Valve’s Orange Box paved the way for today’s physical indie retail space

When Valve launched Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two as The Orange Box bundle back in 2007, it had a transformative effect on the games retail space of its day. That’s according to Valve’s Robin Walker, who recently spoke to PC Gamer about the legacy of the game bundle and the impact it had on the company as a whole.

"The Orange Box was also a great product to really highlight why the retail channel was reducing game developer’s options," he said. "We found with Episode One that retail really didn’t understand or like a premium quality $20 title – they stood to make less money per box, and they had a limited amount of shelf space in their stores.

"The Orange Box avoided this by combining multiple quality products into a single box that was worth that full amount, but in doing so it created other problems. Retail had never seen a new, high quality box containing more than one title. Historically, a box that contained multiple titles was a bundle of old or low quality titles.

"So in terms of Steam’s history, to us The Orange Box represents the era in which distribution channels placed a huge amount of friction on what kinds of games were made, how big they should be, and how much they were sold for. These weren’t things that retailers should be blamed for, they were simply the side effects of operating in physical space. It’s great to be able to look around and see such an enormously wide spectrum of games being made today, many of which wouldn’t have had much of a chance to find their audience in that physical distribution world."

Indeed, combining three games into a single title particularly helped with the reception of Portal, Walker continues, as it meant Valve din’t have to do "the heavy lifting of explaining to people why they should buy this thing that was unlike anything they’d played before," allowing the company to "lure" people in with its sibling titles instead. 

Of course, these days, games publishers don’t need to employ such tactics, as the sheer number of options available now make it much easier to sell smaller, Portal-style releases, both at physical and digital retail alike. Still, there’s no denying the role The Orange Box played in creating today’s retail landscape, as it allowed retailers to think a little differently about how much games cost and the way they’re presented on shelves. While it’s unlikely we’ll see another Orange Box-style release (either from Valve or any other game publisher, for that matter), its impact won’t be forgotten. 

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