Valve’s “Secret Weapon”

Valve is famous for crafting games that are polished and intuitive. But that’s no accident: the developer has a near-religious obsession with playtesting.

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=== Before you watch ===

Content warning: Blood, Combat

=== Sources ===

[1] Valve reflects on The Orange Box, ten years later | PC Gamer

[2] Developer Commentary | Portal

[4] Beyond the Box | 1UP

[6] Narbacular Drop | Digipen Institute of Technology

[8] Valve’s philosophy with User Research… | Steve Bromley

[10] Opening the Valve | Eurogamer

[11] Valve Is Finally Ready to Talk About Its Games Again… | The Escapist

[12] Thinking With Portals | Game Developer Magazine

[13] 126 – Josh Weier Interview | Kiwi Talkz

[14] The Cabal: Valve’s Design Process For Creating Half-Life | Game Developer Magazine

[15] Handbook For New Employees | Valve

[16] The 100 greatest video games of all time… | GQ

[18] Why Are Valve’s Games So Polished? | IGN

[19] Half-Life 2: Episode One Update Released | Steam

[20] How fidgeting playtesters convinced Valve… | PC Gamer

[21] Christine Phelan – Creating a Nightmare…
[22] Integrating Narrative into Game Design…
[23] RPS Interview: Portal’s Kim Swift… | Rock Paper Shotgun

[24] Meet the minds behind Half-Life 2 | PC Gamer

[25] The Final Hours of Portal 2 | Steam

=== Chapters ===

00:00 – Intro
01:25 – Playtesting Portal
05:47 – Valve’s History
08:38 – Playtesting Tips
15:43 – Conclusion

=== Games Shown ===

Portal (2017)
Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Far Cry 3 (2012)
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (2021)
Portal 2 (2011)
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (2023)
Narbacular Drop (2005)
Half-Life 2 (2004)
skate. (Unreleased)
Left 4 Dead (2008)
Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006)
Half-Life Alyx (2020)
God of War Ragnarök (2022)
Untitled Magnet Game (Unreleased)
Superliminal (2019)
Viewfinder (Unreleased)

=== Credits ===

Music provided by Epidemic Sound – (Referral Link)


=== Subtitles ===

Contribute translated subtitles –


  1. Game Maker's Toolkit

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    • sad because valve doesn’t really make games anymore so their “secret weapon” is moot

    • Valve secret weapon?
      How is your stupidity a secret, the only reason why they dont make games is because you spend money ON NFTS/SKINS

    • Watched this earlier today on Nebula. I wish I could have left you feedback there.

      Is there any way of giving feedback on Nebula?

      I figured I should ask you, as you along with your fellow Creators, own Nebula?

    • I fucking love Valve, thanks for this video

    • Shankar Ravikumar

      There’s a big caveat about this type of development – it’s WAY SLOWER. This is not a good way to get a product ready fast. Games made this way will take years longer to finish than games made more traditionally. Which is fine for Valve ofc, since they barely put out games anyway, preferring to make money from Steam. For most game publishers it’s often too much. They need to pump out games a lot more often than Valve does in order to stay profitable.

  2. Slightly Confused

    Subnautica is a great example of how effective playtesting can be. They initially intended the game to be a relaxing adventure through an alien world where you could scan and read about different species, but during the playtesting they noticed everyone was genuinely terrified for 90% of the game so they leaned into it and added aggressive leviathans to contend with, which are now synonymous with Subnautica’s identity.

  3. 9:10 I remember heatmaps are popular at Valve as well. I think I saw a lot of heatmaps of deaths from HL2.
    12:00 I remember Adrian Chmielarz putting this one nicely. Shame I dont remember the exact wording, so paraphrasing: Players are excellent at figuring out that something is wrong, but they are terrible at figuring out why exactly. This is also one of the reasons I dislike difficulty levels and especially granular difficulty settings. They are meant for first time players of the game, yet they require tremendous insights not to break the game’s design, which is always unintentional in this case. Id rather have a game have ingame design features that the player slowly figures out and uses them to solve the problem, they are facing.
    16:00 This almost sounds like you should not try to make games for everyone, in other words, to please everyone at once :O.

  4. 6:47 Look at the colouring. The tasteful thickness of it… oh my god

  5. [Gabe Newell] Did you know? Valve software has a secret or two. Hee, hee..

  6. Man, I really love this channel

  7. So Valve basically invented agile software development / SCRUM.

  8. It’s amazing how well they test all the many AAA titles they put out these days…

  9. Very useful video with some insights I am excited to apply in my own work!

  10. zawsrdtygbhjimokpl

    ohhhh. The video isn’t about secret weapons, but it’s a metaphor

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