Speaking to Seven Day Cooldown in a podcast passed before release to The Verge, Newell said that the finer details of the business model underpinning Valve's keenly awaited PC and Mac RTS were still being worked out.
"It's going to be free-to-play," he said. "It'll have some twists, but that's the easiest way for people to think about it. The issue we're struggling with quite a bit is something I've talked about before, which is: how do you properly value people's contributions to a community?
"We're trying to figure out ways so that people who are more valuable to everybody else [are] recognised and accommodated [for]. We all know people where, if they're playing, we want to play, and there are other people where if they're playing we would [rather] be on the other side of the planet.
"It's just a question of coming up with mechanisms that recognise and reward people who are doing things that are valuable to other groups of people."
Pressed for specifics, Newell said that players who were useful in-game guides, or who volunteered their time to train lower-level players, would be rewarded. As he says, he's openly discussed this idea in the past, including an interview with Develop last year in which he said: "In practice, a really likeable person in our community should get Dota 2 for free, because of past behaviour in Team Fortress 2.
"Now, a real jerk that annoys everyone, they can still play, but a game is full-price and they have to pay an extra hundred dollars if they want voice. That's just one example."
Much has changed since that interview last May: Steam opened its doors to free-to-play, Team Fortress 2 made the switch, and its userbase grew instantly. As such it's not surprising that Dota 2 will also be free – even before last year's changes, Newell was a vocal critic of videogame pricing – and it's safe to assume that Newell's imagined flexible pricing model has been put back in a drawer.
But what of this reward system? Is Valve slowly turning Steam into a social network, rewarding players for positive in-game behaviour, replacing achievements with something more tangible?
"When somebody from the general business press says 'social network', they generally mean a website that looks like Facebook," he explained. "If I had to talk about a model, it would be more about how gamers can benefit from a collective action of all the other gamers, and there are a bunch of different ways that can occur – whether from things that look like traditional social networking notifications to higher-value activities.
"As far as I know, Facebook doesn't have the ability for people to fundamentally modify or edit the underlying Facebook experience. It really is more a legacy of John Carmack's thinking about things than it is social networking."