Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Valve – Handbook for New Employees (2012) [pdf] (valvesoftware.com)
353 points by taigeair on July 25, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 197 comments

So Valve is definitely idealized by people outside (and inside) the game industry, but definitely much less so by people who have worked there. The flat structure is sort of a pipe dream that leaves nobody actually in charge of important decisions, while hiding a de facto power structure that certainly exists despite being non-explicit.

The company has transitioned to being the company that owns Steam as a platform (including and subsuming Vive), and not much else. People that have joined Valve expecting to develop games there end up fired in less than a year, which surely is destructive but also serves a real purpose of perpetuating the Valve culture. A major shakeup is unlikely to happen; Gabe seems to be unable to decide whether he wants to be a super-public figure that is the face and decision body behind the whole company, or if he wants to shrink into a hole and rub shoulders with tech legends hoping to determine the future of everything. The company will make money for a while, but they are open to platform disruption, even in their VR space where they have (more than Oculus) tried to be the open platform. Eventually the market will figure out that they don't need to pay Steam 30% of sales to host files on a server. If this view is right right, Steam is about to find out that the PC world wants to be even more open than they are offering. Of course, the board of investors will certainly find a way to use Valve's intellectual capital regardless of whether they stay on top.

  Eventually the market will figure out that they don't need 
  to pay Steam 30% of sales to host files on a server
That's overly negative and pretty disingenuous. App developers for Android can sell their APKs directly and save 30%, but they don't because of the convenience of the market.

Similarly, I rarely buy games outside of Steam (or GOG) except in the cases of very indie developers who provide a steam key when I buy directly from them. The Steam service is a good one. When I build a new computer, I just need to install steam and my entire library is ready to install. Valve have rightfully found a gold mine from a service that they made that is a net value to consumers.

And even if Steam didn't exist, a non-publisher-specific store is still needed. I'd go to GOG (for similar reasons as I use Steam).

Yeah you're right, Steam does offer a lot more than just file hosting. They also do DRM, friends lists, games promotions, and modding marketplaces, although each of these things certainly also have cheaper/decentralized solutions.

The 30% number is one that they might start to get pressure on with competition. GOG now pulls something like 10% of steam sales on the games they curate (citation needed) and I believe they are working on a stronger community/online platform.

There are also more indie upstarts like http://itch.io, which are smaller but focus on developer outreach and close-knit community.

The greatest thing they offer is a guaranteed number of views for your game.

I have worked for a "flat" structure company and that is true. There is alaways a hidden power structure -- and it rewards those who know how to manipulate and scheme. I think some put more effort into that, than actually writting code. Heck, objectively I can't even blame them as it ended up rewarding them more than writting code.

Now I work for a company with a traditional power structure. There is a manager, he has a manager and so on. Things are simpler, less stressful, tasks are more clear. Manager is great a shielding us from the rest of the beaurocracy and letting us do our work.

Can you please elaborate as to what causes that hidden power structure (i.e. what goes wrong)? In your opinion, is the idea of flat management inherently flawed or is it just hard to execute? Curious to hear your thoughts as someone who's actually tried it.

> Can you please elaborate as to what causes that hidden power structure (i.e. what goes wrong)?

I think it is human nature to certain extent. Take any number of people, put them in a room give them a task. After a while you'd observe some will start to tell others what to do and so on. Sometimes it is those with experience, sometimes it is just those who are loudest. By default the groups won't necessarily settle into a democratic, egalitarian sort of state.

I imagine flat probably works for smaller groups. A few owners + a team of 5. Everyone works directly for the owners, they settle into a set of roles and so on. Everyone sees and communicates with each other often (ideally). There is no need to call employee #2 assistant general manager or employee #4 programmer V and make him report to #2 and so on.

But as the company grows, it stops being flat really. Owners start listening to employees they play golf with. Older employees want to feel special so they'd tell new employees what to do and act as managers. Potential candidates will detect this type of environment and if they are good at manipulation and social engineering will gravitate and want to work in such a place, because they'll know they'll thrive in there (so it attracts certain personalities perhaps as well).

On a more practical level. This system is also used as an advertising tool "oh look we are flat, we don't have titles, we are better than BigCorp". That has worked rather well at recruiting from what I've seen.

It also works in another ways -- such as to supress wages. Because everything is flat, it is easy to justify not giving raises.

That might sound overly negative but I just listed all the bad things I could think of. There were many good things too. I think it can work, but it requires a significant effort on both owners and everyone to keep everything in check, to have more communication, more transparency, and so on. It is a harder balancing act so to speak. That is why in most cases I can see this failing after a while.

Dota 2 isn't going anywhere. The current tournament has an $18+ million prize pool (and rising) - meaning Valve was paid about $72 million in compendium sales.

This is for a tournament that runs every year and is growing in popularity and size.

I think you're right but I also can't help but think how the very existence of Dota 2 underscores Valve's lack of innovation in the past half decade or so. They literally took a game built on the back of their biggest competitor and basically recoded it on their own gaming engine (Yes, I know there's plenty of quality of life upgrades they brought to the series, but it was nothing that wasn't too obvious or already in place by another MOBA).

In a business sense, this was an innovative move only in that it made Valve tons more money, but from an industry perspective, they couldn't have done less to move the needle.

It's one of the most uninteresting safe bet moves I've seen a company make in the gaming industry since Madden.

It was the common sense thing from a consumers perspective to make DotA 2 into a product. It's just funny that Blizzard didn't manage to be the ones to do it. I remember that at the time when DotA was a popular Warcraft Mod me and my friends were often talking about how Blizzard should do what Valve did with Counter Strike and hire the modders. In the end Valve made that obvious move themselves, but maybe it's their flat structure that makes it possible for them to absorb external talent that way more easily.

The actual innovation in Dota 2 was on the esports side. From setting up the $1 million International before the game was even released spawned an industry of professional players, sponsors, casters, personalities and production companies. The competitive Dota scene before Dota 2 came out was tiny in comparison.

Twitch was central to this as well, bigger tournaments meant increased viewers, increased viewers meant that Twitch could in turn sponsor even more tournaments.

Maybe I'm wrong, but isn't league of legends more responsible for building the robust esports scene for moba's? It was already there when DotA2 came around, wasn't it?

League's first championship was held in June 2011 with a prize pool of $100,000 [1], and the first Dota 2 International was held in August 2011 with a prize pool of $1,600,000 [2]. Not that big of a time difference, and the difference in prize pools has only increased since then in favor of Dota 2.

Twitch was in baby shoes back in 2011 as well. Game streaming overall was still really small, and sites like own3d.tv held a large market share back then.

In addition, Valve built in-engine spectating into the game since day 1. You can watch other games live, or download replays and jump to any moment in time. League doesn't have similar tech even in 2016 [3], they are definitely far more focused on their casual players. League does have an extremely large playerbase in total, so their esports achievements are still remarkable due to sheer scale, but it's much more of a side-part of League than Dota.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/League_of_Legends_World_Champi...

