from the Dutch Gaming Authority. At the time they also said they hoped to fight it, now it seems that item trading is back but lootboxes may be gone for good.

A survey of gamers from the UK, France, Germany, and Spain has revealed that the majority of gamers are either unaware of lootboxes or largely indifferent to them. According to the survey, only 27% of gamers in these countries are aware of lootboxes. When it comes to general consumers that number drops to 17%. When asked if lootboxes are a positive influence on the games industry, 29% had no opinion while only 25% thought they don’t. In question after question, the respondents showed they had very little opinion on lootboxes at all. It would seem that those talking about them and thinking about them often are in the vocal minority.

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Steam’s Privacy Setting Changes Effectively Kill SteamSpy

For many, the metrics provided by SteamSpy were an invaluable tool to cut through press releases crowing about player numbers and a game’s overall health. With a rollout of new Steam privacy settings, however, the service has been essentially shut down according to SteamSpy’s creator Sergey Galyonkin.

steam privacy settings

A blog post from Valve detailed new privacy setting features that let players select who can view their profile’s game details, including lists of games purchased or wishlisted, achievements, play time, and whether they’re in-game or not. Future changes are also in the works, including an “invisible” mode.

Valve calls the privacy setting adjustments a way for users to have more control over their privacy. “You will be able to manage how you are viewed by your friends, or the wider Steam Community,” reads the post.

SteamSpy’s response to these changes stated that the new policy has cut the service off from needed data. “Steam Spy relied on [game ownership] information being visible by default and won’t be able to operate anymore,” reads the tweet.

To be clear, the settings themselves aren’t the issue so much as the fact that every user’s gaming library has been set to be hidden by default, which means that it’s possible for people to opt-in and provide that information. That said, a response to a tweet that suggested as much says that may not be enough. “Opt-in isn’t good for this type of estimates, I’m afraid,” wrote SteamSpy.

Our Thoughts

While Valve claims that user feedback brought about these changes, we have to squint at the decision, especially since the shift is less about protecting personal information and more about hiding one’s love of certain games behind a digital curtain. Overall, these adjustments smack of other forces at work than “user feedback.”

Sources: Steam, Twitter

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Valve Pulls Insel Games from Steam for Review Manipulation

The gaming industry is most assuredly one of the most competitive, but that definitely doesn’t excuse dirty tactics, and now one such publisher is facing some pretty serious consequences for said tactics. Insel Games, the publisher for titles like Guardians of Ember and Wild Buster: Heroes of Titan, has been yanked from Steam after they were found to be manipulating reviews on the platform.

insel games

The decision comes after Valve investigated a report from a Redditor that included an email sent on December 14th from Insel Games CEO Patrick Streppel. According to the email, Wild Buster’s revenue was falling below expectations, which Streppel attributed to a lack of reviews for the game.

The email continued to express disappointment that employees were not buying and reviewing Wild Buster, even going so far as to suggest failure to do so would mean the company’s end. “Of course, I cannot force you to write a review – but I should not have to,” wrote Streppel. “Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If WB fails, Insel fails, IME fails and then we all will have no job next year.”

The email closes with instructions to employees to buy Wild Buster, provide a receipt for reimbursement, or report to him directly with explanation why they refused to do so. Correspondingly, positive reviews for Wild Buster on December 16th.

insel games

Upon further review, Valve found Insel Games utilizing multiple accounts to post positive reviews of their titles, and so have ended their relationship with the company and have pulled their games from the store. That said, those who have a Steam copy of any of Insel Games’ titles will still be able to play them through Steam.

Streppel said in a statement that there has been no retaliation against employees who did not purchase or review Wild Buster and apologized for the “misleading wording” in the email along with the practice of manipulating reviews in general.

“We, the complete team behind Insel Games, will keep working on improving Guardians of Ember and Wild Buster while still providing access to our games through other channels,” says Streppel. “We hope to regain the trust of players through our future actions and are further in discussion with Steam about this incident.”

Our Thoughts

…uhh….yikes. This revelation is most definitely unfortunate to learn. While it would be nice to see games like Guardians of Ember and Wild Buster press on, it’s going to be admittedly difficult for player confidence to return after learning that a publisher’s CEO was trying to press his employees into rating up their own games.

Source: Kotaku

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