Valve Details Their Unconventional Hiring Process

Valve Details Their Unconventional Hiring Process

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Contrary to popular belief, prospective employees do not earn their positions by dueling Gabe Newell in Counter-Strike.

Valve is, to put it simply, a very unique company. Ever since its employee handbook was uploaded for all the internet to see, game developers everywhere have wondered about the goings-on of daily life at the studio behind Half-Life and Steam. How does a company with no bosses or explicitly defined roles manage to do ... anything? Yanis Varoufakis, economist-in-residence at Valve, has decided to sate our curiosity by explaining a few things about Valve's progressive infrastructure: how they hire new team members, and how they decide to fire them.

Varoufakis says the hiring process is "very simple." "Let's say you and I have a chat in the corridor," he describes. "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." Once the day-long interview process is complete, the entire committee discusses the candidate until a group consensus can be reached.

Of course, the ugly flip-side to the hiring process is the procedure for firing people. "It does happen," Varoufakis admits. "I've seen it happen. And it's never pretty." Like the communal methodology of hiring new employees, there has to be a significant agreement among the staff that somebody has to go. Even then, it's often not for the reasons you may think. "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." In these cases, the employee has a number of talks with their peers about the problem, and if there's no other option, an "attractive offer" is made to the person and they start preparing a new resumé.

It's strange to imagine being fired by your co-workers, but it seems like a fair enough system when the staff is built from reasonable, peer-selected individuals. It's a testament to Valve's employees that the system even works at all with no formal hierarchy, but it looks like they're doing pretty well for themselves. Still, you probably shouldn't walk up to your boss tomorrow and recommend ditching the whole "chain of command" thing - it might not go over so well.

Source: Gamasutra

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Cognimancer:
Contrary to popular belief, prospective employees do not earn their positions by dueling Gabe Newell in Counter-Strike.

Well you just lost a sale there Valve.

You gotta admit it's a very interesting system, wonder how other companies would fair trying to use it?

I'll be "that guy".

-ahem-

Is this why it's taking so long to make HL3?

Insights on the inside of the valve offices just makes me want to work there so much more. Someday...

Timmey:
You gotta admit it's a very interesting system, wonder how other companies would fair trying to use it?

I doubt very many would. As he said in the article, many people don't function well in a boss-less environment. Structured hierarchies help organize and focus projects and people. This may be one of the only industries I can think of where it might be feasible, though boss-less work environments do exist and work in much smaller companies. Usually these companies have a handful of employees to begin with though, so everyone has to pull their own weight and do extra work anyway.

So... here's an interesting notion. Y'know what Valve would be if each worker had an equity stake in the company, instead of just Gaben and a handful of execs/investors?

A functioning anarchist commune. Besides the ownership issue (which is a huge "besides" philisophically but only incidental to how things actually run) they're already operating in a manner consistent with anarcho-syndicalism

Dangit2019:
I'll be "that guy".

-ahem-

Is this why it's taking so long to make HL3?

Was just about to say... no wonder HL3 is taking forever. Imagine working in an environment like that.

Me "Hey Dangit, you wanna get to the drawing board on HL3 concepts.. ya know, get the ball rollin' and all that jazz?"

Dangit "hmmm... nah, well we could.. whats the big guy say?"

Me "Gabe? He doesn't care and he's been in a real pinch lately, what with season 3 of MLP and all..."

Dangit "Yea thats true... "

Me "..."

Dangit "..."

Me "Wanna get lunch?"

Disclosure: Doesn't matter, still love Valve.

Ishal:

Dangit2019:
I'll be "that guy".

-ahem-

Is this why it's taking so long to make HL3?

Was just about to say... no wonder HL3 is taking forever. Imagine working in an environment like that.

Me "Hey Dangit, you wanna get to the drawing board on HL3 concepts.. ya know, get the ball rollin' and all that jazz?"

Dangit "hmmm... nah, well we could.. whats the big guy say?"

Me "Gabe? He doesn't care and he's been in a real pinch lately, what with season 3 of MLP and all..."

Dangit "Yea thats true... "

Me "..."

Dangit "..."

Me "Wanna get lunch?"

Disclosure: Doesn't matter, still love Valve.

Does this mean that for Half Life 3 to get released, MLP must die?

...

I will do it...

-sniff-

...it was my show.

I'M SO SORRY OLD YELLE-I MEAN MLP!

(shot)

...

So, when are the gameplay screens expected?

