Valve is behind some of the most beloved video games of all time, but the Portal series is arguably the company’s magnum opus. The Portal games have it all: clever puzzles, witty writing, and enough depressing lore to fill a Dark Souls world bible. However, despite the Portal franchise’s popularity, we’ve only received two Portal games (and a spin-off meant to advertise the Steam Deck). This unfortunate reality disappointed many gamers and helped spawn the joke that Valve is allergic to the number 3. However, we now seem to know some of the more practical reasons why Valve never worked on Portal 3.
Not too long ago, Simon Parkin, host of the My Perfect Console podcast, interviewed the writer of Portal 1 and 2, Erik Wolpaw. Parkin began the interview with the question on everyone’s mind: Where is Portal 3? Many outlets, including PCGamer, have noted that Wolpaw has tried to get that project off the ground several times and even has a good “starting point.” Parkin even noted that Wolpaw has transformed many public appearances, including interviews, into calls to action (albeit with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek). Yet all of these attempts have failed, which brings us back to the question of “Why?” According to Wolpaw, it all comes down to how Valve’s size, or rather lack thereof, affects the development process.
Wolpaw explained that Valve has a “flat structure,” and that everything done at the company has an “opportunity cost.” In his own words, “Whatever is going on at Valve right now requires the dedication and participation of the people working on it, and it’s voluntary.”
Wolpaw also stated that “To really go out and advocate for [Portal 3] could be destructive just in the sense that you don’t want to cause internal strife.” Why would proposing a sequel to one of Valve’s most popular titles cause strife? Because Valve is already stretched thin as is.
Wolpaw eventually dropped quite the bombshell: Valve isn’t as big as most gamers think it is. Many have an inflated view of the company due to the success of Steam. Wolpaw explained, “Valve is not a giant company. I think people sometimes think it is because of the outsized influence of Steam, but it’s not really that many people. So, you know, it takes manpower to keep DOTA going. It takes manpower to keep CS: GO going, and the freeform nature of Valve means that there are a lot of experiments that simply fall.” In other words, developing Portal 3 would require a much higher employee investment than Valve has to offer, at least if it wants to keep games such as DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive properly maintained. And that doesn’t take into account Valve’s other responsibilities.
These days, Valve is best known for its digital distribution platform Steam. The program services millions of gamers every day, and while Wolpaw enjoyed his time writing for Valve, he acknowledged that Steam is more important to the current gaming landscape than another Portal. Wolpaw stated, “If I had to choose between Valve’s games and Steam — which I feel is the most democratizing technology that ever came out to allow people to create games, game creators to actually make games and get them in front of people — I guess I would choose Steam.”
Taking Wolpaw’s interview at face value, ultimately Valve itself is the biggest obstacle preventing Portal 3, but not due to malicious intent. Valve might be one of the most successful game companies on the market, but it is also one of the smallest and simply doesn’t have the manpower necessary. Here’s hoping Valve fixes that shortcoming one day, and that Wolpaw is there to lead the team from a narrative standpoint.