[2] http://wiki.teamliquid.net/dota2/The_International/2011

[3] From what I understand there is no replay system at all, and the League spectator mode is very basic and lacks most of the features that Dota 2 has.

Per point #3, it's even gotten as far as becoming a meme in the League community. It's one of the most talked about missing features other than a sandbox mode, which Dota also has.

Any time a new feature is released, especially smaller ones, there's usually a good number of 'We got this but no <replay|sandbox> mode' comments.

So what? They bought Counter strike from Gooseman, they outsourced half life blue shift and opposing force, they bought the team behind team fortress, they bought the team behind left 4 dead, they bought the team behind dota, ...

I think everyone that plays dota is actually happy about that.

That comparison isn't completely fair: CS and TF were in their infancy when Valve got involved and Valve took big risks developing those games. Valve taking over DotA after DotA had existed for nearly a decade felt more like them trying to play catch up to LoL in a genre (market) of games that they had nothing in. Agreed, great for DotA players - but it didn't strike me as being a particularly impressive or interesting contribution to gaming.

I think it's pretty fair, CS was already popular (and played in tournaments), DotA was also just a mod for warcraft 3, far from being a real game, just maps you could play on.

I think your point of view is biased by the fact that you do not play dota, or do not like this genre, etc... It was a pretty big revolution in the dota genre.

No, that's incorrect - counter strike was first made in 1999 and purchased just one year later by Valve. Whatever tournaments there were they didn't look anything like the esports scene of today.

That's nothing like the DotA acquisition - DotA was more popular as a custom game than WC3 was itself and had been for nearly a decade. DotA is pretty much the genesis of the entire MOBA genre. There's no way you can discount that just because it ran on top of another game.

I played DotA for many years and am a huge fan of MOBA's. I don't disagree with you that it was a big revolution in the DotA genre, but if that's as high as Valve was aiming with the game, it's very disappointing given Valve's history of doing so much more than that. That's my point.

It was a boring, uninspired safe bet by a company that can do a lot better.

>They literally took a game built on the back of their biggest competitor


DotA is older than League of Legends, Icefrog was even screwed over by Pendragon (Riot Games cofounder) and Pendragon replaced the DotA-Allstars website with a LoL ad. Riot are also known to have taken many ideas from WIP heroes from DotA. If anything, Riot themselves surfed on the popularity of DotA and innovated very lightly.

I'm not saying Valve innovated by picking up Icefrog and making Dota2, but it's laughable to think that it was built on the back of LoL.

I think OP is referring to DotA being a custom map for Warcraft III.

CS:GO is in a similar situation, Valve may not be making new games any more but Dota2 and CS:GO aren't going anywhere and continue to give Gabe an even bigger pile of money to sleep on.

> they don't need to pay Steam 30% of sales to host files on a server

Publishers have tried to avoid this and people have whined endlessly about how horrible their alternatives are (eg. origin) while steam continues to be a mediocre at best experience.

>... while steam continues to be a mediocre at best experience.

Steam Chat exemplifies this.

Despite the fact it's been around for 12 years, there's no file-based logging capability. When adding mobile clients into the mix, message delivery becomes abysmal. As of nearly a year ago, one rather infuriating bug was introduced that causes chat buffers to sometimes truncate at random.

Add to this a privacy policy[0] that considers none of your private communications to be private:

"Any information that is disclosed in chat, forums or bulletin boards should be considered public information,"

The fact Steam is well north of 100M active users, and yet they allow certain critical aspects of their platform to not only retain their abysmal quality, but even regress—is simply mind boggling.

I don't have enough information to place the blame squarely at the feet of Valve's flat organizational hierarchy, but it seems likely that it's a contributing factor.

[0] http://store.steampowered.com/privacy_agreement/

> not much else

steam vr? dota 2? csgo? virtual economies? source 2? the steam workshop? the crowdfunded compendiums?

Dota 2 and CS:GO are the only titles Valve has put out in some time, and I'd argue they're not the best examples.

Valve has been throwing money and man-hours at Dota 2 relentlessly, but the game's playerbase is still tiny compared to LoL. I imagine they have only a couple more years to try to figure this out before the gaming zeitgeist moves away from traditional MOBAs completely.

CS:GO has been in an alternating state of either complete neglect or completely tone-deaf changes. Most patches from recent memory have been despised by the community and quickly reverted. The game seems to be the red-headed stepchild of Valve properties, run by a skeleton crew of people who don't really understand the game.

Meanwhile, Blizzard just blew the doors off the market by revitalizing a game format that Valve invented. I suspect there is a huge internal struggle at Valve right now to determine whether the company will be a content producer or a platform.

You are hugely underestimating the size of Dota2. It is insanely profitable and benefits from having a more mature playerbase, which comes with disposable income.

While I don't know much about CS:GO, you seem to be incredibly ignorant and/or misled on the state of DotA and TF2.

I disagree at least on one point - I've also played Dota a fair bit in the last few years, and as for Dota, I think parent might be pretty on the money when they say games are moving away from traditional MOBAs. The format is great, but in its 'traditional' form (three lanes, jungle, etc), there's only so much you can do with it. I think the market is pretty ripe for innovation on that format, and Dota won't be able to keep up when it happens.

I also agree with parent in that 'Blizzard just blew the doors off the market by revitalizing a game format that Valve invented' - I honestly think it's hard to argue that point. Overwatch is conceptually very, very similar to TF2, and must be doing some damage to its playerbase (though I haven't checked any stats on that at all so I might just be talking shit).

Isn't that what Heroes of the Storm is though? It doesn't seem to have been very successful at pulling players away from Dota.

True, but I still think it can be done better, and the time will only get more ripe for it as more longtime players quit (source: all my friends quit Dota and we've been playing since beta or soon after).

I don't play TF2 much these days, but from what I've been hearing/reading, a lot of people in the community are dissatisfied with the recent update and yes, some are leaving TF2 to play Overwatch.

Wake me when they divest themselves of their hats.

Dota is over 13 years old by now and still growing. It may have less players than League, but it's by far the most popular game on Steam. I've played it for over 10 years myself, and I have a very long friendlist of similar people. Dota is a lifestyle, it's more addictive than any other game and people keep coming back to it even against their own wishes. Valve has been drip feeding people with Dota updates since its launch and I don't expect it to stop anytime soon. Claiming that dota will die in a couple of years should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

As a Microsoft employee I am so happy that we got rid of stack ranking a few years ago. It encourages a bad behavior and goes against helping your coworkers with whom you are essentially competing for compensation. I am surprised to see that a company like Valve, which seems to be held in high regard by many developers in the industry, still operates with this compensation system. It's system of the 80's if you ask me.

I suspect it might work differently in Valve's case. I'm led to believe that Microsoft had a fixed, conventional hierarchy, where every little group and person within the group was backstabbing everybody else to keep their jobs.

