Left 4 Dead: Left 2 Die

Left 4 Dead 2

Valve’s games are known for their long shelf lives. Just look at the number of people playing the original Counter-Strike 1.6, and the number of free updates which has kept Team Fortress 2 very popular since it’s release in October 2007.

Left 4 Dead was released in November 2008 to widespread acclaim from gamers. It had it’s problems on launch: only two of the four campaigns were available on Versus mode and the numerous exploits and glitches, but the brilliant team-based game play made it an instant hit.

Valve’s decision to announce the release of a sequel just seven months into L4D’s life has angered many gamers in the community.

(Personal note: I paid £25 for my copy of Left 4 Dead and feel it was worth every penny. I could’ve paid £50 and I still wouldn’t feel ripped off. It may be an incomplete game, but I don’t feel aggrieved with the price or sequel at all. What I am worried about is how the community will react to the sequel, and what happens to Left 4 Dead once it’s sequel is released.)

In an interview with VideoGamer, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell promised additional downloadable content, in the way they updated Team Fortress 2:

One of the things that we’re doing is we seem to be in a transition between games as a package product and games more of a service. So if you look at Team Fortress 2, one of things that’s really helped grow the community is the continuous updates, where we release new maps, new character classes, new unlockables, new weapons. And we tell the stories about the characters, like the meet the sniper, or meet the sandwich. And that ongoing delivery of content really seems to grow the community.

So each time we’ve released one of those for Team Fortress 2 we’ve seen about a 20% increase in the number of people who are playing online. And that number is really important because it determines how many community created maps there are, how many servers are running, and so on. So we’ll do the same thing with Left 4 Dead where we’ll have the initial release and then we’ll release more movies, more characters, more weapons, unlockables, achievements, because that’s the way you continue to grow a community over time.

The announcement of L4D2 seems like a complete u-turn on this model, with many gamers saying they bought L4D because they expected Valve would be constantly updating it with new content. A thread on Valve’s L4D2 forum sums up the (nerd) rage being expressed:

  • Significant content for L4D1 was promised, and never delivered
  • Valve put little faith in L4D1 since they almost certainly started working on L4D2 right after release
  • The fact that L4D2 is nearly identical to L4D1 will decimate the community for both games
  • The announced date is not nearly enough time to polish content or make significant gameplay changes
  • L4D2’s release will result in a drop in quality and frequency for L4D1 content, even compared to before
  • The community has lost faith in Valve’s former reputation for commitment to their games post-release

And one more which I think is missed: L4D2 is very similar visually to L4D which would cause it to look more like an expansion pack rather than a proper sequel. This is something Valve can’t do anything about until they update or replace the Source engine.

Judging by the number of replies that agree in that thread (874 at the time of writing), a very significant proportion of the community is pissed, and all the good will Valve got from their spring DLC release has evaporated.

Valve’s Response

Valve has responded to the criticism with interviews for Ars Technica and Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Their response boils down to:

1. Left 4 Dead is not as easy to update as Team Fortress 2

“Team Fortress gets to do these nice little discrete units of content, they get to do a map, there’s an internal consistency and an internal world that happens.” He described the content updates as “clean little things.” Bite-sized updates that add to the game, and over time change things. It’s not nearly that easy with Left 4 Dead, where one change affects nearly everything else.

Fair enough it may be harder to update, but they’re already working on making the L4D maps work on L4D2 so they must have a solution for introducing new content to existing maps.

2. There is a SDK coming out soon for user created maps

All the maps created with the SDK will work on the sequel. As for playing old maps with old characters but new creatures and melee? “We have some additional work to do there, we’re talking about how to do that. That’s what we want to do.”

Great for the PC community, this does nothing for the Xbox 360 community unless they allow a way to import them onto Live.

3. People didn’t feel aggravated about “buying” Half Life 2 again with the Orange Box

The Orange Box contains two expansion packs for Half Life 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. Compairing the value of the Orange Box (considering I paid £15 for my copy) to a £35-40 copy of a sequel to a game I already paid £30 isn’t quite the same.

4. “Trust us”. We’ll still be supporting L4D

I think the short answer is: trust us a little bit. We’ve been pretty good over the years, even with L4D going back just a few months, about supporting games post-launch. Gabe’s always talking about providing entertainment as a service – it’s not about making a game any more.

Yeah, there’s certainly a chance of [more content for L4D], and we’re not announcing any of the specifics of that today. Like I say, stay tuned, there’s more coming, there’s more information we’re going to talk about for the sequel, there’s more content coming for Left 4 Dead in the fairly near term, that I think will sort of add to this picture and hopefully change some people’s opinions of what’s happening right now.

A lot of the community rage is coming from the uncertainty of what is going to happen to Left 4 Dead. Will it carry on with a separate community, will the content and community merge into Left 4 Dead 2, or will it die a slow and painful death where you can no longer find anyone to play with.

Gamers feel the money they paid for Left 4 Dead might be lost once Left 4 Dead 2 is released, and I think they have a right to be concerned. Hopefully Valve will be able to address this in a way that is beneficial to them and the community, but I seriously doubt Valve will back down and release L4D2 as a DLC now they’ve committed themselves.

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