The Hidden Champion of the Valve Metaverse

The Metaverse has received a lot of attention in the past year or so. Many well-known large companies have deployed the Metaverse. There are high-tech companies such as Microsoft, Meta, Google, Apple, and Nvidia in foreign countries.Domestic players include Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, and ByteDance. In fact, Valve, the company behind the Steam game platform, is also a strong contender in the Metaverse.

About Valve

Valve Corporation is an American video game developer, publisher and digital distribution company. Valve is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington. It is the developer of the software distribution platform Steam and games Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Portal, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead and Dota.

Valve was founded in 1996 by former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington. Its debut, the first-person shooter Half-Life, was a major commercial success when it launched in 1998. Founder Harrington left Valve in 2000. In 2003, Valve launched the Steam platform (known as the steam platform in China), followed by “Half-Life 2” in 2004. Half-Life 2 was critically acclaimed for its advanced physics, story and character building, selling 12 million copies by 2011. In 2013, Valve released Dota 2, a multiplayer online battle arena game.

Valve released fewer games in the 2010s and experimented with hardware and VR. They entered the hardware market in 2015 with their under-selling line of gaming computers, the Steam Machine, and released the HTC Vive and Valve Index VR headsets. In 2020, Valve returns to the Half-Life game series with the release of its flagship VR game Half-Life: Alyx. In 2022, Valve released Steam Deck, a portable gaming system.

Valve develops games through playtesting and iterative development, describing game design as an experimental psychology. Valve, which generates most of its revenue from Steam, controlled between 50% and 70% of the PC game download market in 2011.

Create a game VR platform, SteamVR

The SteamVR platform, released on April 4, 2016, is a VR social application in Steam. SteamVR is available in many VR headsets or hardware devices, such as Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 and Oculus Rift S. Players can connect to each other in SteamVR. Steam VR also has social features, allowing users to enter any room scene, but cannot upload personal images.In the creation workshop of Steam VR, you can see a large number of player-made rooms for display and communication.

Nowadays, many players will go to the SteamVR platform to download VR games to play. According to Road To VR, as of January 2022, there are nearly 4 million monthly active VR headsets on the SteamVR platform. Since the official launch of the SteamVR platform in 2016, the number of VR games has grown steadily at a rate of 1,000 new games every year, and it has become one of the largest content libraries and central areas/platforms for VR games.

The Hidden Champion of the Valve Metaverse

The number of monthly active headsets on the SteamVR platform

Source: Road To VR

The Hidden Champion of the Valve Metaverse

Percentage of hardware on the SteamVR platform (between August 2020 and July 2021)

Data source: Road To VR

Why is the SteamVR platform a success? In fact, the success of the SteamVR platform will mainly have the following three advantages:

  • The first is that it is backed by the world’s largest game community, Steam. The SteamVR platform can quickly filter out high-quality content through user feedback.
  • The SteamVR platform has a policy that is friendly to independent developers, and it happens that a large number of independent developers are needed as the main content production power in the early stage of VR game development.
  • Finally, Valve has a very strong self-research strength. Valve has a background in terminal game research and development, and has a stronger first-party content advantage than a pure hardware company transformed into a platform.

Valve’s virtual reality layout

At the Game Developers Conference in March 2015, Valve and electronics company HTC unveiled SteamVR and the HTC Vive, a virtual reality platform and a virtual reality headset. The SteamVR platform features its “beacon” motion tracking system, where sensors on the HTC Vive headset and its accompanying motion controller read two base station devices installed in the play area (i.e. placing 2 devices in the room, allowing The game console is able to locate your position), the player does not need to hold a fixed position in front of the camera and is able to move freely around the space.

In November 2017, Microsoft added beta support for the SteamVR service to Windows Mixed Reality headsets. In June 2019, Valve released its own VR headset, Valve Index, positioned as a high-end device with a wider field of view and a higher refresh rate. The Valve Index is accompanied by updated motion controllers. The Valve Index is strapped to the user’s palm and has sensors for detecting input pressure and individual fingers. Valve Index features a resolution of up to 144Hz (experimental mode), and is equipped with an Index handle that supports five-finger tracking, with a resolution of 1600×1440 monocular. The Valve Index bundle that includes the headset, controller, and base station costs $999. However, to use the Valve Index, you need a high-performance gaming computer. Due to its high threshold and the high starting price of the whole set, it can be said that the audience of Valve Index is mainly aimed at a small number of hard-core VR gamers.

