The program offers educators a modified version of Steam that puts control in the hands of teachers – and offers students a chance to snag a free, unmodified version of Portal 2 and its puzzle maker. Teachers are able to add "lessons" as they see fit, created in Portal 2's puzzle maker – several of which are already available.
It's a first for Valve, and really for any game developer operating today. Thankfully for those of us who love Valve for its video games, not much (if anything) is changing in Valve's approach to game design. "Having a fun game is so connected to learning and mastery and agency and social dynamics. You can't really design a good game without really considering all those things and putting in the effort to understand how your customers respond to those things. And it feels like that process has a lot of value, more than the product," Malaika said.
Rather than looking at education as the primary goal, Malaika and Redd see it as a byproduct of the gameplay experience. Their job, then, is to facilitate that gameplay. "Our job is to empower teachers to be able to do the same thing in a way they couldn't otherwise, in another medium," Malaika said.
Redd echoed that sentiment moments later. "What we're doing is we're exposing in an easy on-ramp way how that good game design is actually good learning that happens for anything at any age. So I think what we're actually doing is revealing it a bit more. We're putting the building blocks in place, we're putting the framework and the destination in place to say, 'Hey, look, these actually have relationships here. This actually has meaning.' The game that the student may be playing at home, they know that they're learning as they're doing it. I feel myself learning and my brain plasticity changing as I play Portal 2 and use the puzzle maker. And I think what we're just doing is trying to make those connections more obvious."
Steam for Schools is currently in beta on both PC and Mac, and Valve hopes it'll be ready for full release by the fall semester. "The way we release things at Valve ... we're constantly considering ourselves in a development mode. So when we release it to public, it's just one in a long series of progressively larger releases to wider audiences," Malaika said.