Doing Business Like Valve
To just about every gamer on the planet, VALVe represents the gold-standard of video game companies. Every major game they’ve produced — the Half-Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead series’ being the crown jewels — have been huge hits with audiences and critics. Their digital distribution network, Steam, is one of the few gamers seem to actually like using. They’ve built a reputation as an exceedingly outgoing corporation. Heck, VALVe’s founder/president, Gabe Newell, regularly answers fans’ e-mails.
Which is probably why — impatient though we are — the company’s fans are only happy to wait until VALVe decides Half-Life 3 meets the series’ pedigree.
So how exactly does this unorthodox company do business?
Huge shocker: in a really, really unorthodox way. VALVe’s Handbook for New Employees has recently surfaced online, and it contains a lot of interesting stuff — and I mean a lot (including a cartoon of a guy wearing a Half-Life 3 shirt on page 22, continuing the company’s sadistic teasing streak). Hell, the place sounds like a hippie commune run by scientists.
For those too lazy to read it all, I’ll summarize some of the best bits:
- VALVe has no hierarchy at all. No supervisors, no managers, no CEO in the traditional sense. While I doubt anyone can walk into the office and fire Gabe, its seems as though they really respect employees’ decision making skills — they call it Flatland.
- Employees are allowed to choose what they want to work on. If a current project excites you, work on it. If a new idea gets you going, work on it. If a different project isn’t as interesting, but could use your individual skills more, work on it. Every desk has wheels and people find each other based on where their workstation is plugged in.
- There are no departments. Quote from the handbook: “Everyone is a designer. Everyone can question each other’s work.”
- Project teams are called cabals — which is awesome — and anyone can join a cabal at any time. “No matter what project, you’re already invited.”
- Working overtime is rare; it “indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication.”
- I can’t tell if it’s a joke or not, but it seems they people who do employees’ laundry. There’s also a gym and a massage room – a massage room.
- Wages are based on peer reviews and stack ranking. “Valve’s goal is to get your compensation ‘correct’ [...] (as best we can tell using the opinions of peers).”
- Finding the best possible people is the goal — every employee is involved in the hiring process.
To be honest, it sounds a bit too good to be true. I imagine the whole thing, as described, easily devolving into a chaotic, unfocused, narcotic-fueled nightmare (then again I’m stacking it up against places I’ve worked). At the moment though, all I’m seeing is the output they’ve managed, so until we see evidence that it doesn’t work, take notes, EA.
Check out VALVe’s company handbook here..