Valve Software has developed several most beloved video games of all time as well as Steam game distribution service. More recently it turned out that the company is working on low-cost game consoles for the living rooms as well as other hardware. Unfortunately, not everything goes rosy with such projects and the primary reason appears to be under-support of such efforts by the senior management of the company.
Jeri Ellsworth, a renowned hardware expert who used to work at Valve Software, has shared some information about her experience working at hardware division of Valve, which is primarily known for Steam Box game consoles that are yet to reach the market. Apparently, since there was no official structure at Valve and hardware did not appear to be a “prestigious” division, employees from the team simply flew to higher-profile projects. As a result, the crew, which was supposed to design Steam Box products among other things, consistently starved for resources.
“We have all seen the Valve handbook, which offers a very idealized view. A lot of that is true. It is a pseudo-flat structure, where in small groups at least... you are all peers and make decisions together. But the one thing I found out the hard way is that there is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company. […] It felt a lot like high school. There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there is the troublemakers, and then everyone in between," said Ms. Ellsworth in an interview with the Grey Area Podcast, reports Gamasutra web-site.
Apparently, Valve has a lot of money to create hardware and software. Another problem is that the management wants to hire people that fit into Valve’s “culture” and structure. As a result, even if Ms. Ellsworth found proper talents for her team, “old-timers” would reject the person due to cultural reasons.
“We had a machine shop with millions of dollars of equipment in it and could not hire a machinist for $40 000 a year to manufacture machine parts for it. Because they were worried that bringing in a machinist would hurt their precious culture. We were understaffed by about a factor of one hundred. We were having a difficult time recruiting folks – because we would be interviewing a lot of talented folks but the old timers would reject them for not fitting into the culture. […] There were five of us working on this project, and all of us were canned on the same day,” said Jeri Ellsworth.
Valve Software earlier this year reduced its headcount by approximately 25 developers of software and hardware for unknown reasons. The laid off hardware and software developers were working on different products and the reasons why the seemingly successful company decided to cut its workforce in general and specific developers in particular are unclear. The firm claimed it had not cancelled any projects. Among other people that were let go was Jeri Ellsworth, who was working on controller prototypes to address mouse/keyboard use from the couch.