Valve is often looked upon with a sense of gamer-reverence; one of the few game industry mega-companies with a squeaky-clean reputation. However, a former employee has opened up about some of the underlying structures of the development studio.
Jeri Ellsworth, who was laid-off in February 2013 and was one of the company’s well-known hardware developers, has explained that there was no “pseudo-flat structure” and the comforting Valve Handbook for New Employees doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.
“When I first started at Valve,” said Ellsworth, “I was very sceptical… but they started pumping me up, and telling me how I’d have all this control of the hardware group and be able to form the group as I’d like, so I started to drink the Kool-Aid.”
“Many of you have probably seen the Valve handbook, which is a very idealised view of what Valve is like. A lot of those things are true in there, like it is kind of a pseudo-flat structure where, at least in small groups, you’re all peers and you make decisions together.”
“The one thing that I found out the hard way is that there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company. And it feels–felt–a lot like high school.”
Ellsworth went on to explain that a lot of “popular kids” had acquired the power in the company, and Ellsworth’s job was made harder after the “old-timers in Valve” found her recruits to not fit the culture of the company.
Ellsworth went on about the flat structure, saying that it “works on a small scale”, but “breaks down terribly when you start looking at a company of, like, 300 people.”
Ellsworth also recounted that she learnt she was fired from a co-worker and that ultimately, she doesn’t think Valve’s management structure works.
“I’m sounding bitter, and I am. I am really, really bitter because they promised me the world, and then backstabbed me,” she added.
“You give people complete latitude with no checks and balances, it’s just human nature they’re going to try to minimise the work they have to do and maximise the control they have.”
Ellsworth is currently working on the CastAR project.