Dangit2019:

Ishal:

Dangit2019:
I'll be "that guy".

-ahem-

Is this why it's taking so long to make HL3?

Was just about to say... no wonder HL3 is taking forever. Imagine working in an environment like that.

Me "Hey Dangit, you wanna get to the drawing board on HL3 concepts.. ya know, get the ball rollin' and all that jazz?"

Dangit "hmmm... nah, well we could.. whats the big guy say?"

Me "Gabe? He doesn't care and he's been in a real pinch lately, what with season 3 of MLP and all..."

Dangit "Yea thats true... "

Me "..."

Dangit "..."

Me "Wanna get lunch?"

Disclosure: Doesn't matter, still love Valve.

Does this mean that for Half Life 3 to get released, MLP must die?

...

I will do it...

-sniff-

...it was my show.

I'M SO SORRY OLD YELLE-I MEAN MLP!

(shot)

...

So, when are the gameplay screens expected?

LMAO

NO!!! DON'T KILL IT YET!!! WE CAN TALK TO GABE... CONVINCE HIM!

Nah I'm just throwing in some humor there, just thought it'd be funny having that be his distraction. SO many ppl got pissed when they found out he watches the show. People be cray cray.

Honestly I don't know, there have been some floating around the web for a while, but I don't think they were ever confirmed to be from that. Honestly the whole thing is mythical by now in terms of Lore about gaming culture, even though I hate that term "gaming culture".

Just think about what we'd tall our children when explaining Half Life, Gordon and the wait we all went through. Some people doubt its ever going to be made, and if it does it'll just be a repeat of the Duke Nukem situation. *shudders*

I saw the Valve logo briefly and thought they might have some actual information on Half life 3
So so foolish ...

The culture there would result in slower releases for games but would at the same time mean the games that are released are polished to a mirror sheen. The after-release support would also be significant as the individuals would have some 'pride' in their work and seek to ensure it's always up to standard.

I just get the feeling that the devs at Valve HQ is working on TF2 items.
I can see some of the new people coming in and start working on Hl3 then get bored and jump onto making hats and stuff.

Also at this point im kinda past caring about HL3, With no news that its happening or anything other then concept art, i've lost faith that it will happen. I would be willing to bet that some moders will end up making it before Valve do.

Anyway Ive worked in a place where there was no boss it was a small repair and restoration shop. It was fun very relaxed did not matter if you was late no set break times. all the boss said was Just get the work done and dont take the piss. My interview for that job was an afternoon in the pub playing pool and darts.

That's actually pretty cool. I guess Valve is a place where you really do rise to the level of your own incompetence. It be interesting to watch how a project gets done, who takes charge when and where, who naturally defers to whom, (Well I think it would be interesting, at least with a proper psych/anthropologists insight).

Abomination:
The culture there would result in slower releases for games but would at the same time mean the games that are released are polished to a mirror sheen. The after-release support would also be significant as the individuals would have some 'pride' in their work and seek to ensure it's always up to standard.

Their reputation and the commentary on their games certainly implies this. They design and test everything almost to a fault. "People found Alyx's joke funnier under blue lighting" )From the Half-Life 2 Episode 1 commentary)

Fappy:

Timmey:
You gotta admit it's a very interesting system, wonder how other companies would fair trying to use it?

I doubt very many would. As he said in the article, many people don't function well in a boss-less environment. Structured hierarchies help organize and focus projects and people. This may be one of the only industries I can think of where it might be feasible, though boss-less work environments do exist and work in much smaller companies. Usually these companies have a handful of employees to begin with though, so everyone has to pull their own weight and do extra work anyway.

The question is, what kind of outcome are you looking for? Are you looking for production merely for the sake of it, or because there is a clear and concrete motive? Also, how are the workers going to be rewarded for their contributions? Much of modern office work is a combination of paper shuffling, meetings, target setting, and desk warming. As for pay, it in no way reflects the final turnover. Thus a strictly enforced system (backed up by a rigid and ruthless hierarchy) will of course be necessary to ensure the working of such an unnatural and inefficient system.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, people work best when they fell they aren't being watched. The single greatest cause of worker satisfaction, and thus productivity, is the feeling of autonomy. However, this is only feasible if the workers know for a fact that their contributions have a definite and constructive goal. Something that feels lacking, I'm afraid from many a workplace.
The other issue here of course is egos. Managers like their positions, they like their power, and they are not going to give up any of that easily.

