VideoGamer.com: A lot has been said about Left 4 Dead 2 since the game's announcement. Was the criticism something Valve always knew it would be able to answer in due course as the launch of the game neared? Was it frustrating not be able to show everyone everything from the get go?
CF: It was something that happened in the summer. I was trading email with a lot of people. I had given out my email and said, email me, let's talk about this. Then it was clear after a back and forward with a lot of people. We said, well we just need to show you more. Talking about it's not going to do it. Rightly or wrongly you had this reaction to what we've shown, but let's just keep showing you stuff. If you look at how our pre-orders have gone, how the reaction to the demo has gone, people are excited about it. The boycott itself and how that's gone - people are starting to understand now and understand what we were saying then.
It's hard to express plans and designs that aren't done to the point where you can show them yet. Even at E3, we had all this stuff, but we knew all these things that were going to be changed from what we were showing there. A good example is Rochelle. She's drastically changed in her look from E3 to release. There are always refinements we always do, and we always knew we were going to have all this. But you've got to show the game at some point, and that's what we did. We knew when we were first showing it that it was good and that we would be at this place now and be happy.
Part of that is just because, when Left 4 Dead 2 started the process, we had a bunch of stops built into place. At multiple times during development, we brought in a bunch of people from the company, looked at it and said, you know is this worth doing? Is this going to be right? Is this not going to be good? It's really brutally honest feedback at that point. Everyone at Valve, there are no managers, everyone's a manager. We all own part of the company. We're all very much in tune with the company as a whole, not just our project. And when that happens, everybody is going to be honest on what you need to change, what you need to do, before we're happy with that. So at any point during the development process leading up to E3's announcement, we could have said no, we're not going to do it. But we kept hitting our mark and kept delivering what we wanted to. People at the company were able to see that.
VideoGamer.com: Is it always a vocal minority?
CF: It seems that way, doesn't it? And that's fine because they've been engaging a lot with the more hardcore tournament players. We're waiting to see Scavenge mode and how they react to that and Versus, the new changes we've made there, before we do anything too concrete. There are always groups that are vocal. It's helpful. It's helpful to have a clear voice about stuff.
VideoGamer.com: At the end of the day, though, you know they're the minority.
CF: We have 3.5 million people playing Left 4 Dead 1. 40,000 said something. But equally though, if one person emails me, some person can say, I have this problem, and we'll go look at it and we'll go make sure. You figure any time there are that many people, or even just one person, there are more that have that same experience and that same feeling. So we always want to make sure we're clear about that. People mail me, people mail Gabe [Newell, co-founder and managing director] and Robin [Walker, software developer] a lot - we all get a lot of feedback from the community. We try to answer as much as we can. We definitely read all of it. And we react to it. We take it to heart. Even when it's mean and they make videos of me and Hitler!
CF: You've seen the Hitler video where Hitler's all upset about something?
CF: Gabe's actually Hitler, and I'm upsetting him, which means I'm doing the right thing!
VideoGamer.com: You're one of the good guys!
CF: Yeah, because I'm upsetting Hitler, right? Isn't that how it works? If you upset the evillest man of the 20th Century, you're a good guy, right?
VideoGamer.com: It's better people care than they don't at all, right?
CF: Yeah. And that's the other thing. When that first started happening, some of the press wanted to make it an us versus them. But it was more like a fight inside the family. They are passionate about our games. They play our games. So we always take the feedback seriously, because we're gamers as well, and these are people who are playing our games and will probably play our games with us. So we always want to make sure we're listening and understanding the issues.
VideoGamer.com: You say it was like a fight inside the family. Did that make it hurt more than it might have done otherwise?
CF: There's a little of that. But honestly, that's fair, because I don't expect everyone to know the whole history of Valve. I don't expect anyone to know who I am. I don't expect anyone to know who Gabe is. I don't expect them to have played Half Life. That would be arrogant to think that people know us that well. It was just that knowledge though of, okay, but you've played Left 4 Dead, you're happy about that, let's keep talking about that and going with that. We play it with you. It'll be okay.
VideoGamer.com: Once the game's out of the door, will Valve be able to take a break or will you have to stick around and react to what players are doing?
CF: There's a group that will stay and make sure that if there's anything that comes up that needs to get addressed quickly, we address it. Then, just the nature of releasing at this time of year, in the United States we've got Thanksgiving, which is a big holiday, and then we have Christmas. You'll see people going off to celebrate holiday. But honestly, now, I've been gone for two weeks doing this and I'm just antsy to get back. It's a fun game to work on and it's a fun group to work with.