Gabe Newell On Steam’s Future: “Anybody Should Be Able To Create A Store”

Gabe Newell is a luminary whose every utterance is mined for clues of his company’s success and future intentions. Whether that’s good or bad, the fact remains that someone with a track record for innovation like Newell can’t escape a certain degree of scrutiny and conjecture.

However, there’s no speculation needed to understand Newell’s thoughts on the future of online commerce. In a recent podcast appearance, he laid out in clear terms what he felt would represent the ideal online storefront – and it’s something that most people missed.

In an episode The Nerdist podcast, host Chris Hardwick paid a visit to Valve headquarters to mine the mind of Gabe Newell and get some perspective on the company’s game-making philosophy. During the course of the hour-long chat, Newell was very open about game development and business philosophy, including a brief aside on his own view of Steam and its future.

“We think that right now you have these islands of entertainment, and they’re going to actually combined together to create this overall virtual goods and services platform,” Newell said. “So people will actually be creating real economic value by engaging with these games.”

Newell goes – on in his own roundabout way – to describe the Steam store itself as a piece of content.

“Right now, the store in Steam is a super-privileged, special piece of content, which totally goes against how we think about how we should be designing things,” Newell explained, referencing Valve’s penchant for gamification. “Anybody should be able to create a store that… like, the games I own should automatically generate a view so that other people can buy games through me. So, if you put up your list of games, people can buy games through you and you’d get part of that revenue stream.”

“The way that I think of our store right now is like the world’s most boring point-and-click adventure game from 1986,” he continued. “It’s just a terrible, boring piece of content.”

Elaborating on this idea that individuals could curate their own online stores, Newell said, “Some people will have the penis cape-centric store, and other people will have quests that you go on to create affinity around future purchases. That’s the direction.”

Adding one more extraordinarily intriguing concept to the mix, Newell added, “And if I do something in Skyrim, it will give me benefits in Call of Duty. That’s how we see stuff evolving.”

Steam currently has a friend system robust enough to handle this, so implementation is probably just a matter of logistics. It’s an idea that should appeal to developers and publishers, as it would foster purchasing on every front: buying titles of a similar ilk would be incentivized for those more interested in curating a storefront, which would in turn drive customer interaction.

In a way, we can already shop like this, without the benefits. We can view friends, view their library of games, and make purchases from there, but to alter that relationship so that “friends” are actually “curators” instead would be a fascinating way to reward those who put the time into that curation aspect.

If the parties involved can come to an agreement, it could make for a much more interesting online shopping experience. Benefits and rewards between games is a tantalizing idea, but the largest kink is likely the revenue sharing aspect. Given the current state of gaming economics, it’s anyone’s guess how well this could turn out. Publishers in particular don’t have the best track record in keeping customer interests in mind, but if anyone can break down that wall, it’s Valve.