Timmey:
You gotta admit it's a very interesting system, wonder how other companies would fair trying to use it?

Poorly.

Valve is unique in a lot of respects, one of which that can't be discounted is Steam. The idea of being able to let go of people when they don't fit as opposed to when financial pressures force them to is a huge factor in keeping their system egalitarian.

This method of working also places some significant limits on the company size. They have 108 people now, which is within the range of Dunbar's number..keeping the current mode while expanding much further is simply not going to be very easy at all and will probably place considerable stress on all employees.

And that's without even taking into account that it takes a certain type of person to be able to act without direct motivation/direction -- and that Valve's hiring process, if you'll note, is more involved than most companies. It has to be in order to make sure they don't get individuals in who'll disrupt the dynamic.. most companies simply don't have the time or expertise to be able to do that well. Again, something Steam allows them.

Reading the above posts, I know it is mostly a running gag, but seriously, why does everyone care about HL3 so bad? I liked Half Life 1 and 2, but I just don't care! It'll come out when it comes out, and until then, who cares.
I'd much rather see new IP, than another HL game.

bananafishtoday:
So... here's an interesting notion. Y'know what Valve would be if each worker had an equity stake in the company, instead of just Gaben and a handful of execs/investors?

A functioning anarchist commune. Besides the ownership issue (which is a huge "besides" philisophically but only incidental to how things actually run) they're already operating in a manner consistent with anarcho-syndicalism

Only for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, with some extreme selectivism as to admittance.

Jiefu:

bananafishtoday:
So... here's an interesting notion. Y'know what Valve would be if each worker had an equity stake in the company, instead of just Gaben and a handful of execs/investors?

A functioning anarchist commune. Besides the ownership issue (which is a huge "besides" philisophically but only incidental to how things actually run) they're already operating in a manner consistent with anarcho-syndicalism

Only for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, with some extreme selectivism as to admittance.

My bad, imprecise word choice. Didn't mean to imply they'd live there or have more open admittance. "Syndicate" would prolly be better, but it has really negative connotations in English because of associations with crime.

This is essentially how worker-run factories/stores operated in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War though: organically forming committees to make decisions as-needed, with a focus on building consensus and promoting group welfare.

I wonder if they have any Japanese employees, as something like this would be completely absurd there I should think with prospective Japanese employees having a very hard time adjusting to the 'boss less' environment.

bananafishtoday:
So... here's an interesting notion. Y'know what Valve would be if each worker had an equity stake in the company, instead of just Gaben and a handful of execs/investors?

A functioning anarchist commune. Besides the ownership issue (which is a huge "besides" philisophically but only incidental to how things actually run) they're already operating in a manner consistent with anarcho-syndicalism

Actually, most of them do have (a form of) "equity stake" in the company. Valve has no investors nor any executives, save for Mr. Newell. (who co-founded Valve along side Mike Harrington, both of whom started the company with their own money)

So perhaps the company is closer to your "anarchist commune" than you think.

Well, except for the "living there" part.

I think it matches more the co-op structure of business except for the actual ownership although I doubt the ownership is that far off of a co-op. but good for them I must say they know the route to real success is to get people who know what they are about train them in there job and then let them do there job without much interference.

Dangit2019:
I'll be "that guy".

-ahem-

Is this why it's taking so long to make HL3?

Why would the hiring and firing process affect HL3? Besides which, they have all the time and money in the world to make HL3. I know which reason I'd bank on.

Woodsey:

Dangit2019:
I'll be "that guy".

-ahem-

Is this why it's taking so long to make HL3?

Why would the hiring and firing process affect HL3? Besides which, they have all the time and money in the world to make HL3. I know which reason I'd bank on.

Just a joke.

Dangit2019:

Woodsey:

Dangit2019:
I'll be "that guy".

-ahem-

Is this why it's taking so long to make HL3?

Why would the hiring and firing process affect HL3? Besides which, they have all the time and money in the world to make HL3. I know which reason I'd bank on.

Just a joke.

Oooooooh-kay, I can see that now. Read it as an actual "I hate to bring it up, but...".

It works for Valve purely because they can fall back on Steam to cover the cash income needed to run their pathetically slow game development cycle. ANY other gaming studio would go bust if they had the development time Valve has, yet their company structure has become the thing of internet legend and to be honest I find it hard to see why.

