Valve is an iconic game company. It has a unique corporate structure. One former employee said it "felt a lot like high school", complete with popular kids, troublemakers and everyone in between. Then, there's the alleged "weird paranoia".
"Now we’ve all seen the Valve handbook, which offers a very idealised view," former Valve employee Jeri Ellsworth, who was the head of Valve's hardware lab, recently said on The Grey Area podcast (via Develop and VG247).
"A lot of that is true. It is a pseudo-flat structure, where in small groups at least in small groups 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. And it felt a lot like high school."
"There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there’s the trouble makers, and then everyone in between," Ellsworth continued. "Everyone in between is ok, but the trouble makers are the ones trying to make a difference. I was struggling trying to build this hardware team and move the company forward. 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."
Earlier this spring, Ellsworth was among a handful of longtime Valve employees who were suddenly dismissed. Ellsworth said that the hardware project she was working on at Valve was "cancelled by proxy" as the key hardware engineers were let go.
The hardware team apparently caused a "weird paranoia" that caused a group to "round up all the undesirables and get rid of them".
Ellsworth admits that what might have gotten her dismissed was how she complained about being unable to hire anyone for the hardware team. She said she was getting frustrated. "I was fired for being abrasive," she said. "And I probably was."
Ellsworth recalled the day she was fired, and she overhead a mechanical engineer say one of her team members got fired. Then, she went straight to her team and found out that she was fired, too. "I couldn't believe it," said Ellsworth. "The handbook said that if you get too far off course they will tell you about it."
"I'm sounding bitter, and I am," Ellsworth said. "I'm really, really bitter, because they promised me the world and then backstabbed me."
Ellsworth did point out that she was talking about her experiences at Valve — experiences that sounded brutal towards the end of her tenure.
"I'm still really friendly with the folks there and the ones I wasn't friends with before we became friends since," said Ellsworth. "My heart goes out to them — it's probably completely different, and they may have got their machinist."
Kotaku is following up with Valve and will update this article should the company comment.
Picture: Ed Sozinho/Office Snapshots