If their handbook is to be believed, Valve has a much more flat management structure, where it's basically Gabe at the top, sortof, and everyone else doing whatever they think is best for the company, and there's a fluid system where people can move between groups according to their interests and how they perceive they can add value. So, unlike in Microsoft's case, Valve's people have an easy avenue towards putting 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' into practice.

Valve has a radically different corporate culture from most other companies in it's space. It doesn't come from the 80s, or indeed almost any other time. Perhaps the stack ranking works a lot better because of it.

Part of me wonders if the Valve management structure isn't almost completely to blame for things like their infamously bad customer service.

I could see why - dealing with support tickets from irate people is not a particularly interesting (or judging by Steam's runaway success: particularly value adding) activity.

Not that I mean to hijack this to complain about Steam, but you have to admit it's a benefit of a traditional management structure: someone is making sure the shitty-but-necessary work gets done.

I suspect it's much more that Valve is an insanely lightweight company for it's customer base. It has something like 330 employees servicing 100 million customers on the go-to PC gaming platform, and a lot of those employees are working on shiny tech and new games. As a comparison, Rockstar North's facility in Edinburgh has roughly the same employee count (slightly more by Wikipedia's count), and all they do is put out one new game every 5 years or so.

I suspect that if Valve wanted to, it could easily hire lots of people who would be happy to man the customer service helplines and who wouldn't be either able or willing to try to make TF2 levels or whatever.

Maybe the management structure is what limits the size of Valve, though.

Rockstar North's facility in Edinburgh has roughly the same employee count (slightly more by Wikipedia's count), and all they do is put out one new game every 5 years or so.

All they did was recreate a city full of assets and added game mechanics to it in five years and made the most expensive (at the time) game product in history with more than 1000 people involved in production and the fastest selling entertainment product in history. A game that broke eight Guinness world records and sold more than 65 million copies and well over $2b in revenue. And that's only GTA 5.

All they did, numerous times so far, was to create vast games full of created digital assets. Games that hold record-breaking sales numbers and hold positions in all best-selling video games charts. That's all they did. Nothing to write home about, really. Bunch of slackers.

What's your point? Valve put out multiple AAA games in the same timeframe too, and did a lot of other stuff besides. Sure, GTA5 is a big-ass game, but Valve's games - games plural - haven't exactly been small projects either.

DCC of assets for something like GTA is magnitudes larger than anything Valve does.

Rockstar has an army of artists working on those assets for that game. Valve is a multidisciplinary house where they dabble in a lot of stuff, split in smaller groups, but their primary vehicle is Steam and a couple of (successful) games where each project does not need as many people. It's comparing apples to oranges.

What Rockstar does demands an army of artists. If Valve were to do same type of game world, they would have an army also. They do not do the same thing though.

If Rockstar were to do what Valve does, they would also have a number of people split into smaller teams working on their own things. They do not do the same thing though.

That's why you can't say it's all Rockstar does with same number of people. Those people are not the same skill and those projects are not the same.

Rockstar's yield, if you're comparing the game industry, is a level above Valve. It's a level above most. It's really not a good example to compare to. They are on the leading edge of what they do. An area Valve isn't in. Maybe if you've compared Avalanche Studios and Just Cause 3. They had 75 core-member team in a studio of 250 and, who knows how many, outsourced people.

Most game development studios (including Valve) outsource most of the art related work. So they can definitely maintain their strength and build a product with scope similar to GTAV

His point is that probably just GTA5 has sold more copies in 5 years than all Valve games combined (a quick check of the most popular ones, HL 1/2, L4D 1/2, Portal 1/2 reaches about 30 mils), so that number of employees is justified.



There is no denying Valve does great with the number of people it has, but of all the badly managed companies they could be compared to, Rockstar really it is not a good example...

Rockstar is certainly doing well profit-wise in the industry, but I think Valve still compares favorably productivity-wise.

In the last few years, Valve has developed multiple new pieces of hardware with software support; the Steam Controller, Steam Link, and HTC Vive. They've also developed and supported a new platform, SteamOS, and rolled out hardware with manufacturing partners. Besides this, the Steam platform has added live-streaming (like twitch), family sharing, big picture mode, the VR UI, and other features. They were also involved in the development of the graphics API Vulkan, which they need for their Linux-based SteamOS to become a better platform.

These are just what I can think of off the top of my head and don't even explicitly involve any games (though they released a collection of 11 small experiences for VR as well).

I only wish I could give you multiple upvotes. Valve has been huge for Linux gaming and if I understand correctly, were a major factor in the push for Vulkan. They can indeed Take My Money.

Most of the stuff Valve is selling nowadays are addons to already existing games.

Interesting thought experiment: Break the sales for DOTA and TF2 into ~$50 increments and compare that number against total sales for the last two GTA's put together. I suspect Valve will beat them at least twice over.

Pretty sure Valve outsure all customer support.

> It has something like 330 employees servicing 100 million customers on the go-to PC gaming platform

Actually there is a lot less people who actually have any connection to userbase at all. Most probably never even publicly known.

Few years ago one producer who visited Valve commented that in office there was one of areas where he was told something like "and here is our Steam department". And back then that was like 20-25 people at most include both partner relations and marketing.

> shiny tech and new games

You mean Half Life with it's last full iteration from 10 years ago, and the second episode with a cliffhanger from 2009? Or the Source engine (HL2) which evolved from GoldSource (HL1) which was based on Quake 1 engine (with some parts from Quake 2 engine) - even the Call of Duty engine which aged well too is based on the more modern Quake 3 engine, and I wouldn't consider it shiny in 2016. Rockstar's RAGE engine as well as Crytek engine (StarCitizen, Crysis), and the Frostbite (Battlefield 1) are light years ahead and far superior in every aspect and that's what I would consider shiny tech.

Valve is what Valve is today because of the success of steam. They produce little games like Dota2 more for fun than anything else, they gt rich with steam.

It's a bit disingenuous to just mention Half Life, although note that work on Half Life series games was still ongoing as of last year (and they did a fair amount of work on the whole series in ~2012/2013 porting it to other operating systems).

Those 'blank' 10 years saw the release of Left 4 Dead 1/2, Team Fortress 2, Portal 1/2 and CSGO, for instance, as well as that 'little' Dota2 (which is clearly a large game by any metric you care to choose). At least three of those games involve regular ongoing content infusions. Add in the development of the Source 2 engine, and the Steam Controller, and the work on the SteamOS platform and whatever else on Steam Machines.

This is out of the 330 employees that also support those >100 million customers using the service on a regular, possibly daily, basis. As I pointed out, Rockstar uses more manpower than Valve just to create essentially one game every few years. The last GTA game I bought (San Andreas) did have graphics well behind the state of the art too.

Even if we assume that those 330 employees are doing nothing but working on Steam, it's still a tiny number compared to the customer base. AirBnB, for instance, has had 2 million listings in it's lifetime, and it has about 2300 employees. Uber has over 6000 employees on about 8 million customers, and both those cases are ones where people aren't typically regular users.

the majority of those airbnb/uber numbers are customer support not engineering

Which makes whatever Valve does all the more impressive.

