Anon: "I worked at Valve a few years back, and I could write a book about what's wrong there" (Update: Verified ex-Valve employee comments in thread)

delete12345

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Nov 17, 2017
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Please close thread if this is old. I just couldn't find relevant threads about this, just by searching for "Valve" here.

I worked at Valve a few years back, and I could write a book about what's wrong there. I think the biggest problem they have -- which the author of this article touched on -- is that "success is the worst teacher." Valve have discovered that cosmetic microtransactions are big money makers, and thus every team at Valve was dedicated to that vision. When I was there (before Artifact started in open development) there were essentially no new games being developed at all. There was a small group that were working on Left for Dead 3 (cancelled shortly after I joined), and a couple guys poking around with pre-production experiments for Half-Life 3 (it will never be released). But effectively all the attention was focused on cosmetic items and "the economy" of the three big games (DOTA, CS:GO, and TF2). One very senior employee even said that Valve would never make another single player game, because they weren't worth the effort. "Portal 2," he explained, had only made $200 million in profit and that kind of chump change just wasn't worth it, when you could make 100s of millions a year selling digital hats and paintjobs for guns (most of which are designed by players, not the employees!)
In theory, employees are allowed to (supposed to, even) work on whatever they think is valuable. In reality, you should be working on whatever the people around you think is valuable or you're gonna get fired really quickly. (Fewer than half of new employees make it to the end of their first year.) This usually means doing whatever the most senior people on the team think is important, both because they should know if they've been there for a while, but also because they wield enormous power behind the scenes.
The problem with a company with no defined job titles or explicit seniority is that there is still seniority, but it is invisible and thus deniable. An example: in my first few months, I was struggling to find a good project and a very senior employee (one of the partners, actually) took me aside and recommended I leave my current team since my heart was clearly not in it and take some time to think about what I really wanted to do, or else I'd get let go. I took his advice seriously, came up with a couple ideas, and then approached him a week or so later to pitch these projects. He got _angry_ at me, stressing that he's not my boss, and that it showed a remarkable lack of initiative that I'd ask someone else at the company what I should work on.
So: he has the authority to fire me (or at least to plausibly threaten to fire me) but the moment that authority would mean any responsibility or even the slightest effort to mentor someone, he's just another regular Joe with no special role at all. Similarly, there's no way to get meaningful feedback because nobody really knows who's going to be making the performance evaluations. Sure, you can take advice from someone who's been there for ten years, but if they're not included in the group that's assembled to evaluate you then their guidance is worth nothing.


I worked with some very smart people there, but it was the most dysfunctional and broken work environment I've ever witnessed.
Source:

Article here:


Spawned a discussion on Ycombinator, and is where 2 comments about Valve appeared:

 

Unknownlight

Member
Nov 2, 2017
4,206
The problem with a company with no defined job titles or explicit seniority is that there is still seniority, but it is invisible and thus deniable. An example: in my first few months, I was struggling to find a good project and a very senior employee (one of the partners, actually) took me aside and recommended I leave my current team since my heart was clearly not in it and take some time to think about what I really wanted to do, or else I'd get let go. I took his advice seriously, came up with a couple ideas, and then approached him a week or so later to pitch these projects. He got _angry_ at me, stressing that he's not my boss, and that it showed a remarkable lack of initiative that I'd ask someone else at the company what I should work on.

So: he has the authority to fire me (or at least to plausibly threaten to fire me) but the moment that authority would mean any responsibility or even the slightest effort to mentor someone, he's just another regular Joe with no special role at all.
I'm getting angry on this guy's behalf. "Lack of initiative"? That's comically dysfunctional.
 

kmfdmpig

The Fallen
Oct 25, 2017
3,037
Leaders using their position to intimidate and then being unwilling to guide as that would be "micro-managing" are crap leaders.
 

