Now 49, Newell is one of the most widely admired figures in gaming. In 2011, hackers accessed the Steam database. Valve immediately alerted users, but months later — in February 2012 — Newell sent a follow-up note to users saying the company had determined those intruders had obtained a copy of a backup file containing user names, email addresses — and more importantly, encrypted billing addresses and encrypted credit card information. Rather than crying foul as they did when Sony suffered a similar intrusion, most gamers shrugged it off.
Part of Newell's goodwill comes from his openness to the gaming community. He regularly responds to gamer emails, discussing everything from game theory to his fondness for Singha beer to his knife collection, and has playful interactions with Valve's player base. In 2009, he flew to Australia to play a fan-made map for Valve's "Left 4 Dead" game.
In return, he expects gamers to be on his team. In 2003, when a hacker stole the source code for Half-Life 2 and posted it online long before the game's release, Newell took the company's fan forums to ask for the community's help in tracking down the thief.
This relationship allowed Newell to weather difficulties like his recent database breach. "A lot of our love and attention ends up getting directed towards Gabe because he has not only has led such an amazing company, but he not infrequently puts himself out there via various means of public commentary and he tends to do so very candidly — it helps us feel as if we can get to know him," says Randy Pitchford, CEO and co-founder of Gearbox Software, which has worked with Valve on several games in the "Half-Life" franchise.
While he might be a kindly uncle figure to fans, Newell is hardly afraid to go toe-to-toe with industry giants like Sony and Microsoft.
In a 2007 interview with Game Informer magazine, he called the PlayStation 3 "a total disaster on so many levels." Three years later, though, he was on stage at Sony's E3 press conference noting the company's improvements — though not without a little humor. "I'd really like to thank everyone at Sony for their gracious hospitality, and for not repeatedly punching me in the face," he said onstage.
"Gabe is one of the rare industry luminaries who speaks his mind openly, and out of a genuine desire to improve the industry's state of the art," says Sweeney. "He has no qualms about sparring with Sony, Microsoft, and other industry leaders. Thus, when Gabe speaks, people listen. We know he's talking sense to us, which is a rare occurrence in the increasingly PR-driven world of large publishers."
A gambler who doesn't bluff? That a rarity in any field.