The Hidden Champion of the Valve Metaverse

Valve Index Kit

In July 2021, among the top three active devices on SteamVR, in addition to Quest 2 and Rift S, the third place is the Valve Index, accounting for 16.23%, and these three models have continued to rank among the top three in the past six months.Meta’s Quest 2 and Oculus Rift S have a 61.3% market share. According to data from the Steam platform, as of July 2021, the Valve Index VR headset has been shortlisted in the top ten list of Steam’s highest-selling products for 50 consecutive weeks.

The Hidden Champion of the Valve Metaverse

Market share of each brand on the SteamVR platform

Data source: Road To VR

Create the benchmark for VR games

Half-Life: Alyx is a virtual reality first-person shooter game developed and published by Valve in 2020. Released for Windows and Linux, it supports most PC-compatible VR headsets. Set five years before the Half-Life 2 game (2007), players take control of Alyx Vance on a mission to capture a superweapon belonging to a coalition of aliens. Like previous Half-Life game series, Alyx blends combat, puzzles, exploration and survival horror. Players use VR to interact with the environment and fight enemies.

The Hidden Champion of the Valve Metaverse

Half-Life: Alyx poster

The previous Half-Life 2, released in 2007, ended in suspense. Valve made several attempts to further develop the Half-Life game, but failed to settle on a final direction, and the flat management structure made it difficult for the project to gather momentum. In the mid-2010s, Valve began experimenting with VR, and in 2016 released The Lab, a collection of VR mini-games. Recognizing the need for large-scale VR games, they experimented with prototypes using various intellectual property such as Portal, and found the Half-Life game series to be a perfect fit for VR.

“Half-Life: Alyx” began to try to use Valve’s Source 2 game engine in 2016, and officially entered the development stage. At the time, Valve also acquired studio Campo Santo in 2018 to develop the game. However, adding VR applications affects almost every aspect of the design, including combat, movement, level design, and pacing. Valve originally planned to launch Half-Life: Alyx with the Index VR headset in 2019, but technical and story issues ultimately delayed the release, releasing it in 2020.

Half-Life: Alyx has been widely praised for its graphics, voice acting, narrative and atmosphere, and has been called VR’s first killer game. Half-Life: Alyx has been nominated for numerous awards, winning “Best VR/AR” at The Game Awards 2020. Half-Life: Alyx was built from the ground up for virtual reality. VR was built to bring out the core gameplay of Half-Life, where players can fully immerse themselves in deep environmental interactions, solve puzzles, and explore the world.”Half-Life: Alyx” can be said to be a benchmark for VR games, representing the highest level that VR games can achieve at this stage, or laying the foundation for VR games in the next few years. The game has added a game interaction scene that is far beyond the previous game design using a keyboard, mouse and handle, simplifying and smoothing the shooting action. “Half-Life: Alyx” is strictly the first AAA-level masterpiece dedicated to VR, which is a milestone for the VR game industry.

The Hidden Champion of the Valve Metaverse

Half-Life: Alyx game scene

Valve founder: Metaverse is not an innovative thing

On March 3, 2022, Valve founder Gabe Newell gave his thoughts on the Metaverse in an interview with PC Gamer, arguing that when most people talk about the Metaverse, they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. In addition, Gabe Newell believes that the game industry has long been exploring technologies similar to the Metaverse, such as customizable avatars, open worlds, and social gameplay in some MMO games. After all, pinching a virtual avatar online is something that could be done more than ten years ago, not a new invention. In this way, the Metaverse is nothing new.He sees a lot of Metaverse hype as nothing more than a get-rich-quick strategy that laymen see, just a profit-making tool for businessmen. Many people will invest in the Metaverse at the time of the Metaverse craze. But in the long run, the Metaverse trend will eventually pass, and the world will return to rationality. He believes that in the long run, the Metaverse will eventually overcome technical difficulties, and eventually consumers will start to consume, and maybe the Metaverse will hatch valuable products in the future.

As for the blockchain, Gabe Newell believes that the blockchain is indeed an amazing technology, but it is still very rough.Many Metaverses are just knockoffs of the blockchain-based Second Life game, and even think some commercial brands are foolish to buy virtual real estate with millions of dollars. But real video games have been around for decades and offer more fun than these Metaverse virtual worlds on the market today. Gabe Newell is not completely against the Metaverse, but also expects technology and the Metaverse to help achieve a society that integrates reality and reality, but he disagrees that the Metaverse has become an overly touted, even seemingly quick-money thing.

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