How Valve Fires Somebody

You hear a lot about how great it is to work at Valve, about the studio’s collaborative culture, but remember, not everyone is a perfect fit. Sometimes, somebody’s got to get their marching orders.

And the way it’s done is as interesting as the way they’re brought on board.

While many developers are sadly told their game “underperformed at retail” and “failed to meet internal expectations”, before being asked to put their gear in a box and leave, at Valve it’s more like an episode of Survivor, only without the torches.

Speaking at the Seattle Interactive Conference, and reported by Geekwire, designer Greg Coomer said:

I wish that we had covered firing in the employee handbook. It was one of the things that we left out. And we tried writing it, and we didn’t feel like we were capturing how Valve thinks about (firing) in a well enough way. It was almost a wording problem. We couldn’t get it done in the time that we wouldn’t to finish the handbook. The short answer of how we handle terminations, really, is the same as we approach all other decisions at the company. It is a peer driven process. If it turns out that we made a bad hiring decision, or that somebody is just not working out, there’s a method we use to get the people who are involved in the same room and to walk through the decision about what should really happen as a result of this person not functioning very well. Some of the details are kind of boring, but the main answer is that it is peer driven, just like we evaluate each other as peers.

His talk is worth reading up on, because he really goes into detail about how there’s really not much structure at Valve, or anyone lording it over anyone else telling them what to do.

Which, you know, might explain why certain games you’re expecting from the developer haven’t yet been released. Can’t release Half-Life 3 if there’s nobody forcing you to release Half-Life 3!

Valve designer Greg Coomer: How getting rid of bosses makes for better games [Geekwire]


    Sounds more like a panel will decide the fate of an employee they think isn't doing well and discuss why they decided that way. Probably much better and more informative than a simple "YOU'RE FIRED"

      I'd rather be straight up fired than some committee conversing in a what seems to be a formality since it seems the decision is made before the actual discussion and the more I hear about Valves Business/PR model is the more i disbelieve it.

        You would understand more if you were a software developer and were exposed to their culture.

    I am still very, very suspicious of Valve's actual policies. With all the steam sales and deals with publishers going on, there has to be a lot more structure than what they're letting on. I personally think the whole handbook thing is a bit of a publicity stunt to improve their public image. It just doesn't make sense, you need people higher up co-ordinating smaller teams, or nothing would get done. Ever.

      Yeah, and all your games would end up coming out late :P

      I imagine that despite the official stances, they end up organising themselves into teams and operating like a 'normal' workplace anyway, since as you say, it's the only way to get anything done.

        uhh, the official stance IS that they organize themselves into teams, did you guys even read the handbook? The key word here is THEY. Nobody organises them into teams, they organise themselves into teams based on what they want to do and what others in the team have convinced them to help out with.

        Some form of management is required for you to get things done, but there is a difference between management and managers. Managers do nothing but manage. They are useless in almost all other areas. However, a technical person with a vision can perform management activities when required without being a manager. They can set deadlines, encourage people etc, then go straight back to coding/drawing/whatever.

    And here I was thinking that Valve employees are given crates to unbox which have their termination notices in them, or a bonus if they've done got.

    "You unboxed Termination Papers- on ya bike son"

    No real structure means milestones are irrelevant? Sound like my current workplace, though the Valve principal of peer reviews sounds a lot nicer.

    I picture the Valve firing process as being remarkably similar to the ending sequence from Portal, with a box of your belongings in place of the scorched Companion Cube. Then a recruiting manager from Zynga stumbles across your barely-conscious body and starts to drag you away.

    I am very disappointed the original image could not be used for this post :(

      I am surprised you have not slapped a Kotaku watermark on it.

    Damn, I was expecting the whole "It's not you, it's me" talk.

    I don't understand what products his talking about. Valve have launched perhaps 29
    products since 1999*. Since 2007 and the last release of the Half-Life series, they've "shipped" a grand total of 8 products.

    The vast majority of those products are based on the very slowly evolving Source engine. They've not created a new engine, or a new IP since 2007 (and Alien Swarm doesn't count since its a rip off of Alien Breed).

    I can't see this almighty power of being able to ship being anything special since its hardly utilised.

    The feeling I've got is that 320 people for a major studio is exceedingly small. I can't see them with the critical mass required for a mega AAA project and instead they're just focused on altogether other products and concepts like Steam and such.

      If I got 320 of the most talented people I could find together in one place to make something great, I think I'd want more than Valve's output - they're exceedingly safe for the amount of talent they have there, with nearly every 'innovative' idea they have being brought in from the inside. It feels like the company's driven almost entirely by fear.

    Luke, maybe you should write an article about 'How Kotaku Fires Somebody.' You will be next if you keep up these pointless articles. Also, the picture is bigger than article itself, Pull your head in mate.

      You get fired by writing an article like this:

      Granted it's not Kotaku but close enough.

      Give Luke some credit at least his articles are not longer just a link and a picture and actually have some semblance of effort behind it. Not much but some....

    For the play at home version of this try editing a popular wikipedia article then dealing with an entrenched group of editors who will use seniority and already established political alliances to destroy you, same thing.
    Humans don't form egalitarian teams, we form tribes with a clear hierarchy. Every single one of Valve's peer groups will have a leader whose word is law.

      only if your group is made up of mostly weak-minded individuals. I've been part of that type of group and I've also been part of groups where the members are equal overall, but each have more authority in specific topics/areas.

    I'd rather just be told I was being fired without all the diplomatic condescension.

    "Naww sorry buddy, we just think you aren"t a good fit. Here have a hat."

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