Arebours

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Oct 27, 2017
1,564
I'd take steam over any possible future valve games. There's no shortage of good games but steam being owned by a private company is unique and about as good as it gets in that space. So I'm fine if they never make another game.
 

lexible

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Oct 25, 2017
653
Australia
There being so much money in such shitty useless content has really done a number on the industry. Blizzard, Valve and Epic are husks of their former selves, and capitalism is the reason why.
 

Joey T

Member
Oct 25, 2017
1,274
"Indeed, Valve — once one of the most artistically creative game studios in the world... has mutated into a ruthless financial middleman.... creating virtually nothing original themselves."

Ain't that the fucking truth.
 

V Project

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Oct 27, 2017
109
Some of the points in the article remind me of my current job and I felt every word because working in such environment is absolutely mentally and physically exhausting.
 

pirata

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Oct 25, 2017
861
Man, and they're a private company, too, so they don't have stockholders to worry about appeasing. I guess working at the digital hat store might pay well and not have a lot of crunch. Sounds monstrously unfulfilling, though.

This makes me a little worried for Campo Santo.
 

--R

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Oct 25, 2017
3,529
One very senior employee even said that Valve would never make another single player game, because they weren't worth the effort. "Portal 2," he explained, had only made $200 million in profit and that kind of chump change just wasn't worth it, when you could make 100s of millions a year selling digital hats and paintjobs for guns (most of which are designed by players, not the employees!)
Big yikes. So this is how it ends.
 

Argus

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Oct 27, 2017
180
Every person is convinced that "If people knew how things worked here, there would be consequences!" about their place of (former) employment.
 

Elixist

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Oct 31, 2017
660
im gonna go ahead and believe this individual, going by valves actual output in the last while and that sucks. at least use those big pockets to invest/ aqcuire more studios that will make pc games for them, if they just want to build hats forever.
 

TheDinoman

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Oct 25, 2017
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The updates to Team Fortress 2 were pretty much the beginning of the end for Valve as we once knew them.
 

BronsonLee

it me
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Oct 24, 2017
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If you take what this person says at face value, then you can posit that Valve got lost in the weeds a bit with the microtransaction stuff/storefront stuff for a while there. Their corporate culture also seems admittedly very odd and reminds me a bit of Google's, which tends to push people starting new projects, even if the company already has a project for that particular need, over improving existing things.

I think they realized this a year or two back and are starting to swing things back (Campo Santo purchase, being more open with devs, etc), but it's gonna be a bit, and they're obviously not going to be the same Valve as, say, 2004, which makes sense. Different times after all~
 

flyingman

Banned
Apr 16, 2019
1,393
As a software engineer / computer engineer who was thinking to get in game development all these rockstar/valve/blizzard/nrs and more horror stories fears me very much
 

Mikey Jr.

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Oct 25, 2017
6,509
I wish Valve themselves never created Steam, but was created by some other company.

So many awesome IP's that are just stuck there, rotting.
 

jelly

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Oct 26, 2017
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Considering how harsh game development is not surprising they go for easy money and less stress or very creative avenues like VR over new AAA games. Still, you would think there would be less pressure at a place like that if you wanted to make a new game but easier money and more of it is the name of the game. Imagine you wanted to make a Portal 3 and tried to get a team together but most are like, no thanks, making hats and stuff, good money.
 

Hamchan

The Fallen
Oct 25, 2017
2,793
Not the first time we’ve heard of the flat structured hierarchy at Valve being a problem.

It sounds like a recipe for certain individuals to become de facto bosses in terms of popularity and influence without having to take any responsibility for decisions imo.
 

Hailinel

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Oct 27, 2017
15,924
I'd take steam over any possible future valve games. There's no shortage of good games but steam being owned by a private company is unique and about as good as it gets in that space. So I'm fine if they never make another game.
You can relax. This isn't an EGS thread.

Though frankly, this insight into their corporate culture explains a lot about Steam.
 

