Working at Valve: a Glimpse Behind the Curtain

Valve Offices

If I know anything about our Sushi-ans, it’s two things: you guys love Valve, and many of you are interested in landing a job in the video game industry. And though jobs in the video game industry are sometimes defined by long hours, menial tasks and not always working on that dream game, it does seem that Valve marches to the beat of a different drummer on multiple fronts.

In a new blog entry by Michael Abrash, currently working in the R&D department at Valve, we’re given a pretty candid look at just how different things operate at the house that built Half Life. On top of having an incredibly unique long term view of how they see the company moving forward, it sounds like Valve has mostly abandoned the corporate structure. To me, this was one of the coolest excerpts:

Hierarchical management doesn’t help with that, because it bottlenecks innovation through the people at the top of the hierarchy, and there’s no reason to expect that those people would be particularly creative about coming up with new products that are dramatically different from existing ones – quite the opposite, in fact. So Valve was designed as a company that would attract the sort of people capable of taking the initial creative step, leave them free to do creative work, and make them want to stay. Consequently, Valve has no formal management or hierarchy at all.

Now, I can tell you that, deep down, you don’t really believe that last sentence. I certainly didn’t when I first heard it. How could a 300-person company not have any formal management? My observation is that it takes new hires about six months before they fully accept that no one is going to tell them what to do, that no manager is going to give them a review, that there is no such thing as a promotion or a job title or even a fixed role (although there are generous raises and bonuses based on value to the company, as assessed by peers). That it is their responsibility, and theirs alone, to allocate the most valuable resource in the company – their time – by figuring out what it is that they can do that is most valuable for the company, and then to go do it.

I could sit here and comment on that, but I think it speaks for itself. It says a lot about the quality of Valve’s products, why Steam is so innovative, and why their games have such a degree of polish. I highly suggest you go read the rest of the post yourself. Not only does Michael talk about what he’s currently working on at Valve (wearable computers – yes, seriously), he also ends the post with a call for people that want to work at Valve.

Out of curiosity, who are the folks at GamerSushi shooting for something in the industry? What are your thoughts on Abash’s post about Valve? Go!

Source – Valve Blog

Written by

I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

3 thoughts on “Working at Valve: a Glimpse Behind the Curtain”

  1. I am most certainly shooting for a job in the industry. Saw this comment a few days ago and had my mind kind of blown. That seems so odd to me, but what is more odd is that it works. I hope to one day be a part in a team as revolutionary as Valve.

  2. If you’ve ever read Portal 2: The Final Hours, they go over Valve’s corporate structure in a similar fashion, which I always found intriguing. It’s something I’ve been implementing with a game I’m working on; a sort-of hybrid between a hierarchy and a commune, in which everybody has a specialty but can work on anything they wish and create any ideas they want. There’s a director to keep things in check and lead his/her ultimate vision for the project, but in a design sense he/she’s on the same level as the rest of the team.

    The problem with many other developers is that they think that the traditional corporate structure/roles that work in other facets of business ALSO work in the gaming industry. They don’t. Well, they kind of do, but we can do better than kinda. Much better.

  3. like Trogador, I learned about some of the inside valve stuff from Portal 2’s bonus features and other stumbling. It makes sense in my life, in bands it’s much more fun if everyone is creative and brings their material and no one is a “leader” that creates everything and doles out work to others. If you’re having fun, there’s a good chance you’ll be more creative, even if not always more productive.

    I’ve worked for a family business my whole life, which is nice and lax, and do music work on the side. I’ve done music / audio for one film for a film student friend of mine and it was awesome. Doing it for video games / full-length feature films would be incredible, but it’s much more of a freelance thing than working for just one company, which is a shame, because I think a surrounding like Valve would bring out the most creativity in someone like me.

Comments are closed.