Coming in at #4 for top publisher is Valve.
Valve is probably the youngest out of the publishers listed here but they’ve definitely made a name for themselves in a short period of time. Valve was formed in 1996 by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington, who were apparently both Microsoft employees. Valve released the critically acclaimed Half-Life in 1998 and continued to prosper by creating mods and expansions for Half-Life and by supporting the modding community (e.g. Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat). In 2002, the Steam digital distribution system was released. At first it was just a system for streaming patches however it soon was a platform for selling and distributing games via the Internet – and this I suspect is where Valve makes most of its money nowadays.
Valve hasn’t published that many games as in its early days it actually had its games published by Sierra. They also don’t have many franchises, regardless of whether you consider them a developer or a publisher, however the franchises they do have are popular ones. Valve’s most popular franchises would have to be Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead and Portal.
The Half-Life franchise started in 1998 although Valve wasn’t a true publisher yet. It wasn’t until 2004 when its sequel, Half-Life 2 was released, that Valve became a publisher in its own right through Steam. Just like the original, Half-Life 2 was an outstanding game. The combination of the Source Engine’s excellent graphics, awesome audio, well-designed levels and characters that you actually cared about, ensured its success. The game was followed by two expansions called “episodes”: Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (2006) and Half-Life 2 Episode 2 (2010). While controversial at the time, the episodic release model has become commonplace in the industry and is in fact the model Telltale Games uses to release all their games. Unfortunately, there has been no further news about another Half-Life 2 episode or even Half-Life 3.
The Left 4 Dead franchise was one of the more recent Valve successes. The original game was released in 2008 and allows four players to play co-operatively, blasting zombies away as they make their way to safehouses. One of the choice features of the game was the Director AI which monitors the stress levels of players and spawns zombies near them if stress levels are low. This means everyone gets a chance to kill at least a few zombies and it makes the game more like a zombie flick, which the game obviously got its inspiration from. Shortly after Left 4 Dead, the sequel, Left 4 Dead 2 was released the next year. Left 4 Dead 2 had similar gameplay to the original except it introduced new characters, new weapons (especially melee weapons) and was set in America’s Deep South. It’s interesting to note that Left 4 Dead 2 was refused classification in Australia due to its excessive violence so Valve had to create a new tamer version especially for Australia.
original. The game even introduced a 2 player co-op campaign so you could solve puzzles with your friends.
Other games that I’ve played which were published by Valve include:
- Audiosurf (2008) – a fun indie game that allows you to surf your music
- Alien Swarm (2010) – A Source remake of the classic UT2k4 mod
- Worms Reloaded (2010) – Worms Armageddon for the PC
- The Baconing (2011) – Third episode of Ron Gilbert’s Deathspank series
The outlook for Valve looks promising as a publisher, thanks to their Steam digital distribution platform which allows a lot more developers, especially indie developers, to sell their games directly to the public. With respect to their franchises, the next iteration of Counter-Strike, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is scheduled for release sometime this year. The other franchises are either dormant (Half-Life and Day of Defeat) or it’s unlikely a sequel will be made (e.g. Left 4 Dead, Portal and Team Fortress)