No Boss means no responsibility which explains why Steam has become a bloated mess of pure unresponsive slowness and no Boss means no one to push the team, project or next goal through to completion ergo no HL3

Laughing Man:
No Boss means no responsibility which explains why Steam has become a bloated mess of pure unresponsive slowness and no Boss means no one to push the team, project or next goal through to completion ergo no HL3

You don't believe a person can take responsibility for a thing by choice, or out of pride?

I can see where you're coming from, but I can also imagine it working very differently, so long as the developers in question are invested in making something good for its own sake rather than because the boss is telling them to.

That said, can see it being a struggle to get the difficult/un-fun (but necessary) jobs done if everyone has the option of deferring them to another time or another person. Hopefully in the end the lure of the larger goal would prevail though.

You don't believe a person can take responsibility for a thing by choice, or out of pride?

They can but that doesn't explain why Steam is rapidly becoming the moist pile of turd that it is. The free for all nature of the Valve work environment does explain why Steam has become a free for all program that tries to do everything and ends up doing nothing well. At some point or another it takes one person to say everyone we need to do X, yes it is possible that in a boss free environment someone could very well gather enough like minded people to come together and achieve a similar goal but that tends to work best in a newer environment where their are numerous untapped ideas. What was the last truly original game that Valve released, better yet what was the last game released that was wholly an IP of Valve and not some mod turned game because Valve happened to employee the folk behind it?

I may be mistaken the answers are Left 4 Dead (wholly original IP of Valve) in 2008 and Portal 2 (wholly original game not based on someone elses mod) in 2011

So 2008 was the last wholly new and original IP from Valve.

Just to put that in context

Bethesda had 9 new IPs in that time
Gearbox a company I am lead to believe has less number of employees has had 2 new IPs in that time

Wow, definitely a different chain of command--would have to evaluate whether this would work if not a similar structure of org.

Filthy communists and their marxist idealism, no way valve will ever get anywhere.

The only working example of Anarachy as a governing body.

I'm sure some idiots will jump on that.

Beyond that i'd hate to be fired by all my peers, rather just have my boss do it.

Laughing Man:
[quote] What was the last truly original game that Valve released, better yet what was the last game released that was wholly an IP of Valve and not some mod turned game because Valve happened to employee the folk behind it?

I may be mistaken the answers are Left 4 Dead (wholly original IP of Valve) in 2008 and Portal 2 (wholly original game not based on someone elses mod) in 2011

So 2008 was the last wholly new and original IP from Valve.

Is including portal 2 sarcasm? I don't mean to sound bitchy, it's just that you put that it's original in 2011 and then went on to say that 2008 was the last wholly original IP from Valve.

Also, Portal 2 is obviously based off Portal 1, so that alone means it can't be considered a new IP. According to Wikipedia, that was released in 2007.

Also, according to wikipedia, this was based off the game Narbacular Drop. Might not be based off a mod, but I'd hardly call it original to valve.

Although, I s'pose the fact that it's only based off this game rather than a sequel to it means that it could be classed as an original IP for Valve, but the idea behind the game's key mechanic definitely isn't. (In left 4 dead, the main point about it is that it is a small team-based game that requires help from other people - such as not being able to free yourself from special infected, so that can be classed as new).

I s'pose it's debatable.

There are aspects are Portal 2 that were taken from another game as well. Notably, the idea for gels which is taken from Tag: The Power of Paint.

I know it seems like I'm attacking Valve here, but just because they don't come up with new IPs all the time doesn't make them a bad developer. All valve games I've played I've enjoyed.

Is including portal 2 sarcasm? I don't mean to sound bitchy, it's just that you put that it's original in 2011 and then went on to say that 2008 was the last wholly original IP from Valve.

No, I asked two questions, what was the last truly new or original IP and what was the last game that Valve released that wasn't a mod or the result of them just buying out someone else. The answers being Left 4 Dead was the last original new IP that Valve came up with and Portal 2 was the last game they released that was based on one of there original IPs, I suppose you could have said CS GO but turns out CS was a mod of HL2 so...

Anyway the point of the debate was that Valve's work ethic is the stuff of internet legend but from the point of view of a pure game developer it is awful, the release schedule is pathetically slow. To bottom line it if you don't have to worry about where the next buck is coming from then you can spend as much time as you like doing whatever the hell you want... or if you have a massive DD service that brings in more cash than god then you can spend as much time as you like developing games and letting your staff dick around doing whatever they feel they want to do.

I wanna work for Valve, even if it's just sweeping the floors. I'd be the best floor sweeper, ever!

 

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