None of the "blank" games are Valve's IPs but acquisitions which kind of stopped in development or releases after Valve acquisition. Half-Life was their last original IP and even that ended in a complete cliff hanger with Episode 3 or sequel nowhere to be found.

It seems that Valve has serious problems actually pushing their games to completion since they started printing money with Steam and pressure to actually release went away.

> None of the "blank" games are Valve's IPs but acquisitions which kind of stopped in development or releases after Valve acquisition.

TF2, CSGO and Dota 2 are regularly, and visibly updated constantly. In no way are these moribund or 'stopped in development'; the latter two are still among the most played and watched competitive games online.

It's also stretching things to say that Valve 'acquired' Portal and it was dropped 'after acquisition', since Valve essentially bought the team that made a small gameplay prototype and fleshed out the mechanic into two full-fledged AAA games.

So that just leaves 'Left 4 Dead', which was a case of Valve buying a company, publishing it's game and then putting out a full-on sequel. Given how similar L4D2 was to L4D1 (to the point where the first game was essentially contained inside the second, and there was even a threatened boycott by fans), would it really have been a smart move to make a third so soon?

Sure, it's been, what, three years since the last full game release by Valve. That's quite a long time, and there is no doubt less pressure to release sooner because they're sitting on their money-printing machine, but that sort of timeframe isn't exactly unprecedented in this business. The Rockstar studio I mentioned is on a 5-7 year turnaround for it's one main title - though it does aid and abet Rockstar's other studios.

I suspect part of what's going on is that Valve is uber PR-conscious these days, given it's position in the market and can afford to be a ultra-conservative about quality control (though hopefully not in game design) in any new game it's going to put out.

Portal was a acquire hire, the originsl game was a free game from a students competition. It was a freeware but full game that takes about two hours to complete. Of course the graphic looked worse and there was little narrative, it was a students project after all. Portal 2 was based on additional aquirehire as well (colored water splash features), from followup competition, game is freeware as well.

Left 4 Dead, company was bought.

Team Fortress was a Mod for Quake. Through a aquire hire transfered the Mod to Half Life 1 (GolgSource engine based on Quake 1 engine). Team Fortress 2 was planned to be released in 1999/2000. Though it took additional 11 years and at least complete restart to release Team Fortress 2 based on Source engine.

CounterStrike was a free Mod from fans for Half Life 1. They aquirehired the team around CounterStrike 0.9. Some say it went downhill from there. CS 1.4 was the last classic CS.

CS Source was a port from GoldSource to Source engine. As Source engine is just an incremental evolution, it was just a matter of building the game again and later replacing textures and models with higher ones, etc.

CS Go is a rehash of CS Source simplified for console gamers and ported to consoles.

Dota was originally a fan-made Mod to WarCraft 3. Valve aquirehired them to create Dota2, a standalone version based on Source engine. Blizzard wasn't amused and announced a similar game a few days after Valve announced Dota2 back then.

Half Life 1 (GoldSource) is based on Quake 1 engine (with small parts from Quake 2 engine), and of cource evolved. Half Life 2 (Source engine) evolved from GoldSource engine. Videos from HL2 beta show clearly the old DX7 renderer and loading older HL1 map format. Valve worked on HL2 episode 3 and Warren Spector (Deus Ex, System Shock) and his former company worked on HL2 episode 4. But Valve decided to shut down both. The unclear situation for several years makes HL fans angry. HL2 episode 3 / HL3 is the new Duke Nukem Forever, at least that one got released after 11 years - we will see about HL2. We all remember also the shitshow around the HL2 release. The infamous HL2 demo at E3 2004 was faked and the game was nowhere to be ready. The leaked video footage a year later showed how far behind Valve was behind the announced release schedule. Half Life 2 was finally released another year later with heavily shortened gameplay and many previously features removed. Making it basically a different game that feels very differently to the original Half Life 1.

> They produce little games like Dota2 more for fun than anything else, they gt rich with steam.

Little games like Dota2? It's the biggest title on Steam in terms of players by a large margin and probably the 2nd most popular game worldwide on PC to ever exist (behind LoL)

It also generates a significant amount of revenue for Valve through the sales of tournament ticket and cosmetics.

You don't mention Portal 2, Dota 2, CS:GO, all the TF2 updates, Source 2, all the advancements to Steam, the Steam Controller, Steam Link, the Vive, the Lab VR demos.

Sure the Battlefield team has made Frostbite which is shinier than Source. Did they also make their own store, gamepad, and VR headset?

> the Lab VR demos

Wii minigames in VR are still just Wii minigames, whole thing feels like something I'd expect from a hackday from a company as supposedly prolific as valve.

Got a strong feeling the talent is long gone.

> Insults 1 thing from list of 10. Ignores other 9 things.

Source 2 is in DOTA 2, but that game doesn't show its full potential. Let's just wait for their next game until we say that they are "years behind".

[insert obligatory Half-Life 3 joke/reference here]

I've never used Steam's customer support; do they outsource any of it to contractors and/or offshore?

They've tried and they discontinued doing so because they felt it was even worse than being apathetic about it.

What's your source on that? I'm fairly certain that all of Valve's customer support is outsourced, though not specifically overseas, but to contract support teams.

> Rockstar North's facility in Edinburgh has roughly the same employee count (slightly more by Wikipedia's count), and all they do is put out one new game every 5 years or so.

Yeah they actually manage to ship games (that manage to make back the entire production budget in pre-orders alone), not just sit on their hands running an online store with an outdated and clunky client.

I mean, it's not like traditional companies—from Google to Comcast—consistently provide great customer support either. So you can't really make strong conclusions about why Valve is having issues there without additional insight; there are too many confounding variables to pin it just on its management structure.

This is a common story with people trying something new. If you do the old-fashioned thing—buy IBM, so to speak—and fail, well, these things happen. A lot of factors could have contributed to the problem. But if you try something new, the new thing must be at fault—even though all those other factors apply just as much now as they did in the IBM case.

That's a fair point, but I'm struggling to think of a way in which it isn't at least partially to blame. The handbook (and Valve insiders) say it's pretty much a do-your-own-thing company. Who'd want to deal with angry users all day?

I work for a software company very much like Valve in structure, who has been operating this way since the 70s.

Support still gets done, because when you hire you specifically hire people who love doing support. Those people exist, and they get tremendously emotionally involved in the quality of their work, just like anyone else.

In every department there are people who struggle with the flat hierarchy and free range to work on what you like, who have a strong emotional need to know who is in charge, and to be told what needs doing. Those people struggle, but they are by no means relegated to any one department -- plenty of them are engineers.

If they increase the weekly/monthly pay for people who choose to deal with angry customers, it should reach equilibrium eventually.

