Valve can do no wrong... right?

Earlier today, Twitter was abuzz with anticipation as to what the mysterious countdown on the Aperture Science webpage might relate to. It was obvious that it would be something related, and it was a fair assumption that it would be something to do with the alternate-reality game Valve has been teasing the community with since the release of the Potato Sack Pack indie bundle.

The reveal turned out to be the potential early release of Portal 2. Note: "potential" early release. The proviso was that in order for Portal 2 to unlock early, enough people had to be playing the games featured in the . The whole thing was wrapped up in a GLaDOS-themed spoof of the Folding@Home service on PlayStation 3. At the time of writing, it's still going on -- you can see at a glance how many people are playing the different games and purchase them yourself if you want to join in.

Valve's reveal attracted mixed opinions from the community. Some thought that it was an extremely clever way to build anticipation for Portal 2, and to reward the community for their passion by providing them with the game early. Yet others criticized it as a cynical marketing ploy -- "if you buy enough of these games, you can then buy Portal 2 earlier than when you would have done anyway!"

As tends to happen with such debates on the Internet, misinformation started flying around and spreading quickly. Some bemoaned the fact that you supposedly had to buy the Potato Sack Pack in order to contribute to the early release effort -- not true: if you already own any of the games, you just have to play them. Others accused Valve of "holding Portal 2 to ransom" unless people bought the indie games -- also not true: the release date if the "targets" are not reached is the same as it's always been, but now there's the potential for it to come early.

It's worth pointing out that marketing reasons aside, this stunt is a hugely positive sign of support for indie games from Valve. Tying a selection of independent titles to the release of one of their most hotly-anticipated games is a move which will be good for both Valve and the developers in question. Far from being a cynical marketing ploy, it's actually a damn good way for Valve to raise awareness of some of the best -- and most creative -- titles in its catalog. How many of you were unaware of the existence of , and before this promotion?

Positive steps for indie developers aside, though, one important consideration is whether any other publisher could have pulled this off. Valve is a well-liked company and it still attracted criticism from some quarters. Similarly, respected DRM-free gaming site Good Old Games attracted the ire of the Internet last year when it pretended to shut down as part of an elaborate marketing stunt. So what would happen if a big publisher such as EA, Activision or Ubisoft -- companies whom gamers are wary of thanks to tricks such as "Project $10" and the like -- tried something like this? Could have been ugly. And what about Sony and Microsoft? Will we ever see arrangements like this on Xbox Live and PSN? Don't hold your breath.