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Half-Life 2 Black Box dropped

Steam to undercut retail :: May 19th, 2007 :: New products :: 41 Responses (Feed)

Valve have announced that the Half-Life 2 “black box” SKU will no longer be shipped, leaving PC players with either the orange box, which also contains Half-Life 2 and Episode One, or Steam, which is still set to offer a package of just the three new titles. (This may now only happen once the games have been released on 10 October.)

Half-Life 2: Episode Two screenshot
Valve are trying to convert existing retail customers to Steam.

This is clearly a move designed to let Valve undercut retailers by organising the availability of a clutch of highly-anticipated games online and offline, as happened at Half-Life 2’s launch when Steam’s Silver package gave far better value for money than retail options.

In this case, Valve are circumventing retailer’s hold over minimum prices: stores can easily refuse to stock a product if it’s being sold for less online, but refusing to stock a different pack because a theoretically less valuable one is being sold cheaper elsewhere might not go down so well with shareholders.

The reverse effect of retailers undercutting Steam is also undoubtedly on Valve’s mind, as they lost a great deal of face when Episode One was sold on the high street and at e-tailers for less than its Steam price on day one. Will shops be willing or even able to cut prices enough to compete with a now unencumbered Steam? I doubt it. Unless you want HL2 or Episode One too, Episode Two’s package, I predict, is going to be cheap.

This will also be a marketing experiment for Valve: what proportion of their cornered market of Half-Life 2 and Episode One owners will they be able to convert into Episode Two buyers? It will be a measure of their confidence whether or not we see any advertising for the Steam package outside Update News items.

41 Responses to this post:


  1. Tom Edwards Says:

    This is also helping ATI a little, as the HD 2000 range of cards will each ship with a three-game Steam code.

  2. Andy Simpson Says:

    Wow, I feel blitzed. Three updates in one day.

    I hope Valve actually make a direct and clear statement on this – too many people are getting the impression that the Ep2/TF2/Portal bundle is going away entirely, not that it’ll only be on Steam. There are a few complaints that even though they could go the Steam way, they want the box.

    I can’t understand it, myself. Steam purchases are far more convienient. I’m at uni right now, and most of my old games are in boxes back at home. If I want to play them here, I’m stuffed. Not so with Steam.

    Nice to see they’re going to deliver drivers, but hopefully they’ll be able to get Nvidia on board too. I don’t know quite why Valve hasn’t done this of their own accord yet though. Presumably all they need are a list of chipsets being used by the Steam population (which they have) and the latest driver binaries to support each chipset (which they can find out from the web / the Steam stats).

    Time will tell if using Steam for advertising will take off… my view is that Valve has a really incoherent middleware strategy. I don’t think they really know what it is they’re trying to sell. If they broke Steam up into a bunch of discrete pieces of functionality that could be individually licensed, but made a lot of sense used together, they’d see a lot more uptake. More uptake = more $.

    Like, they should sell their server browsing solution. I’d buy it for my game, any system that can handle the kinda use Steam gets is clearly well worth it. Then the proceeds could pay for a guy to specifically work on making server browsing better, which would not only benefit all of the licensees but also Valve’s own games.

    I mean, you can see the benefits of the decoupled approach in the content delivery business itself. Ever since they removed the requirement for games to implement the Steam filesystem and made it easier to use Steam as basically glorified download + billing client its use for third party games has exploded.

    I reckon the same thing would happen if the billing, download, server browsing, auth, friends, community, ads etc. features were all broken out, and it could be done without losing the benefit of the main Steam client itself, it’d just be an option.

    E.g. “This game uses Steam Friends to chat with friends in-game. Do you want to install the Steam client to chat with the same friends on the desktop, see when and where they’re playing, as well as access to demos, trailers and Steam-only special offers?”

    Ah well, I can dream, I guess.

  3. ATimson Says:

    Ooh. Talk about incentive to upgrade… 🙂

    (Especially since my current card is a no-longer-supported Radeon 9000.)

  4. Ed Says:

    What they should do is release Portal in advance for people who pre-order on Steam. That’d be a killer deal and a win-win situation for Valve. Thats something the shops cannot match!

  5. ally Says:

    this is pretty cool i like the idea of bundling it in with the ati dx10 cards

  6. King2500 Says:

    Nice screenshot 😀

  7. Michael Says:

    At my university, downloads are charged to me at AUD$35.00 per GB. At home, the my broadband plan is almost as bad as dialup*. Australian internet services are a joke.
    Which is why I like having my games on CD and in boxes. There are so many advantages of being able install from CD instead of having to waste downloads on something that can be bought in physical form.

    A stunt like this from VALVe really does offend me as it either forces me to do it their way or to pay extra, for something that I already own. The australian gamers market gets charged extra for any game that is released, even if it was bought over steam.

  8. Tom Edwards Says: