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Valve hires economist to manage, experiment with its free-to-play games
Valve hires economist to manage, experiment with its free-to-play games
June 15, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

Valve has hired Greek-Australian economist and economics theory professor Yanis Varoufakis to help the company analyze the virtual economies/currencies of its games.

The company isn't the first game developer to have an in-house economist -- CCP brought in one to study its EVE Online MMO several years ago -- but this move supports Valve's shift toward producing free-to-play titles, such as Team Fortress 2 and the upcoming Dota 2.

Though Varoufakis has little experience working in the game industry or playing video games at all, Valve head Gabe Newell was familiar with the professor's work concerning Greece's economy and the Eurozone crisis -- Varoufakis had previously served as an economic adviser to former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Newell approached Varoufakis as the company struggled with issues concerning linking economies in two game environments to create a shared currency. He realized that the problem sounded similar to the current real-world economics troubles between Germany and Greece, and invited Varoufakis to become Valve's economist in residence.

Varoufakis says that working with in-game economies are an economist's "dream-come-true," as he actually has access to data from every transaction, and doesn't need to rely on statistics. At Valve, he intends to perform plenty of data mining, experimentation, and calibration of the company's services to players based on his findings.

He also aims to "forge narratives and empirical knowledge that (a) transcend the border separating the 'real' from the digital economies, and (b) bring together lessons from the political economy of our gamers' economies and from studying Valve's very special (and fascinating) internal management structure."

Varoufakis will publish weekly reports on his projects, experiences, and ideas regarding the company's game economies on his blog at Valve's site.

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