The Needles

Left 4 Dead 2: The Boycott: The Visit: The Aftermath: The Interview


I guess I’ve been doing it wrong. Spewing rage and bile in Valve’s general direction since that fateful week in late 2004 when Steam kept me waiting for three goddamn days before letting me play my newly-purchased Half-Life 2 has gotten me absolutely nowhere; a few chuckleheads get together and decide they’re not happy about plans for Left 4 Dead 2, on the other hand, and they get lengthy explanations, round-trip air fare and face time with Gabe and the gang. What gives?

Apparently it has something to do with the ideas of “community” and “constructive criticism,” concepts with which I, as more of the “angry loner” type, am not terribly familiar. But it seems to break down like this: Where one hate-filled asshole is doomed to failure, tens of thousands of people who share a more-or-less common goal (and an ability to express that goal sans flying spittle and f-bombs) may succeed.

“Valve wanted to talk to the community directly about our concerns and meeting us in person was the best way to do so,” Walking_Target, one of the boycott administrators, told me recently. “The impression I got is that they take our concerns very seriously. If this was some sort of PR stunt, they didn’t do a very good job of it. I don’t believe they even made an official [press] release about having us out to their office. What it boils down to for me is that Valve seems to be taking the high road in dealing with this situation.”

Unfortunately, while the visit to Valve’s secret fortress of doom headquarters was generally positive, the reaction that followed from some corners of the community most definitely wasn’t. Several members of the boycott expressed disapproval or outright anger over the trip and what they perceived as a betrayal of the group’s goals.

“The entire situation is pretty weird. We had been taking a lot of heat for ‘not doing enough’ in the weeks leading up to our trip, but when we go to Valve and talk to them directly some people feel that it is too much,” Walking_Target explained. “I can understand it to a degree, because some people think we were both ‘shocked and awed’ by a plane ride, hotel room and a chance to see Valve. Although anybody who would call 10+ hours inside of two days on a flying greyhound ‘awesome’ or ‘shocking’ is just plain crazy.”

“To a certain extent, I expected some folks to feel that we hadn’t done the right thing,” he continued. “It isn’t as bad as it seems. Most of the people who express the greatest disapproval are also the people who wouldn’t be convinced by anything we could reasonably do either.”

Walking_Target also denied accusations leveled by some boycotters that he and his partner on the trip, aka Agent of Chaos, were “bought off” by Valve, literally or figuratively, noting that while they were encouraged by what they saw, both of them continue to support the boycott. Agent of Chaos, based on his post-visit report on the boycott forum, sounded particularly unmoved by Valve’s efforts and continues to call for a discount on Left 4 Dead 2 for owners of the original game. For Walking_Target, however, the trip was something of a reaffirmation of his faith in Valve; while he remains committed to the principles of the boycott, he said he thinks the company will ultimately stand behind its product.


“They are, first and foremost, gamers themselves and they don’t want to spoil their reputation over something like this,” he said. “The big change in perception for me is over the possible L4D support and updates in the future. I had a very low opinion of what might be coming. However, when I asked about the original four survivors, Chet [Faliszek] and Erik [Wolpaw] both said that they’re not done with them yet, which gives hope for more content down the line.”

Furthermore, he said that despite the popular belief that the Left 4 Dead 2 content could have been released as an expansion to the original game, he came away with the impression that the technological advancements in the sequel meant that simply wasn’t an option. Not that the details of the new game are particularly relevant, he said. “L4D2 is beside the point; the reason we’re boycotting L4D2 is because we feel that L4D has been supported poorly when compared to what Valve said was coming.”

“We’ve been about trying to show Valve that mistakes were made and we want them fixed,” he said, touching on the hostility and derision the boycott has met from much of the gaming community and even the gaming media. “Most boycott members are reasonable people who just want Valve to show that they are willing to work with the community and fix the situation.”

“Who knows? Major bug and exploit fixes might accompany the Crash Course DLC,” he added. “I’d rather remain optimistic, because hating on Valve isn’t going to serve any purpose at this point.”

After talking to another boycott administrator back in June, I said that no matter how things turned out, the simple fact that the group had managed to demonstrate the power of a mobilized community was a victory in and of itself. But could similar results be achieved with other developers and other games? Walking_Target isn’t so sure. “I don’t honestly know if the boycott will lead to more open and assertive discussions with game developers,” he said. “I don’t know how likely it will be in the future due to certain unique circumstances in our case. Our community has benefited from good media exposure, excellent timing and most importantly, a few talented and mature people at the outset. Without any one of those, we would not have been as successful.”

But they were successful, and while they may have been helped along by the alignment of the stars and a healthy smattering of luck, if it happened once it can happen again. I don’t expect game studios will begin flying fans all over the countryside on a regular basis, but I do think that closer attention will be paid when squeaky wheels start demanding grease. And for that, no matter what we may think of the boycotters or their motives, we owe these guys a thanks.

Andy Chalk still hasn’t bought Left 4 Dead.

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