Yep, they've done it. Valve has just announced that they've stopped work on In the Valley of Gods, saying "After careful evaluation of current market place realities and underlying economic considerations, we've decided that this was not the appropriate time to launch a first-person adventure."
Don't believe that its possible? Here's the official announcement from Polygon. Our best wishes go out to everyone on the In the Valley of Gods team, who are apprently all still going to be kept on at Valve.
To us, the decision seems completely absurd, and not just because "we love adventure games," or something. Surely In the Valley of Gods's production was plagued with troubles, but from the sounds of it so is every game project. Everything that came out about In the Valley of Gods seemed golden. The press was drooling over the game. It looked like they had a follow-up going on that, unlike some other recent follow-ups, was actually going ot get it right. But now, out of the blue, its gone. Which really really makes all of us wonder...
an editorial by the staff of Mixnmojo
Valve has made a gigantic mistake.
There, we've said it. Everyone else is already thinking it, and other people have probably already said it, but now we've said it too. The official Mixnmojo stance on In the Valley of Gods being cancelled is that Valve has seriously screwed up, just about as much as possible.
Production has stopped on the last original game --and the only game really-- anyone around here was genuinely interested in seeing. Cancelled. Why? From the sounds of it, the people in the Sales department spent the last three months winding themselves up about how impossible it would be for them to sell a quirky adventure game, eventually just snapped, and cancelled the title. Is that screwed up? Yes, that is screwed up.
Valve has made a lot of really bad moves in the last year. The Lab was allowed to ship. It tanked hard. Who really thought The Lab would be marketable, would sell well, would really catch the attention of gamers? Prospero , despite a constant stream of negative to lukewarm receptions from magazines and fans, was allowed to live on in production far longer than anyone really wanted.
Artifact, one of the few truly original gems Valve has dealt with in the last five or six years, was rushed out early by the suits, in hopes of grabbing some Christmas shoppers. This was decided despite Christmas being notorious for huge A-list titles like Lord of the Rings hogging the coverage and hype, and for mothers who know nothing about games being the ones doing the shopping. Not surprisingly, Artifact had a poor holiday season. Who knows what might have happened if they'd let Richard Garfield refine the game for a few months, and released Artifact it in the nearly empty February, after everyone had exhausted their Christmas games and was looking for something new?
Recently, they shipped Left 4 Dead: Survivors. For more on Left 4 Dead, see The Lab a few paragraphs up. And finally, today we receive word that In the Valley of Gods has been axed.
Notice a trend here? Correct. Not one of the recent Valve bungles mentioned above contained the two magic words, Half-Life. If you give the suits at Valve a Half-Life game, they can sell it. Why? Because they don't have to try! No cleverness is needed. That's not to say it doesn't take any work, but for the most part you just need to get the screenshots out, buy a few ads on Gamespot, and tell the press "yep, it's basically like EA's The Two Towers game, but this time you play as characters from -- wait for it -- Half-Life!" WHOP, you've made the cover of EGM. (Of course it helps, but isn't essential, if the Half-Life game you're selling is actually good, like Half-Life 2: Episode Two)
Valve has more or less proven that they can sell the hell out of anything that says Half-Life on the box (again, because that takes no creativity and instead a few magic words, some money, and maybe a wave or two of the nostalgia wand, or possibly the soccer mom wand depending if it's a classic or prequel title), but more importantly they've proven that if they are handed anything without the Half-Life name to sell the game for them, they will just have absolutely no idea what to do.
Games that should be cancelled, or seriously retooled, end up shipping and doing poorly, or lingering in production for months draining company resources. Games that need more time are rushed out the door. And finally, when a game falls into their lap that has the gaming press of the Western world salivating like mad, they flip out and cancel it.
And let's be honest here. Even though it sounds a little insane if you look at it from the wrong perspective ("a scenic sandstone valley near Mexican Hat in San Juan County, Southeastern Utah, United States, what's the appeal in that?!"), Valve has no adventure game, short of making up Half-Life adventure games, that will ever be as marketable as In the Valley of Gods. Not Monkey Island 6, not Day of the Tentacle 2. Even the Portal adventure game franchise has been muddled beyond recognition at this point. In the Valley of Gods pack personality, edginess, and firearms in unmentionable places like no other Valve game series -- actually like no other game series at all, and they do it in a way that basically anybody can laugh at. There are very few people with any size sense of humor who, after hearing them utter just a few sentences, aren't sold on the quality of the characters and the humor. And on top of that, unlike basically any other sequel Valve could consider, In the Valley of Gods has no back story, no possible way of alienating new players.
In the Valley of Gods is weird, granted, but is there anybody out there who genuinely thinks they're less accessible than Left 4 Dead: Survivors? Less intriguing on a store shelf than The Lab? Yes, in fact, there is. The Valve sales department.
I can see where they're coming from, in a way. If every game without a Half-Life logo that came through your door ended up tanking, getting cancelled, or somehow cause you a huge amount of grief, you might be inclined to just kill the next one in line and get it over with. In a way, their behavior like that is understandable. However, it becomes entirely unacceptable when you remember, that's not their job! Their job is to actually think about things, figure out what's been going wrong, and how to fix it. Their job is to actually try, not to just throw the switch, or pass the title along 'till its out the door, and then attempt to absolve themselves of blame.
Today's an extremely sad day for Valve, and we hope they all know it. If they can't even figure that out, they're in far worse trouble than we could have imagined.