Surely there are some people out there who really do have a passion for, and get satisfaction from, dealing with upset customers. The questions left are how hard are they to find and how expensive are they to employ.

Or someone is making sure to look like their are doing some work. I have seen plenty of managers, that are nothing more than a human layer between the CEO/CTO and the engineers.

I'm a former MSFT employee that was around when we dropped stack ranking, and I didn't feel like that was a substantial change. Managers still calibrate you against your peers, a stack is still created, and compensation is assigned accordingly. I remember reviews feeling the same before and after. What changed for you?

At any company (Microsoft included) where performance-based compensation exists, there is a budget for that line item. Therefore it is a zero-sum game - to pay someone more because of their performance, that means that someone else gets less (or zero) from that line item.

So, depending on how you interpret the term "stack ranking", you can either look at it as "forced removal of the bottom x% of the company" or "people aren't ranked / bucketized". In the MSFT case, I believe that the former has been removed. But the latter definitely cannot be removed if you are to have performance-based compensation.

    > At any company (Microsoft included) where performance-based 
    > compensation exists, there is a budget for that line item.
I'd like to point out that it's possible to pay bonuses out of profits, rather than a fixed, yearly pre-allocated pool. If employees are only paid a bonus when they add to company profits, there is no competition for bonus funds between employees. So for example, if you have a great idea that saves the company 30% on something, you get half of that saving/profit, or something similar.

The problem is, how do you measure that? There are a bunch of good ideas that most people will agree provide a benefit, but it's really hard to come up with an objective measure of how much money that makes or saves.

Make the bonus pool a fixed percentage of company yearly profits (not sales). Assign at least half of the bonus pool in an egalitarian way (like based on the number of days worked on that year), assign the remainder on a roughtly "merit" based criteria, and let every team to agree on the criteria, but make it be something objective (it does not matter if it is number of bugs closed, or being at your desk on time in the morning, or whatever, just as long as the measurement is unambiguous and the team agrees on it).

That would be far from perfect, there will be free loaders, and most likely than not it will be slightly unfair to everyone. But at least you have removed the perverse incentive to sabotage coworkers in order to look yourself better.

If there is no measurable difference, then a bonus cannot be paid out according to this scheme. So we're talking about innovative ideas that release an extra reward (in addition to a regular salary), if they result in a measurable saving somewhere.

For example: you write an algorithm in your spare time that more efficiently packs together a good that your company produces, such that shipments take up 10% less volume thus saving ~10% on shipping.

You will be horrified to learn that there is a push to write stack ranking for all public employees into the constitution of Greece.

Wouldn't it make sense to just pay everyone (in the same type of role) essentially the same amount and then bonus people from time to time on particular outstanding achievements. Nothing is a more powerful inducement than financial incentives and a bonus gives an impact that the ongoing salary doesn't. People don't give a crap about annual reviews unless they think its low enough to get them fired.

My sense is performance evaluations should be banished from the corporate world, for the most part. Usually a waste of time, but that is where managers can be helpful as they are carrying an ongoing assessment of the value of each of their employees at all times.

'Nothing is a more powerful inducement than financial incentives'

Actually there's a lot of research that contradicts this. Essentially as long as people have enough money that they don't worry about money ie a comfortable middle class lifestyle for country/area, and they don't think they earn significantly less that their peers, money is very inefficient and occasionally negative incentive for tasks that require a decent level cognitive ability.

IIRC Peopleware showed that financial bonuses were tremendously effective - at reducing peoples' investment in their work.

Extra money for excellence comes with an implied message that the regular money is just for showing up. You really don't want your employees to feel that way.

that guide is from 2012. things may have changed by now. i know we gave up stack ranking at $GIANTCORP since then.

I researched Valve quite a bit before applying there (I did not get in, but one of their senior team members wrote me a nice message). Some interesting bits I found:

- The average engineer there makes at least $400k/year with bonuses, although it could be much more (or less, if they somehow wind up in a bad project). IIRC Valve makes around $2m of profit for every head in the company (they only have ~300 employees or so).

- In spite of the seemingly ideal flat organization, many people find themselves unhappy there. One former employee hints at some reasons here: http://richg42.blogspot.com/2015/01/open-office-spaces-and-c... From other employees, I have heard that the flat organization and bonus structure leads to unnecessary drama/rivalry, poor communication (or even fear of communication), lack of innovation (creating your own project is discouraged, and teams have financial incentive to stick with projects that pay the highest bonus), etc. This is not to say Valve is a "bad" place to work at, I am sure it beats the hell out of many other job environments, even ignoring the excellent pay.

- If you do want to work there, you will probably have had to shipped multiple titles AND be recommended by an existing team member (alternately, writing a popular mod is equally lucrative). Typically, applying through their website will not get you a job - they usually hire by actively looking through a pool of candidates that they already know of. They also look for candidates who are good at producing high amounts of customer value - they care more about this than technical ability.

> In spite of the seemingly ideal flat organization,

Why does this seem ideal? A flatter hierarchy is almost always preferable, but taken to an extreme it seems like inevitable chaos.

Agreed. When I hear people talk about how great they think it would be to work in a flat org, they always seem to think that it means they will exist in a meritocracy free of politics where they can use their own judgement about what to do and how to do it. I don't see how it could be anything but the exact opposite of that in every respect, and anecdotally that seems to be the case.

I suppose I am just going off the completely non-scientific vibe I got when I first heard people describing the organization many years ago. I think how ideal it seems (or actually is) is in the eye of the beholder :)

> 400k

Holy shit.

That doesn't surprise me in the least. you might want to read this: http://danluu.com/startup-tradeoffs/

Dan Luu's numbers are very conservative - keep in mind that the kind of people who get hired at Valve are far above the bar that Dan Luu sets for the "not particularly unsuccessful" senior engineer.

Not really surprising considering their bar to hire.

I've worked with a couple of ex/current Valve people, they're effing sharp/creative.

But it seems to be more lucrative than a hedge fund.

I find the whole "You are a person who spend every waking hour optimizing yourself to become the best YOU you can be"-frame of mind very intimidating. Maybe it's because I'm not american, but even though I like to work with complex issues, I also like a 9-17 job with a decent income, and the ability to go home and relax when I'm not working. And by relax, I don't mean working on side projects, doing volunteer work or earning a second degree in something. But playing board games, working out/running or even just watching mindnumbing TV. I feel like the "100 % dedicated 100 % of the time"-thing has become the only way to really make it in tech-life.

You're right - it's very much an American thing. Maybe not exclusive to the US, and it may vary by state or background, but still very common there from my experience with family and friends.

In American culture, unless you're financially constrained, you grow up with someone hammering down the idea that you have to be doing something productive and getting better 100% of the time. If you're a kid, you have to be involved in clubs or teams for everything. You have to make friends. You have to be good, you have to be popular. You have to get awards. You have to play a couple of sports competitively. On holidays, you have to go to summer camp, shock full of controlled activities. You have to do a lot of "voluntary" work because it will look good in your resume, not because it's helping someone [1].

