The news that Valve has acquired indie studio Campo Santo was something of a surprise, as the two seem like an unlikely mix at first glance. Valve is one of the biggest names in video games, behind such revolutionary titles as the Half-Life series and the hugely popular digital distribution platform of Steam. Meanwhile, Campo Santo has created the stunning Firewatch, an introspective game that was perhaps best characterized by its nuanced storytelling and deep character building.
Nonetheless, Campo Santo now sits under Valve's wing. The developer will be swapping San Francisco for Valve's headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, where they will continue to work on current project In the Valley of Gods, which is set to release next year and will now be published by Valve. Meanwhile, support for Firewatch is set to continue, and the team will maintain their positions as game developers.
It certainly feels like something of a different move for Valve. The company has lain dormant when it comes to new game development for some time, instead prioritizing the growth of Steam as a platform. Those games that did see major input from the developer in recent years have been the likes of MOBA game DotA 2, shooter series Counter-Strike, and the continued support of Team Fortress 2, while fans of games such as Half-Life have been left with little to work with other than Episode 3 plot reveals.
However, Valve's gears have started to turn of late. There had been rumblings of VR game development in a somewhat nebulous way, before the company confirmed it was going to start developing games again. Exactly what these games will be remains to be seen, but the fact that Valve has made the move for Campo Santo perhaps gives video game fans an indicator of what to expect.
When Valve has previously acquired another studio, it's generally down to a particular strength that the developer has shown. The last major purchase from Valve was Turtle Rock, a studio that caught Valve's attention and was brought into the Counter-Strike development fold. With a particular skill for AI, the studio - founded by former Westwood Studios members - was contracted multiple times for Counter-Strike work, before moving onto Left 4 Dead, the cooperative horror shooter that is now one of Valve's best-known properties.
Turtle Rock was officially acquired by Valve prior to the release of the first Left 4 Dead, before the studio parted ways from the Steam-creating giant. However, it was clear that Valve saw a skill that Turtle Rock had - in this case strong AI builds and engaging multiplayer gameplay - and saw a way to best utilize that. In the end, it resulted in the dynamic AI director model of Left 4 Dead and one of the most fun multiplayer shooter series around. In short, Valve seems to value the potential to create something big.
With that in mind, it's clear that Campo Santo has something that has piqued Valve's interest. The studio does fit the same mould as Turtle Rock, with a core team of established and talented developers, but there's also a style and emphasis that Campo Santo holds in quite a unique way: the ability to tell fascinating stories with genuine characters and dialogue. This may be what Valve is looking for, and what Campo Santo could provide under Valve's ownership going forward.
After all, one of the biggest criticisms Valve has seen in recent years is that what made the developer great has been missing. Valve didn't just make its name by changing the business model of video games, but by changing the way game stories were told. The first Half-Life may seem dated now, but for the time it felt free-flowing, with a very different and more natural feel than most games around. Meanwhile, Half-Life 2 may be remembered now for its physics engine, but at the time of release just as much focus was on the painstaking way that Valve built characters, in particular Alyx Vance.
It's here, then, that Valve fans might want to look for more clues on what the company has planned for the future. There are apparently a number of projects in development at Valve, and once Campo Santo is done with In the Valley of Gods, it might not be a surprise to see them move onto something much more narrative-driven than Valve's recent releases. Whatever happens, there's bound to be interesting things to come.
Source: Campo Santo