BradGrenz

Member
Oct 27, 2017
906
It's no surprise to me. Their entire focus has been on building perpetual revenue machines for over a decade. That was the entire idea behind artifact: What if unlimited lootbox revenue PLUS unlimited aftermarket transaction revenue FOREVER. They want to stand up systems that will just fill bank accounts without require meaningful effort on their part.
 

finalflame

Product Management
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Oct 27, 2017
2,423
They're not wrong, but as with many people who likely left because their values and the company's didn't align, it does feel a bit dramaticized.
 

Gold Arsene

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Oct 27, 2017
17,295
Why doesn't Valve outsource some of their IP's for other people to make?

Honest question. I just wonder why they sit on so many well known properties.
 

oneils

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Oct 25, 2017
1,700
Ottawa Canada
Leaders using their position to intimidate and then being unwilling to guide as that would be "micro-managing" are crap leaders.
I used to see a lot of leaders, in the early 2000s, that were allergic to coaching. The best leaders I had were good "coaches." The worst just refused and expected you to know what to do. That has largely seemed to be stamped out in my workplace now. Most leaders are coaches.

I guess its convenient for them to just be able to not lead? weird.
 

Ionic

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Oct 31, 2017
1,140
I wonder how the only working on projects that create explicitly high monetary value thing jives with Valve's investments in Linux and VR, both high effort projects with relatively small financial gain (at least for now).
 

Walnut

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Nov 2, 2017
303
Austin, TX
Gonna have a counter-culture take here; this actually sounds like a fun work environment to be in. It’s one where you just get to *do* things rather than being told what to do. It’s not going to be for everyone, but I think with the right mindset and right personality that could be an awesome place to work.

With that said, the lack of senior management directing anything at all is why we get the klutzy dysfunctional Valve-time syndrome, and that part of it isn’t so great. Work gets done by groups convincing each other to work on the same project, so without a clear leader saying “this is what we need to do,” nothing really gets done.

I’d say the answer is to have some senior project managers who define what goes on with group input, and Valve’s output would go up greatly. It should still be driven by what the collective wants to work on, but they need somebody to help get everyone on the same page.
 

Baconmonk

Avenger
Oct 26, 2017
3,992
Confirms some of the fear about the company floating around. Valve was a great game developer because of the faith in modders/ indies and the collaborations that came from it. They just aren't the same company any more.
 

BronsonLee

it me
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Oct 24, 2017
16,038
I wonder how the only working on projects that create explicitly high monetary value thing jives with Valve's investments in Linux and VR, both high effort projects with relatively small financial gain (at least for now).
The Linux thing was borne out of them trying to push Steam Machines/not want to rely on Windows as a platform. That failed out, but the Proton stuff is a nice bridge. They'll likely keep pushing that for a few years.

I deadass think they fucked up so hard on VR and it's gonna cost them hundreds of millions
 

Wumbo64

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Oct 27, 2017
172
I'd take steam over any possible future valve games. There's no shortage of good games but steam being owned by a private company is unique and about as good as it gets in that space.
Yes and no. The benefit of private ownership is not being beholden to investors and the agility to make decisions based on the whims of the owners. So, if the owners are intelligent and tactful, then you can serve your customer base and enforce healthy policies. Recently, Valve has proven it has little interest in achieving either. It's why I buy games on GoG and personally have little issue with Epic buying limited exclusivity on certain titles.

Valve stopped making content I enjoy, ruined the existing structure of games I used to play like DotA 2/CSGO/TF2 with skinnerbox nonsense, incrementally updated their client to make it worse, convinced the community to do asset production and curation work for them, tried to monetize mods, enabled bigots for years by ignoring their posts in the forums, set your profile's to public by default for years so that dataminers could easily steal your info and now we are continually hearing about their unhealthy workplace culture.

We are long way from their glory days. I am hesitant to give them another dime to be honest. In terms of storefronts, I don't consider them good, just the lesser of many evils. Every article like this just reaffirms my meditations were well-founded.

I hope we see a fundamental change at Valve soon, but I doubt it.
 

1-D_FE

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Oct 27, 2017
2,772
I still don't believe we're ever going to see those three mythical VR games. And the one supposed game that's supposed to come out this year is just Gabe hoping that one of these small projects catches lighting in a bottle and becomes something before the end of the year (hence why he refuses to be pinned down by naming it).

