Valve confirms legitimacy of employee handbook

Valve's internal handbook making rounds, highlights "be your own boss" structure

The Valve new employee handbook has turned out to be real, as the publisher/developer has confirmed that the 56-page document is the new guide given to new hires. The handbook describes a business run not by a corporate hierarchy, but a company that allows employees to win and fail at their own leisure.

The book, which is open to employee revision, is designed to give off the sense that a new hire within the company is the most important thing possible for the 200+ employee studio. The book gives the idea that a successful employee follows a "T-shaped model" where a new hire is an expert who is well established in one sector, and knowledgeable enough in others.

Also discussed is Valve's universe, which sets hiring as the center. Items such as design, art, code and other skills are secondary, and considered less important than simply hiring new talent.

Interestingly enough, Valve readily admits that they cannot do mentoring right, and that they are very bad about internal communication. In essence, a new hire is meant to be able to think on their feet, and be ready to go without needing to learn the ropes of the skill that they were hired for.

Those interested in reading the handbook may do so by hitting the link: [PDF].

GamesIndustry International has reached out to Valve "boss" Gabe Newell for comment and reflection on the handbook. We'll update you if we receive further commentary.

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Latest comments (5)

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 6 years ago
Just want to point out that Valve didn't invent "flatland".

Artists - writers, designers, painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, filmmakers, etc - have been living in flatland for centuries. They've gone about doing their thing, seeking patrons to support them, fully aware that they are authors of their own destiny. They don't need to have anyone explain to them that they don't need to wait for orders - they've already struck out for the wilderness and feel that they are authors of their own destiny.

They aren't *gamers*. They're artists.

What's more, they need a share of the take for the work they do. They are never satisfied with either being an "employee", or with just taking a salary. They always want to work in partnership with their patrons.

And how has the business of art (outside of games) responded to these, the terms of the best artists?

It has respected their creative control - yes, even shielding it against the influence of the crowd. (Including, sorry to say, the crowd of other developers who are stepping into someone else's vision and then daring to say their two or three months enthusiasm for a project is equal to an originator's two or three years - or, sometimes, decades! - of researching, planning, dreaming and dying.) (In other words: *real* creative control.) It has put their name up front commeasureate with its contribution. (None of this flattening of everyone into an alphabetical heirarchy of credits - which obliterates core contribution.) It has realized that business interests *need* the talent (as much as talent needs business). It has done retrospectives. It speaks of artists' work in terms of their *names* (a Picasso, a Van Gough, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick, Joseph Heller, JD Salinger, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Robert Frost, I could go on and on and on). It recognizes the vital importance of authorship. It has developed the artists' talent on the artists' terms - because it recognizes how important and significant the gift of an artist's talent really is. (That includes things such as the artists' working where they choose - their desert studio; their forest cabin; their New York apartment; their wherever...)

In the world outside of games, business people fund artists for the privilege of knowing that they are supporting and developing rare and precious gifts: the talent of these people. The classical world of art studies (in the west at least) recognizes that art stems from the specific person? The creative individual is the "atom" of the art world - its fundamental building block. To go lower is to break them open - to enter their dream world, inner feelings and past lives (as, indeed, many classic art critics and students have). Hence they discuss works in terms of the *artist* - even above the development company that implemented his work.

This is the respect the larger world has given artists outside of games.

Where is that kind of respect in the game industry?

Why have larger-world art patrons agreed to these terms? In return for this support, what have artists given?

They have reinvented the world. Many times.

Some of them have even given their lives in this process.

They have given their patrons a real encounter of the wilderness of the human psyche and soul. (Contrary to popular belief: the wilderness is not all scarey badlands and scorpions and stuff: it's also beautiful and renewing.)

(And, yes... Sometimes they've made their patrons quite rich, and famous, while doing this reinventing.)

What I don't think Valve understands is this: Within the world of the game industry, it is the leader and everyone auditions to work with it. But outside that small world - in the world of human culture and Art as a whole - it is just like the rest of us: it is the upstart that still needs to prove itself. It needs to audition for that part where it earns the respect of the larger cultural world, not the other way around. It needs to prove itself there, as indeed does the entire game industry.

Edited 28 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 24th April 2012 4:14am

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Rupert Loman Founder & CEO, Gamer Network6 years ago
Great post!
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Antony Johnston Writer & Narrative Designer 6 years ago
Funnily enough, Tim, I was just thinking about a couple of non-game freelance writer friends of mine who've separately visited Valve's offices, and both came away saying it was the only place that's ever tempted them to go back on staff.
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Show all comments (5)
Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve6 years ago
Well said Tim.

I read through the handbook a few days back, it's pretty inspiring, but important to note that few companies are lucky enough to be able to work this way, Valve even mention this themselves quite a few times throughout the pages.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 6 years ago
I had to chuckle at the company history listing the fact of hiring a guy from Germany next to all those great games.
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