Dota Underlords proves that Valve can't make a new game to save the developer's, well, reputation. It hasn't been a great run for Valve and its Steam digital distribution service lately, as the company has come under fire for taking neutral stances on hot-button topics within the game community, seemingly ostracizing both sides of several debates.
Most recently, Valve was openly criticized for its game listing policies, which have allowed some troubling titles to get widespread recognition despite extremely offensive content. Valve's constant desire to remain as hands-off as possible with game curation on Steam has seemed to trickle into the company's game release policy as well. The latest game directly from Valve is Artifact, a trading card game that was supposed to revolutionize the genre and even committed to playing host to a $1 million tournament later into its lifespan. Now, the game's concurrent player total is regularly under 500 people, and its Twitter is silent as the few remaining stalwarts wonder if they'll ever get their tournament.
Now, Dota Underlords has released to early success, rocketing to the top of the Steam concurrent player charts and regularly checking into the top five. It's also the most recent example of a rather sad truth regarding the way Valve has been able to find success with its games: the company just can't seem to produce new IPs with any semblance of consistency, and it's been hit-or-miss with them over the past few attempts. Valve's best-performing titles are nearly all standalone games based on pre-existing mods, and Dota Underlords is the latest showcase of why the company doesn't feel the need to shake things up - it's working.
Prior to the release of Dota Underlords, though, Valve had already established its comfort zone. Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Garry's Mod and even Dota 2 itself are all based on mods that weren't originally developed by the company. The long-running memes about Half-Life 3 and the quiet surrounding a potential Portal sequel are even more proof that Valve has little interest in pouring more resources into the creation of something unique to itself when it can get by with riffs on "indie" mods that gain traction within the PC gaming community.
Unfortunately, however, Dota Underlords might also signify the beginning of a troubling trend for a company that wants to change as little as possible based on its Steam policies. League of Legends and Dota 2 are already extremely close in popularity, but the Riot Games spin on the Auto Chess genre that everyone has been quick to try to capitalize on is utterly dominating the scene. Teamfight Tactics has somehow managed to begin accumulating viewers on Twitch at about a 9x multiplier compared to Dota Underlords, and that disparity doesn't seem to be shrinking.
If Valve doesn't want to make new games, the ones it does make should be at least able to perform well in their own genre. That's not happening with Dota Underlords, and that's a concerning development for the company. Perhaps it's further evidence that Valve continues to remain out of touch with the community at large, and needs to seriously revamp its future plans. Getting by on the good will afforded to Steam doesn't seem like a good long-term business model with the Epic Games Store looming large with a more generous developer payout, and if standalone versions of mods aren't getting the job done either, new games are going to need to become a bigger priority - just as long as they're supported better than Artifact was.