Former Steam boss Jason Holtman lands at Microsoft

Valve veteran will be focused on "making Windows a great platform for gaming"

Jason Holtman, who spearheaded Valve's Steam business for eight years before leaving the company in February, has a new job.

The former lawyer has taken a job with Microsoft, with a focus on PC gaming and entertainment strategy. Because he has just started at the position, Holtman declined an interview request, but confirmed the move.

"Yes, I have joined Microsoft where I will be focusing on making Windows a great platform for gaming and interactive entertainment," he said. "I think there is a lot of opportunity for Microsoft to deliver the games and entertainment customers want and to work with developers to make that happen, so I'm excited to be here."

Holtman's departure from Valve after an eight-year tenure came cloaked in mystery. He left the company at the same time as several high-profile employees were reportedly laid off. Valve did not address the reasons behind the staff reductions, with founder Gabe Newell telling Engadget "We're not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn't working here."

At Valve, Holtman was the primary point of contact for developers that distributed games on Steam - and, to many in the gaming world, was the service's driving force. While he certainly wasn't the sole reason for its success, he was its biggest cheerleader and an even bigger proponent of digital distribution.

As a result, his move to Microsoft has raised many questions about the Redmond-based company's plans in the PC gaming space.

With the Xbox One launch looming, Microsoft has greatly de-emphasized PC gaming of late. Some developer sources tell GamesIndustry International they were under the impression the company had largely given up on the Games for Windows initiative.

Holtman's hiring could signal a renewed emphasis on the computer, though.

"It seems like a guy who comes from Valve who has no peer, in my mind, in the gaming space relative to really strong B-to-C [business to consumer] relations could indicate a ramp up in the importance of that space," says John Taylor, managing director at Arcadia Investment Corp.

A skilled dealmaker, Holtman is largely credited with convincing third party publishers such as EA, Activision and more to sell their games directly on Steam - as well as recruiting many smaller companies who might otherwise have vanished by now.

He's also credited with steering Steam through the DRM controversies it encountered and calming publisher fears that the annual Steam Summer and holiday sales would devalue their intellectual properties.

The respect he has earned in leading digital distribution could be invaluable to Microsoft, which has not had a lot of success in that world. Though available in 41 countries, the Games for Windows Live service is currently not viewed as a strong player in the PC gaming world.

It's not just his relationship with publishers and developers that's valuable, though. Holtman also knows how to connect with customers - something Microsoft has been lacking so far in its digital distribution efforts.

Of course, Holtman's duties could expand beyond just PC gaming as well. Digital distribution is expected to be a major component of the eighth generation of consoles. And while his experience so far has been on the PC side, Microsoft may be looking for Holtman to drive adoption and consumer loyalty of online purchases on the Xbox One in the years to come.

"[Business to consumer] is not just having someone's credit card number," says Taylor. "It's how you use that handshake to maximize satisfaction for the vendor and maximize satisfaction for the customers. This kind of direct relationship is the next stage in the evolution of the games business. Valve is already there on the PC side and I think Microsoft would be very happy to have some sort of Valve template to lay on top of the Xbox."

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Latest comments (10)

Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve8 years ago
It's an interesting development, but I have to question why this is classed as breaking news?
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Matt Martin Editor, GamesIndustry.biz8 years ago
For all the reasons stated in the article.

The editorial team judges the value of everything we produce, and for a trade/development/business audience like ours we're saying this is a Big Deal.
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Kevin Patterson musician 8 years ago
I have some hope now that MS might once again support gaming on PC as much as they did in the past.
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Show all comments (10)
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
@ Thomas

Indeed. It's a few days late, but better late than never?

On the wider topic, I have no doubt he can do great things, but let's hope those great things don't involve even thinking of trying to resurrect the hideous Games For Windows Live client - Capcom recently put the nail in the coffin of that service with the announcement that the new SF game is not going to have G4WL. But, if his going to Microsoft's gaming division means that he evangelises about the benefits of PC gaming and digital distro - two things he did at Valve - then I think everyone can gain from that.

@ Matt

I think what Thomas was asking was why it was implied that it was "breaking news", since this was revealed on Twitter on the 9th. :)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 14th August 2013 5:08pm

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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
I wonder if he has the Steam client source code on a backup disk.... :)
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
I hope he kicks Steam's ass.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 14th August 2013 10:07pm

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd8 years ago
@ Tim Quite a lot of vitriol there. May I ask why? Many people (including myself) greatly enjoy Valve's service and the value and community it provides.
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Andreia Quinta Photographer 8 years ago
I honestly don't want to have a third/fourth competitor on the digital service. Having Steam and GoG is enough for most people, Origin is a joke but you "need" to have it for Nass Effect 3, Battlefield 3, NFS Undercover and the like. I really don't appreciate having my library spread across the two main platforms, let alone a third if windows decides to invent a new GFW concept.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
Looked at objectively, I don't think there'll be another digital client - or at least, the arrival of Jason Holtman won't cause another client to be created. Having been in charge of Steam for so long, he'll be aware of the growing "No Steam=No Buy" mentality, and will know that releasing another digital distro client is pretty much a lost cause. It's not just that there isn't room for another one, it's also the massive and sustained financial and PR damage that comes from releasing something that isn't as good as Steam. Which, unless MS have been working on a G4WL replacement since long before G4WL started to die, is what would happen. EA's Origin client is still sub-Steam in terms of quality and server robustness, and that's been going for a few years now. Not to mention the extra leg-work that involves trying to get publishers to sign-up to your new client, arranging servers, etc.

It may be that MS will re-open their Windows Marketplace as a separate entity again. A year or two back, their Windows Marketplace got rebranded the XBox Marketplace, so perhaps Jason Holtman's arrival will coincide with MS attempting to act as a digital store, selling Steam and Origin keys.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 15th August 2013 9:45am

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
Shows that Microsoft are taking the transfer of the market to digital distribution very seriously.
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