Gabe Newell says Valve is over its "episodes phase" and is now focused on creating games as platforms that can be constantly updated and evolved through Steam, with very short development cycles.
It's a fact that Valve makes awesome games. It's also a fact that historically, the studio has taken it's own sweet time about it. The episodic system that debuted with the release of Half-Life 2: Episode One was meant to address the issue of overlong waits between releases, but from a gamer's point of view that hasn't exactly worked out to perfection. But that concept is now out the window, replaced with an approach that treats "entertainment as a service."
"We went through the episodes phase, and now we're going towards shorter and even shorter cycles," Newell explained in an interview with Develop. "With episodes, I think we accelerated the model and shortened development cycles with it. If you look at Team Fortress 2, that's what we now think is the best model for what we've been doing. Our updates and release model keeps on getting shorter and shorter."
"Left 4 Dead 2 is starting to approach the TF2 cycle. Portal 2? We'll have to see how much our customers want us to push in that direction," he continued. "In general, our approach to our customers is, every day, to ask what we can do for them."
The inspiration for this approach came from the mod community, according to Valve co-founder Robin Walker, who noted that releases like Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Day of Defeat and Garry's Mod were all regularly and frequently updated by their creators. "And when you realize that these were the most popular mods and see that they update all the time, you think, yeah, maybe there's something remarkably valuable in building your product iteratively in front of your own customers."
Valve isn't necessarily walking away from major, multi-year projects, however. "I think you'll still see projects from us that are huge in scale," Newell said, "simply because we have the ability to do that."