Last September, Gabe Newell, the managing director of Valve Software, claimed that people almost never leave his company. “I get freaked out any time one person leaves,” he told the New York Times. “It seems like a bug in the system.”
But today Valve, which is known as perhaps the healthiest and most innovative company in gaming, found and diposed of 25 such bugs. Included in the layoffs was Jeri Ellsworth, a hardware designer who was cited in the article as an example of Valve’s unorthodox but fruitful hiring (she is described in the piece as “an inventor and self-taught chip designer”.)
The firings come at an incredibly strange moment. Valve, which for the past decade has been known for its terrific games and Steam distribution service, has recently made clear its ambitions to expand into American living rooms, debuting a new way to play Steam-downloaded games over the television, and outlining plans for a series of game consoles. The Times article, which was a rare look inside the press-shy Bellevue company, revealed additional plans for a virtual reality game system.
Valve is also known for their unique management structure, or lack thereof. The employee handbook, which is posted online, states that there is no hierarchical structure at Valve. No one has a boss. This raises an obvious question: who fires whom?
A clue as to the timing may come from this partial list of those fired. Most of these people’s jobs are related to game software, and while Valve has made ample headlines over the past year, they’ve had almost nothing to do with their own games. In fact, they still haven’t formally announced Half Life 3, the second sequel to their 1998 first-person shooter that is considered one of the best games ever made.
Valve hasn’t responded to our request for comment regarding the firing.