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The Valve Way: Gabe Newell And Erik Johnson Speak
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The Valve Way: Gabe Newell And Erik Johnson Speak

August 29, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

But in the case of Dota 2, was it more liking DotA, or liking IceFrog?

EJ: Both, absolutely both.

GN: For us, it's like there's some people you meet and you just say, "I wanna work with this person." And IceFrog is that kind of person. There are a lot of people at Valve who don't ever have to work again. The reason we all go to work each day is we get to work with people that we do. The idea that you can go to work each day and see what this person is doing is pretty exciting.

It's the same way with Doug Church, who is working at Valve now. It's just a total blast for me, to go in and talk with him about enemy design or user generated content. It's just ridiculous how much fun you get to have by working alongside these people.

Have you said what he's working on?

GN: No, we have not said what he's working on.

Didn't think so. Don't expect you to either.

GN: It's cool! I'm excited.

So the strategy then is to harness talent, or collaborate with talent.

GN: Yeah, I'd go with "collaborate", more than "harness." Although in [Valve software developer] Adrian [Finol]'s case, I like the idea of thinking of him...

EJ: Leashing. In Adrian's case, we leash talent.

GN: In fact, I really suggest that you insist that you get a photo to accompany that part of your article. "This is Adrian. He's on a leash."

EJ: We have Photoshop.

Now, I'm assuming Dota 2 is free-to-play.

GN: So the primary focus for us at this point is not worrying about monetization, and it's instead worrying about getting the game right. So we started with a group of IceFrog's testers that he's worked with for all the different versions, and sort of got it to a point where we'd stopped making them crazy with all of the dumb things that we had done.

And The International [tournament at this month's Gamescom] is sort of the next step of that process. It's like, this is a very tough audience; there are a bunch of clear technology pieces and server pieces we have to get done. And the phase after that is, there's going to be an invitation beta, and then after that there's going to be an open beta.

But our focus is really much on building something that's cool, and then we'll worry about monetization. So we're not going to worry about that until later. Premature monetization is the root of all evil.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you have to be aware of your monetization design from a game design level.

GN: I think not sucking is way more of an important thing to pay attention to first. I think every gamer can point to shipping too early, or sucking, as being a way more dominant story in our industry than, "Oh, it was slightly cumbersome to give the company money." I mean look at Minecraft, right? Notch wasn't thinking through his incredibly precise monetization strategy.

EJ: It's also just, do the hardest stuff first, and make the game fun; making a game fun is so hard. It takes so much time. Figuring out how to make sense out of making some money out of it, that's not nearly as difficult.

How much time have you spent on this project so far?

EJ: I think it's been about two years.

GN: How many people are working on it now?

EJ: At this point it's probably 60 or so people, I think.

Did you recruit a lot for this game?

GN: No -- we don't recruit for games. We recruit people...

EJ: Well, we recruited one.

GN: Well, he recruited us. IceFrog. That's just not -- I mean, anybody who we hire, we don't hire to a specific position or to a specific project. The people at the company don't work on specific projects. Everybody's told, "Your first job is to figure out where you can create the most value." So when people end up working on Dota, it's not because somebody told them to go work on Dota. They go work on Dota 2 because they decided , "That's where I'm going to be the most useful."

EJ: It has this really great side effect, too. Instead of having some person review all the products that are going on at Valve, you can tell how a product's doing based on how willing people are to go and work on it. We know a product's pretty likely to be successful, or fun, or at least fun to work on, if lots of people are going to working on it. It's a good method.

Do people have to commit to working on a product for a specific length of time, or a specific split of time even?

EJ: No.

Do people split time?

GN: There are a lot of people who work on multiple projects simultaneously.

EJ: Yeah. People... they're just all committed to making sure that whatever they're doing they feel like it's productive.

GN: It's more interesting to come into, "I'm supposed to deliver this by then", and that's mainly because other people have dependencies. In other words, if you said, "I'm going to do this", in terms of localization, or in terms of this feature, people would be sort of annoyed if you just didn't do it. [laughs]

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mark cocjin
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I think that Gabe Newell is the only games industry leader I know that's of the same level as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Unfortunately, of the three, only Gabe gets gaming. While Steve Jobs' charisma relies heavily on the magic of his products' presentation, Gabe's works are more of an industry changer behind the curtains. You never see him reach rockstar status since he credits everyone else for his success.

