Former Valve Employee Reveals Horrors of Games Industry Corporate Culture

Developer Rich Geldreich shares what it's really like to work at companies like Valve.

Rich Geldreich, a former Valve developer, has taken to Twitter to share quite a lot of information about what it’s apparently really like to work at major gaming companies like Valve. While he doesn’t name Valve directly, he does use phrases like “Bellevue company” that suggest some of his statements apply to the gaming giant.

To make a very long story as short as possible, Valve has seemingly come to embody the kind of “big company culture” that has been cited to the point of parody. According to Geldreich, there’s a company store kind of logic to the way that management at such places works. He references an unnamed friend who let a manager know he was locked into a long-term lease and was instantly exploited by the company. He also notes how important it is to not become too close to the people you work with at such places and how these famous companies will just run through employees. Again, such statements could be interpreted as more of a general observation regarding major companies like Valve if they do not apply to Valve specifically. 

However, there are other notes which feel much more specific. For instance, he refers to “some companies [that] make temporary strategic hires to help recruit from your social network.” He then talks about a “temp strategic hire” that was fired one year later with no warning after her friends had been hired by the company. Many believe this applies to Jeri Ellsworth, a “hardware hacker” and inventor who was hired by Valve to work on gaming hardware after she achieved some fame and was mysteriously fired the next year. He also insinuates that Valve will hire outside famous people (such as authors and economists) to come work for them long enough to say some nice things about the company in public before they are let go. This could seemingly apply to Yanis Varoufakis, a former Valve employee who went on to become the Greek Minister of Finance

It gets better. Geldreich seemingly references the infamous Valve employee handbook, which contains numerous allusions to a relaxed corporate environment and structure. He notes that, “All legit self-organizing firms have to ‘leak’ an official unofficial Company Manual. It’s got to be slickly made and fun to read.” He also pokes some holes in the idea that Valve and other companies successfully utilize a system where people don’t have direct bosses by stating that, “If you’re dealing with a self-organizing company, it’s more complex. You will be triangulated against multiple people and you’ll have to deal with group consensus.”

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Based on what Geldreich is saying, it seems that there is a hierarchy of employees at such places who basically serve as the KGB of the company. They’re very powerful, but you’re never quite sure who they are or what they are capable of. As such, it’s almost impossible to know who to actually trust. He also mentions “Pet Projects” that the CEO of the company will want to work on. He says that this can be an ideal situation as working on such a project means you have someone with real power “watching your back” in case other people at the company try to harass you. Some already believe that such projects might refer to the Steam Machines, Steam Link, or the Steam Controller.

So what are the developers actually doing at these “self-organizing” companies? Apparently, it’s not uncommon for many of them to be used as pawns. For instance, when a “local competitor (a well-known company)” moved across the street from a studio that Geldreich is describing, he says the company he worked for used its “license to print endless money in the basement” to steal as many employees from its competitors as it could to “lower the average IQ and talent level of your competitor’s new hires.” Geldreich also says that the work of some big profile developers is actually “just marketing.” It will only be used to appeal to developers the company hasn’t managed to hire yet. 

The posts go on – and on, and on – but there are a few major things to take away from these statements. First off, we must emphasize that it’s entirely possible that Geldreich’s thoughts are not limited to Valve. At one point, he even states, “I’ve seen this up close with a small game company negotiating with Microsoft. They knew the small company had zero alternatives so they got treated incredibly badly.” Secondly, even if many of these statements are about Valve, Geldreich notes that much of what he is talking about happened at least five years ago. He can’t necessarily say with certainty whether these companies have changed since then. 

Still, much of the information in his tweets verifies what many have suspected about Valve for quite some time. Steam has given the company the license to print “endless money,” which in turn seems to have drastically changed the company’s goals and culture. Of course, we wouldn’t be shocked to learn that much of what Geldreich talks about in his messages applies directly to some of the world’s largest companies in every field.