As a result, your schedule is controlled, you are being judged 100% of the time, and the loudest, more outwardly energetic people are the ones who strive. The idea is that if you're not having Mandatory Fun, you're doing something wrong.

It creates this idealistic culture where everyone is trying to be better all the time, or pretending they are. The reality is that most people live in a constant state of anxiety. For the most part, it's very hard for kids to find what they like, and get better at it by sheer initiative; they never have time to do it. Instead, they do what they do because they're told to.

Little surprise kids have no time for introspection, and that's the way people can actually get better.

Science is just starting to understand that Rest is not Idleness [2]. The idea is not new [3]. But our culture, specially the fast-moving tech culture, is not ready for it.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/05/college-admissions-...

[2] http://pps.sagepub.com/content/7/4/352

[3] https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozio_creativo

I think you're overgeneralizing a bit when you say it's an American thing. Maybe you and your peer group were out in the hard-charging long tail of the distribution and you assume life looked the same everywhere else?

As someone who dropped down from honors courses sophomore year of high school to "college prep" and earned a thoroughly mediocre GPA in an easy major at a state school, I'll just say that there are allllll kinds of America out there in addition the one you describe. I don't have the numbers at my disposal but I'd be willing to bet that even that level of academic attainment puts me ahead of more than half of the population.

Just a different perspective on the matter.

yeah but mainstream culture is always defined by a small group. and it is recognizably American. like having a million of those ribbons and plastic trophies from science fairs or organized sports. or republicans calling poor people "freeloaders".

George Carlin summed this up pretty well - "When does a kid get to sit in a yard with a stick anymore? You know, just sit there with a fucking stick. Do today's kids even know what a stick is?" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0MKBdD2FGA

My wife and I were just texting about this.

We try to make sure we carve out time for them to strategically be bored. Forced to explore, use their imaginations, build a fort, stomp on bugs, make shit up.

oh dear, u have to make sure to 'carve out time' for them to 'strategically be bored'?

What's the problem?

> you are being judged 100% of the time

This hits close to home. I've been living in America for ~3.5 years now and my wife and I were just talking about this the other day. In our home country (Brazil), people are a lot more genuinely interested in other people. Here, it is very clear to us that people judge whether we're worth their time and attention, and that judgment is clearly based on achievement and how important/great/awesome our lives are.

We are extreme introverts, not "people people" at all, but we've learned to appreciate our own people a lot more than when we were living back there. We used to be annoyed at most Brazilians' extroversion and warmth, but now we appreciate it because it is a very genuine sentiment of just wanting to know new people, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Ironically this conditioning has the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of becoming productive, the definition of productive is morphed and people find a way to merely look/feel productive in order to satisfy the system.

For example: if I'm getting my degree in underwater basket weaving I'm being productive because I'm going to college. If I'm at work on reddit all day I'm being productive because I'm at work and getting paid.

American here. I don't interpret it that way. I strongly desire to always be growing as a person yet I find quiet reflection some of my most valuable time. I don't think they're mutually exclusive.

> I don't think they're mutually exclusive.

I agree.

The problem to me is on the metrics some parents use to define growth. I do agree with you that quiet reflection is some valuable time. Personally, some of my most valuable ideas and projects came out of the blue, during leisure time.

But my experience is one of seeing parents who think everything should be scheduled to their correct dosages, and that "quiet reflection" is rarely considered as part of the equation. At least in my limited observations, it seems to be there's a certain need for constant measurable growth (or measurable fun), and everything that doesn't fit that framework is to be shunned.

To many parent, "growing" is to be sure to be always moving forward. You need to always have the speedometer at a certain minimum speed. While in reality the twists and turns of healthy learning and healthy living often requires stopping and slowing down at times.

Again, from my limited perspective.

I am American, but I don't interpret that section to mean that I am working 100% of the time. Actually, I think it means the opposite - as long as core hours are met, I have flexibility to work when the inspiration hits me. I know in my current role, sometimes I get a good idea at 8pm, and I am glad I could sit for an hour or two and knock that out rather than have to save it for 9am the next day. Likewise, if it's 3:30~4:00pm and I'm clearly hitting a rut, I can stop and pick back up a little earlier the next day. Me being the best person I can become means that I have the flexibility to do those other activities as I see fit, because I am not 100% work.

If you genuinely want to be "100% dedicated 100% of the time" for any significant amount of time, you'll have to go home and relax when you're not working.

Anything else would just be setting yourself up for burnout and surely that's not the path to be on when your goal is to be "100% dedicated 100% of the time".

The problem is that people want to appear to be dedicated but don't actually care about being dedicated. Combine this with lack of education and you have people trying to appear dedicated while being dedicated only to the destruction of their mental health.

"You are a person who spend every waking hour optimizing yourself to become the best YOU you can be"

The way I interpret it, do you solve the small problems that are all around you. Are you a willing leaner and applier of knowledge on things around you. When you look that way, its less intimidating or honestly much more human. Its more about awareness and doing something about it.

If you don't relax, workout and enjoy the life part of life, then you probably aren't at 100% when you need to be. It isn't explicitly stated, but a lot of people I know agree with me. Some of those people are PhDs, doctors and other traditionally 'successful' people.

Valve has some of that written in, massages and whatnot. I think the key is that you have to be internally motivated to work at valve. They have to lay the social groundwork for people to be motivated without direct managers.

This is not an "American" thing, its a high-achiever thing. Valve is known for hiring some of the best people out there. This manual is written specifically for those people and appeals to those people and their values. Keeping those people happy and not looking for new jobs is 90% of what management does. Pretty much any competitive market has attitudes like this. Its just worse/better at certain employers. Considering how fast tech moves, it might not be entirely feasible to stop learning and expect to be competitive in the long run.

Personally, I really don't know anyone with this extreme mindset and work cultures in places like Korea and Japan make the US look like a walk in the park. I think you're overstating the case here more than a little. Its just rhetoric. If anything shops like Valve has all sorts of perks that most offices don't. I think there's a bit "feeding of the ego" with these materials here. Their engineers are good but they're normal people with kids and families and such. They aren't literally "optimizing themselves 24/7." They just like their assess kissed once in a while for staying current and competitive. Being told you're amazing during the on-boarding process is pretty common.

I'm not sure exactly the wording that conveyed that to you, but there's generally a lot of leeway in what "the best you" means. Generally, that means the happiest you, and people take different paths to what they think will give them that happiness. For some, that's a very ambitious work schedule, or work related hobbies. For others it may be plenty of time for family or fun. It can be any combination of this, but in the US, "success" is very malleable (or or less so depending on your social circle and geography, but still on the malleable side). When someone drops out of a high stress job to do something like open a small business or change their lifestyle, I don't think the consensus is that people think they failed, but that they are happy that the person found something they presumably enjoy. I know that's how I feel when I hear about it.