I call it a silent respect the industry and community has of him. The rest would prefer calling it being part of the Hammer Legionnaries.

It's really unfortunate that Valve is content to doing Valve stuff. The gigantic games corporations spend a lot of money puffing themselves up to overshadow the real heroes of gaming. The developers. We have great developers being swallowed up by these corporations who take advantage of them due to their hunger and lack of self management. Valve was right with seeing some games only existing due to the magic of a certain team being together. A lot of these magical teams have died throughout gaming's history. Their DNA spread across several other development teams are really never the same.

Good job Gamasutra. A lot of your articles have always been like lectures or college thesis for me but this is really fun to read. I'm surprised there hasn't been an interview with GabeN and company yet that followed a BBC Hard Talk format on camera.

manou manou
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"The gigantic games corporations spend a lot of money puffing themselves up to overshadow the real heroes of gaming. The developers." - You sir are my hero :) Businesses must be shaped from the people behind them not the other way around, as it is now. 95% of the value is created by the programmers and artists and yet most of the rewards go to the... you know, the parasites with the suits. If I make a game some day the big publishers will not get one cent! I will give the game for free and die of hunger instead of let those leeches just stand there consume what I've created.

Matt Hackett
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> Valve doesn't have job titles


mark cocjin
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Those are specializations. When they're working, they can choose to work on anything. Nobody is somebody's boss in a team. There's a Cabal leader but that job is just to oversee everything.

People there just pick what they want to do. You can't do that if you have a job description that limits you.

Joe McGinn
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It's inspiring stuff, but you also have to be realistic. Most companies do not have the financial freedom to operate this way. Keeping in mind that Valve had that freedom, from day 1, with money earned in another business.

Samuel Batista
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I think looking at publicly traded publishers and Valve as "good vs evil" is a gross simplification of the situation. Fact is, Valve has one of the best (if not the best) work environment in the entire industry, because they hire the best, and have a very lax attitude towards product development. But they can do this because they have the most talented and motivated employees, as well as a good development structure, that leads them to create a stream of amazing game after amazing game. It's a self realizing prophecy, and I really wish I could work for them.

But fact of the matter is that I'm nowhere near as talented or experienced as most people working at Valve, but I'm extremely thankful and fortunate to work for a publicly traded company that is owned and funded by a publisher. I don't care that investors will ultimately reap the fruits of my hard work, I have a great job, I work with awesome people, and I get paid enough to live a comfortable life and buy loads of games.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you work for a publisher that will suck all the profits. It only really matters that you work for a publisher that sees employees and development studios as indispensable (and precious) resources for their business.

Anner Bonilla
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Completely true at the end the most important thing is that you have fun and you do what you love.

Neeraj Kumar
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Great interview :)

DotA is the most SuperbAwesomeFantasticAddictiveSatisfyingCompetitiveComplexTeam game i ever played :D

My dream is to work with them :)

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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"Instead of having some person review all the products that are going on at Valve, you can tell how a product's doing based on how willing people are to go and work on it. We know a product's pretty likely to be successful, or fun, or at least fun to work on, if lots of people are going to working on it. It's a good method."

Working in a large studio, Ive often thought about that. Some recent projects proved me wrong thought, with a popular project going to hell, and an unpopular one getting an unexpected good vibe. Things can turn around so fast. At the very least, it tells the management which projects are in need of more scrutiny.

One thing I do with my friends is betting on the metacritic of our project, during beta. The median of the bets is never far from the truth.

Casey Labine
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This feel-good blather is pure stealth marketing on Valve's part. DotA 2 is a carbon copy of DotA, roughly analogous to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. They know full well it's going to be F2P. As for IceFrog, anyone involved with the Warcraft 3 modding scene is aware of how sketchy he is.

Shekhar Gyanwali
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@mark cocjin

I'll buy that.