Of all this year’s major gaming releases, Valve’s Orange Box is the only one to come without some sort of super-special ultra-limited edition box set. Even the title is bizarrely unassuming given the incredible value of its contents. For the price of a standard game this collection features three new titles: Half-Life 2: Episode Two at the core, accompanied by Portal and Team Fortress 2. And as if that alone were somehow deficient, they’ve thrown in the original Half-Life 2 and Episode One for free.
Most reviewers have suggested the astounding originality and humour of Portal justifies the cost alone (just look at the videos if you have not seen them), while TF2 provides frenetic multiplayer (Half-Life 2’s only weak point) with a Pixar-esque sheen. I am not actually going to discuss the games at all since I’m writing this from the BPP library and haven’t even got as far as installing my copy yet. Instead let’s go back to the box.
It is one of the sparsest products I have ever encountered, from its cryptic title requiring you to know what it is before you buy to the interior with no book, a single page insert which lists the controls and a second disc (yes this spans two fulls DVDs) that comes in a paper sleeve. So for a game guaranteed to make money by the truckload, why? The reason is this: Valve don’t want you to buy it. Or at least not that way.
The developer has spent the last few years challenging the traditional publishing and distribution model with its Steam platform, which allows you to download games directly from their servers. This much criticised system had severe problems to begin with but now operates almost alarmingly smoothly. It undoubtedly means they receive a higher portion of the revenue, but — and it’s a big one — like many, I still like to have a physical product. It leaves me with no concerns about reinstalling or switching computers and also means I have something to trade in or sell later. With Steam and similar systems, that becomes impossible.
Of course many readers will remember that I was more than happy to download the recent episodic Sam & Max games. However Telltale understood their audience’s desires and on completion of the first “season”, offered a boxed disc for a nominal P&P cost, filled with extras like a series of animated clips to watch on any DVD player. It is a trend I hope they continue with the forthcoming second season. I understand what Valve are trying to do, and it’s probably the future, but the obvious luddite that I am, I just prefer this one the old-fashioned way.
Meanwhile my dad pointed out this alternative style of World Clock, with some particularly disturbing numbers. And here’s an amusing hypothetical look at what Google might look like if it had to be optimised for Google.