But that's the important thing to consider on the other side, some people enjoy their jobs, or the fields they work in even if their job is currently annoying, and they may choose to spend their own time in ways related to their day job. This doesn't have to ambition or someone driving themselves to improve (but it can be). It can just as easily be someone that got a job doing something they love, so they do similar things in their free time.

>> But playing board games, working out/running or even just watching mindnumbing TV.

Maybe not the TV part, I suppose depending on what it is exactly, but the others I would count towards bettering yourself.

You don't have to spend 100% of your time doing "productive" activities. If watching mind numbing TV is what puts you in a flow-like or meditative mind state, do it!

I'd recommend the book "Leisure the Basis of Culture" which covers this sentiment in great detail.


As I read through this thread, I was thinking of this book, too! Great book that is very relevant to this topic.

Yes, when I began studying CS I got hit with this pressure really hard. It definitely gave me the feeling that I didn't belong in the field. It is like a cousin to Impostor Syndrome. Instead of feeling like I'm incompetent (though that still happens sometimes), I feel like I shouldn't be in the field since I don't care enough about it to work on it more than 40-45 hours a week.

Three years into my job, I'm mostly over it. I still have to deal with coworkers laughing that I use Windows on my personal computer, but at least I can eat the cake I made this weekend.

Eh, I'm the same as you. We belong in the field. :D

Besides, what are your coworkers doing, playing computer games on Wine? The paltry selection of osx Steam games? Do they have (shudder) _consoles_?

There's definitely people in the field who don't put in unpaid overtime all the time, who don't go home and write Markov Chains in Haskell to make William Burroughs-esque poetry. There's a lot to be said for having some balance, where your entire life isn't devoted to one topic or to your career.

I love my Windows PC with VirtualBox running any flavor of UNIX I want!

This is not an American thing, it is even worse in Japan and Korea, where kids are forced to study from 6 am until late (8pm ish), and this goes on into the workplace as well. I attended an international high school in South Korea (I'm Latin American) and I felt utterly sorry for my Korean classmates. I've heard worse from the Japanese work ethics.

I'm an American, so my perspective is limited. But my understanding is that while Eastern parents push their kids to work hard, there is also more of an emphasis on collectivity. As a child, you're not just you, you are your family, your community. You are working together on a common goal, and you have a specific part to play. You may be pushed hard, but you are not the CEO. And neither is your Dad. Everyone has a specific role, and an understood sphere of influence.

In America, to a greater extent, it's just you. Your bad grades are yours, it's not connected to your parents, or your class background, it's just you. When you go out into the world, you are in the driver's seat, your success hinges on your decisions. And when you achieve something, it's your achievement. Not your family's.

> Your bad grades are yours, it's not connected to your parents, or your class background, it's just you. [snip] And when you achieve something, it's your achievement. Not your family's.

That is a HUGE overgeneralization, as this is very subculture specific. You'll find families where "You got a D?! How could this happen? What terrible thing must I have done to you that you would stab me in the heart with such a grade?" and/or "My son, the doctor! Ah, he got his smarts from his grandfather.", and so on.

Note that while taking the credit and the blame do tend to go together, I've definitely come across families where parents take the blame but not credit, as well as families where parents take credit but not blame (and plenty where each parent & grandparent does their own thing entirely).

Slightly off-topic but: why is 9-17? Here I've always seen people working 9-18 with one hour off for lunch. Is this an Italian peculiarity?

It goes back to jobs that give a paid lunch hour, I had that deal when I worked a service job 10 years ago. For salaried employees the lunch hour is also 'paid' and I think especially in tech where so many of us eat at desks while thinking, we're pretty justified in keeping 9-5 or sometimes even less when we know 10+ hour days are looming as teams finish big features and it's integration time.

Personally I say "9-5" a lot because it's a saying even though I'm 9-6.

9 to 5/5.30 (inclusive of an hour lunch) seems pretty common in the UK. It's also common to have flexible time, so I work 10am to 6pm most days.

In Norway the most common hours are 7:30 - 15:30 or 8 - 16, with a half hour break.

Do you feel like people should be disallowed from working harder than you to avoid making you feel as if you aren't competing at the highest possible level?

That's not my point. My point is, that if you have to have the "work-all-the-time"-mindset in order to become a succes and get a stable career (specially in IT), then I think it's a problem. At least it seems like an unhealthy culture where people will be out of jobs because someone else is working 80 hours a week.

This is a wonderful read, thank you for sharing it. I'm genuinely curious about this, if any Valve insiders have insights:

> That’s why Valve is flat...You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products.

Is this really the case? On paper this sounds great. I've worked at companies that have a similar motto. Power to the employees, power to the developers. But it usually just means the hierarchy is unspoken and assumed. No structure means no one to go to with disputes about your job, problems with co-workers, etc. It can be worse than a traditional hierarchy because everyone sells the "flat" motto to newcomers, but as soon as you join you learn the hidden politics. The cognitive dissonance can be soul crushing.

So is Valve truly flat? Are there any examples of relatively new employees spinning up teams and shipping unique ideas? If it works, how do you handle inter-personal employee issues?

You're absolutely spot on. You have to remember that this is an employee manual and, as such, is more like marketing and recruiting material than a precise description of reality. While Valves heirarchy is officially flat and very different from the norm, the usual office politics muddy the waters.

A few years ago there was a lot of news articles coming out about a shakeup at Valve where a lot of people were fired, allegedly due to internal power struggles. I'm having trouble with finding them on Google due to Valves name but the gist of it is that Valves culture resembles that of a high school with distinct social "elites" and their cliques [1][2]. There is also a wealth of HN comments that provide some insight [3][4][5].

[1] http://www.wired.co.uk/article/valve-management-jeri-ellswor...

[2] http://kotaku.com/weird-paranoia-at-valve-says-former-employ...

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6036385

[4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5215891

[5] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6015182

Year over year over year somebody posts a link to this PDF since 2012 ... source: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=Valve%20Handbook&sort=byPopula...

hn becoming reddit

yeah, too old for me but maybe useful for new comers on hn, IDK.

We value “T-shaped” people. That is, people who are both generalists (highly skilled at a broad set of valuable things—the top of the T) and also experts (among the best in their field within a narrow discipline -- the vertical leg of the T).

This is a nice metaphor. I try to be T-shaped, but I wonder how useful I am becoming... My expertise in high-precision mass spectrometry is not something companies are looking for....

Just wait for upcoming asteroid mining startup bubble.

Why wait? Start it yourself. With a little imagination you can get it started before we even have the capability to achieve asteroid mining.

After all, there's a star naming registry that will name a star of your choice to be recorded in their books for a nominal fee.

It is also important to intelligently select where your vertical leg is placed.

I feel that to be "among the best in their field within a narrow discipline" (the vertical leg) means you have a natural disposition and interest in that discipline. Not something you can just choose (that would be more about the horizontal).

Then the "where are you willing to work?" becomes an important factor. There aren't a lot of "high-precision mass spectrometry" work in a lot of towns.

