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Valve’s economist discusses studio’s hiring & firing policy

Tuesday, 26th February 2013 11:21 GMT By Dave Cook

Valve’s resident economist Yanis Varoufakis has shed light on the hiring and firing policy at the Seattle company.

Earlier this month we reported that Valve was said to have laid off 25 staff, including prototype engineer Jeri Ellsworth and director of business Jason Holtman.

Speaking with Gamasutra, Varoufakis said of Valve’s staff policy, “The way it works is very simple. Let’s say you and I have a chat in the corridor, or in some conference room, or wherever.

“The result of this chat is that we converge to the view that we need an additional software engineer, or animator, or artist, or hardware person. Or several of them.

“What we can do is, we can send an email to the rest of our colleagues at Valve and invite them to join us in forming a search committee that actually looks for these people without seeking anyone’s permission in the hierarchy, simply because there is no hierarchy.

“And then we form spontaneously the search committee, and then we interview people, first by Skype, and then we bring them in – if they pass the test – to the company for a more face-to-face personalized interview. And anyone who wants to participate does participate.”

On the issue of staff firing, Varoufakis said that he has seen it happen, “It does happen. I’ve seen it happen. And it’s never pretty. It involves various communications at first when somebody’s under-performing, or somebody doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the company.

“In many occasions people simply don’t fit in not because they’re not productive or good people, but because they just can’t function very well in a boss-less environment. And then there are series of discussions between co-workers and the person whose firing is being canvased or discussed.

“And at some point if it seems there is no way that a consensus can emerge that this person can stay, some attractive offer is made to the particular person, and usually there’s an amicable parting of ways.”

We’re still no closer to finding out why staff were supposedly let go earlier this month.

We’ll keep on digging for more.

Thanks Develop.

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10 Comments

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  1. ianos

    Doug Lombardi himself has said “false” when you asked him about the rumours. So you either don’t understand what the word means or are calling him a liar.

    How is the ‘jury still out’ on this one?

    Also: Valve is still listed as a current employer, too.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 “How is the ‘jury still out’ on this one?”

    No comment.

    Plus, his LinkedIn profile did have Valve stated as a previous employer yesterday. It has now reverted. That has yet to be explained.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. ianos

    Yes, it was a current and former employer. I’ve seen that on plenty of profiles in the past. Seems to be a quirk of the site, more than damning evidence.

    You can surely understand why I’m questioning you though? You’ve reported Lombardi himself as stating the rumours of his departure are false, then when I’ve pointed this out you’ve gone for ‘no comment’?

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Sanwiches

    Yeah, why is it important to know why some people were fired anyway? If they don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to talk about it.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @4 because something might be happening at the studio – a restructure, a new arm opening. It’s important :)

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Myth

    Most of the things Dave and the other games media covers are mainly fluffy statements of intent or marketing – “our new game will be great”, “we are merging to create awesome X” and “this new graphics engine will be better because Y”. But that’s cheap – you send out a press release that costs you nothing and can say whatever you want.

    If Valve (arguably the most important company in PC-gaming) fired 30 people, including some of their leaders, then that’s a concrete change that has bigger implications than any press release you’d otherwise gobble up from news sites around the world.

    If it also relates to their unique way of operating and signals that they can’t make their unorthodox organizational structure function at their current size it becomes massively important.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Myth

    @3 Those changes don’t happen on their own on Linkedin – it may not mean you lost your job, but it does mean you’re tinkering with your profile. Something you tend to do when you lost your job or are thinking about leaving for something else. ;)

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @7 yep, that was the thought process basically.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. DSB

    Sounds a lot like a WoW raiding guild.

    I just don’t get Valves PR policy. They ignore so many requests for information, but at the same time they have those blogs by Abrash and Varoufakis, and they don’t seem scared to talk about internal stuff in interviews.

    It’s like a mix of getting it exactly right by generally being open, and then total naivety in expecting people to forget about wanting an answer to their questions. At the very least you have to give them a “No comment”.

    @2 Let’s not make mountains out of molehills though. You have no idea how long his profile actually said that, do you?

    As for the firings, a restructure isn’t exactly huge is it? Always dig if you think there’s a story, but it’s a little crazy to start making assumptions based on the facts we’ve been presented.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Talkar

    @9
    It is because they have the “boss-less” environment, as indicated in the article. What Gabe Newell thinks holds just as much weight as what a programmer who was hired 3 days ago thinks. That is most likely why we’ve got a Linux version of Steam. I doubt that from a business perspective it was a good idea, but there was probably a group of people at Valve who wanted to make it, so they did.
    There are good things to this structure, like the Linux version of Steam (i heard people like Steam…) and games like Portal.
    But there are also significant drawbacks to this model, since it will take them forever to make just about anything. Just look at Half-Life 3, or Offline mode for Steam. These are things that has been missing and not working correctly, respectively, for years.
    But basically, at Valve you can do whatever the hell you want, for better or worse.

    #10 1 year ago