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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 4 of 4

Now I know Valve doesn't have job titles, but when it comes to DotA what is your responsibility to that project?

EJ: [Looks to Newell] What's my responsibility on this project?

GN: Uh... Being Meepo's punching bag.

EJ: The reason we don't have titles is partly because everybody does so many different things.

GN: Erik, more than almost anybody else at the company, does whatever he needs to get done at the time. So he'd be pretty hard to define.

Doug Lombardi, PR: Utility infielder.

GN: Utility infielder. We were just talking about this, actually, ourselves -- it's like this event wouldn't be possible without the group of people we have, and the weird sets of skills that they have. Like Milton [Ngan] figuring out that we had a networking cable, and that's why we had to pause that game. Like I could've spent five years before I figured it out... How often do you have a bad networking cable?

EJ: We have an architect who's a level designer -- he designed this booth. It's kind of handy to have an architect who can do this kind of thing.

GN: So people always are finding different ways to create value. And you saw the trailer, right? That's done in-engine with the game assets. And a whole bunch of people on the team jumped on that and made that happen. And nobody said, you know, "What's my title? I don't see 'cinematics' anywhere in my title." Or, "This isn't using Maya, so I'm not going to work on it."

EJ: Especially, internally, on a team, I've never seen a case where a title has any positive value in any organization; they're only used for bad or evil, internally.

It seems it's also the fact that you don't give people titles so they don't feel they're restricted. It's also, from your perspective, managing, saying you'll allow people to do what they want to do.

GN: Yeah, nobody can ever say "that's not my job." Nobody ever gets to let themselves off the hook. If there's a problem, you've gotta fix it.

But you also don't say to people, "That's not your job."

GN: Right, we never tell anybody, "That's not your job." In fact, we love it when people make problems their problems. The worst thing to do when a group of people get together is point out a problem because you know what's going to happen!

EJ: "I'm really upset about the way we're doing this!" That's your job now!

GN: [laughs] Yeah, congratulations!

There seems to be a lot of kvetching at other game companies, but people don't have the power to address what they're complaining about.

GN: I don't know about other game companies, but it's dangerous to kvetch at Valve. You're suddenly Director of Fixing That Shit! Vice President of It's Your Problem Now.

But it does reduce -- you can't really blame anybody else, and everybody knows that. I don't know, I think it's a great company to work at in terms of... To take a step back, the big contest, the big competitive issue over the industry is, how do you attract and keep and make productive, really smart, hardworking people? And so you need to create an environment with those people who are most likely to come, and most likely to stay, and where they do their best work, and that's what Valve is designed to do. And if we stop doing that we'll evaporate relatively quickly.

Erik could get a job at EA in 15 seconds, right? He's not at Valve because he couldn't work some place else -- he's at Valve because Adrian's there and IceFrog's there and all of these other people are there. And that's why he feels like he gets more work done and has more fun getting it done.

One of the nice things about games right now is that it seems like there's a fair amount of people who are now doing things deliberately, and because they want to. And finding success. Because if you can't find some sort of success you can't continue to do things deliberately and because you want to.

GN: Well, I think, at the end of the day, the challenge is to find exciting, worthwhile projects for smart people to do. And then whether you're doing it as an individual, whether you're doing it as a small indie developer, or you're doing it as a larger group, if you can answer that question you're probably going to be successful.

If you can do something, see how the audience is reacting, and iterate on that feedback in a productive way, you're going to be successful. If you can't, then you're eventually -- regardless of how big your franchise is or how much advertising money you throw at it -- you're eventually going to fail. So that's sort of the scale and variance challenge in our industry right now.

You do a tremendous amount of playtesting internally. I guess that's perceived as "the Valve way."

GN: Yeah, we don't understand how not to do that. I mean shipping a product is just another way of expanding your playtest group, right? You just have a bunch more people. We have the tools now to see how the game is performing, either to expectations or not, and then keep fixing it. The more we do that, the happier our audiences are and the bigger they get.

You've had more of a platform mix now. In a way I think of Portal 2 as being a very big game on consoles. Especially because no one knows how many copies you sold on Steam. I can't say what it's a bigger game for, but it certainly had a huge amount of mindshare on consoles. And Counter-Strike Go will also potentially have a huge amount of mindshare on consoles. Again, do you have a strategy, or does it speak to the games that you're making?

GN: We can never predict; I mean we just try to build good games and then we tend to be surprised. Portal 2 did better on the PC than it did on the consoles; Left 4 Dead did better on the consoles than it did on the PC. So you know we don't try to guess, because we're not sure what value there is to guessing. We've never had a situation where we said, "We really, really want to build something that is more popular for the console guys." Because usually we have a bunch of other higher priority problems we want to solve. So we're glad that people want to play our games wherever they want to play.

I actually would've guessed the reverse, in those two examples.

GN: There you go! That's why we don't try to optimize, because you would be wrong.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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