The hardware teams have been their shining stars this past decade. But I suppose that's in large part because a small team can make a much bigger difference there. You don't need the massive team you do to create today's AAA software.
 

pirata

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Oct 25, 2017
861
I don't see it that way. For a while, the guaranteed revenue from Steam was funding multiple fantastic projects from the studio.

It's the change of perspective from revenue from Steam/services being a means to an end (the ability to take risks on cutting-edge game development) to game (or rather, "content') development being a means to an end (maximum possible revenue from services with no risks taken whatsoever) that zombified Valve. It's an encapsulation of passionless late capitalism at large.
 

farmland

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Oct 30, 2017
267
Not the first time we’ve heard of the flat structured hierarchy at Valve being a problem.

It sounds like a recipe for certain individuals to become de facto bosses in terms of popularity and influence without having to take any responsibility for decisions imo.
It's worth remembering that Valve isn't actually a co-operative and still has an ownership class that can and do control the business (whether it be implicit or explicit), which makes the business a weird contradiction in its structure. There's plenty of examples of co-operatives that are successful and long lasting that don't lose direction like Valve has.

The trend to emphasise microtransactions at the expense of single player development is industry wide and is a function of market forces sadly.
 

MistaTwo

SNK Gaming Division Studio 1
Verified
Oct 24, 2017
1,976
They're not wrong, but as with many people who likely left because their values and the company's didn't align, it does feel a bit dramaticized.
Yup. Happens to people in studios and especially satellite studios all around the world.

Finding a studio/position that closely matches your own goals and aspirations might as well be an art form.

Anyone who joined Valve in the last decade with the aspiration to create AAA FPS games probably needed a little dose of reality.

On the other side, I am sure there are plenty of VR hardware enthusiasts who are living their dream job at the moment.
 

finalflame

Product Management
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Oct 27, 2017
2,423
I wonder how the only working on projects that create explicitly high monetary value thing jives with Valve's investments in Linux and VR, both high effort projects with relatively small financial gain (at least for now).
There are very good reasons they're working on both, related to unannounced major efforts.
 

merf

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Oct 27, 2017
368
I always wonder what it'd be like to work at a place like Valve, where so many people are actively resentful because you could be working on anything you'd like but you're not working on anything most people care about. I assume employees either just drink the Kool-Aid, isolate themselves in a bubble or otherwise want to blow their fucking brains out.
 

fantomena

Banned
Oct 25, 2017
9,637
Norway.
"Indeed, Valve — once one of the most artistically creative game studios in the world... has mutated into a ruthless financial middleman.... creating virtually nothing original themselves."

Ain't that the fucking truth.
Steam and most of the systems surrounding Steam isn't original?

Valve is no longer a game developer. They're a costume studio now.
They are literally creating VR games right now.
 

Narroo

Member
Feb 27, 2018
908
There being so much money in such shitty useless content has really done a number on the industry. Blizzard, Valve and Epic are husks of their former selves, and capitalism is the reason why.
Capitalism is the reason why? I think the reason why is because they want a free lunch. I mean what, if we had socalistic laws that somehow they would stop liking money or running a storefront?
 

scitek

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Oct 27, 2017
2,625
Honestly, it sounds like a tough place to work, but this sounds pretty tame compared to the shit we recently heard about Rockstar. At the very least, they're both shitty places to work for, but I'd take the dysfunctional place over the place harboring harassment and letting higher-ups flat-out abuse employees.
 

Joco

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Oct 29, 2017
438
"Only" $200 million in profit for Portal 2 and it's not worth it. Sickening. I understand the why but I don't like it.
 

Narroo

Member
Feb 27, 2018
908
maybe I should rephrase, to borrow the term from Jim Sterling, cAAApitalism.
But isn't this the opposite of AAA development? It's non-development! Of course, running a store in-of-itself isn't a bad thing. It's just how and why they went about the conversion is the issue.