Hoping to bypass the publishing middle-man, the game industry is looking to adopt the strategy already in use by some authors and musicians. Half-Life creator Valve is offering up a new PC platform, Steam, which would allow them to market games directly to players. Though we have seen instances where eliminating publishers has caused problems in game development , Valve hopes the result will be greater artistic control and increased profits.

In promoting the new platform and their upcoming sequel to Portal, Valve is using a combination of in-game updates and cryptic forum posts to leave clues for the community to decipher. Alternate reality games have been on our mind a lot after Zach Whalen’s talk at The Future of Digital Studies, so when I heard about the strange game Valve seems to be offering its community, I was especially intrigued.

Clues so far have included changing the music put out by small radios in Portal to put out morse code sequences, and changing Steam-specific files, which gamers have parsed using a digital art creation method known as “databending” (also known as “glitch art” ) whereby the artist opens a jpg file in a text reader.