Am I the only one that finds it hard to believe all of Valve's ~330 employees are among the best in their respective field?

I've heard this recently and it only seems to me it is too easily used to create a bad mix of people on a team to tackle problems.

From what I heard from ex employee working at Valve it's not what you think it is. i.e: it's very political.

I'm not surprised by that. In every company power/influence come from a mixture of politics and formal hierarchy, so it makes sense that if you remove the latter the former would take over. That said, with the right culture office politics might be a more effective meritocracy than a formal hierarchy.

I wonder if they have any internal initiatives to remove cognitive biases that causes many of the negative parts of office politics.

Any group of more than 2 people is always "political" :)

There's a reason all Olympic sports where you can interact with your opponents only have 2 teams/opponents facing off at the same time.

On the face of it, this seems like a reasonable comment. But it has basically no relationship to reality:

    Many track cycling events
    Road cycling
    Every track event
    Marathon swimming
This is a non-exhaustive list off the top of my head. They all involve tactical interaction with a group of opponents.

I'm totally in the dark here. How are you interacting (legally) with other competitors during a marathon?

for the most part a marathon is pack running, which has many aspects that you can compare to politics. for example the overall pace - if you think you can outsprint the pack, it's better to force a slower pace, and the reverse if you think you're gonna get outsprinted, force a faster pace or create separation.

in particular, if there are multiple runners from one country, they can/will take turns running in front of the other. this allows them to share the cost of breaking wind and creating draft, allowing the other to coast. if you have this kind of relationship you conserve energy which is sort of important when you need to run 26.2 ~4:40 miles in a row.

Run an 800m by yourself and then with your friend who's really into running. You'll do better the second time since you'll push yourself to be as good as he/she.

I'm still kind of in the dark. Are you saying that during a marathon there will be some "sacrificial" runners (I think they're called "rabbits")? That's like playing in a team, they're not really opponents.

You can't interact with the real opponents, as far as I know.

So, there are a few things:

1. Drafting has benefits

2. Different runners have different strengths. Some have a stronger kick at the end of the race, some have a weaker kick but can maintain a higher pace.

One example of how this can play out in a marathon (and, to a greater extent, in something like the 5000) is that a runner who has a faster overall potential but a weaker finishing kick wants the pace to be run at a higher tempo. However, if the runner tries to do this unilaterally, weaker athletes may be able to draft and use the physical and mental benefits to hang on, before winning using their kick.

However, if there are multiple endurance oriented athletes, they're typically more able to enforce a higher tempo throughout the run that will drop those athletes that have a stronger kick.

You'll often notice this in the 5000, where the winning time might be well below the personal or seasonal bests of many of the participating runners. Tactics prevent them from running their optimal race, and then a stronger kicking runner wins.

rabbits are generally used for time trials/record attempts. if a runner wanted to try for a 4 minute mile, they would have a rabbit run 2 or 3 laps evenly, at slightly better than 4 minute pace (say 800 in 1:58 or 1200 in 2:57). this allows the other racers to draft off the rabbit, as well as focus on running even splits so they have as much energy as possible for the final sprints.

rabbits in marathons are pretty rare (to my knowledge?) though

Cycling. Although that rather proves your point as politics are most definitely on-show there.

Does Olympic cycling have more than two teams against each other at the same time?

The Tour de France, on the other hand, like Formula 1, is very political.

Yeah absolutely it does - the omnium on the track features events, such as the elimination race, with all countries represented at the same time, as does the road race. The road race is particularly interesting as while it is officially national teams that participate, there also sometimes exist looser bonds between riders of the same pro-team.

> Any group of more than 2 people is always "political"

Agree with your statement on its own. In this context, "political" likely means loyalty is valued over competence.

Politics is the allocation of power. And a synonym for power is the ability to make decisions.

When you've got a limited resource (eg, the time of 300 employees), allocation of that resource is guaranteed to be political, precisely because there will be competing interests which need to be resolved. The question is whether the company comes up with healthy method for making these decisions.

I'm good with olimpic gold medalists in rowing and i think there isn't much politics there. Especially between teams.

It wouldn't even make sense to involve politics in sports (yes i know football, basketball and such..) as the competition is to find out who is the best and not who is the best connected.

How are you interacting with opponents in rowing? Can you hit them over the head with an oar?

By politics I mean that you can cooperate with a part of your opponents to side line some of the other opponents.

>How are you interacting with opponents in rowing? Can you hit them over the head with an oar?

Words can hurt more then an oar. :) Either way you'd have to hit them really hard for them to care (they train insanely hard).

>By politics I mean that you can cooperate with a part of your opponents to side line some of the other opponents.

I feel i can safely say that that doesn't happen in rowing. At least for the team i know i am sure that they wouldn't "take a dive" (or even think about it; same for their trainer).

Is there any change here, or is this just the fairly common repost of this?

This is still the first issue published in 2012.

edit: And I can confirm this with my backed up version from 22 april 2012. This is the same PDF.

Also, is it still accurate? I heard its way off now.

I doubt that there are many, if any, organisations capable of creating such a handbook and have it be accurate.

Yes, it would be really interesting if someone could get a person from Valve to give us an idea of how this all looks as of today.

Can anyone make it happen?

It's from a few years ago but here is Michael Abrash's experience with working at valve http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/valve-how-i-got-here-w... + some interesting tibits about his past at Id and MS.

I think anyone who likes what they see here needs to honestly ask themselves how they believe this applies to their world. Whenever this PDF is posted on HN I am disappointed to see comparisons between how people perceive Valve and their own companies. Does your company have a total equity > 2 billion us dollars? Probably not. Much of this flows from the ability to invest in an incentivize your employees at this level.

As another aside I do not think there is causal evidence that Valve became successful because of these ideals. On the contrary they seem like the result of success.

> As another aside I do not think there is causal evidence that Valve became successful because of these ideals. On the contrary they seem like the result of success.

In the following link, Gabe Newell explains some of ideas behind how Valve works. He argues that the way Valve works has been a conscious decision based on his experiences while working at Microsoft and interacting with other companies at that time.


This is quite old, and paints an overly rosy picture. After this was published a lot of the SteamBox project people got canned and were less impressed with the reality of Valve:


"We were having a difficult time recruiting folks. We would interview very talented people but they would be rejected by the old timers at Valve as not fitting the culture."

This sounds like a terrible environment to develop in.

If done "right" it could also maintain an environment that is excellent to develop in iif you do fit in the culture.

This quote was talking about the Steam Box team, a hardware team that was an enclave inside of a software company. It sounds really hokey for this team developing new hardware to be unable to bring in necessary talent for whatever reason.

It might be different if the new hires did have day-to-day work with these old software or video game developing fogies.


what happens if i'm really talented AND come from totally different culture?

This sort of outcome is what I find so frustrating about how some in tech just refuse to believe that humans act a certain way in groups and organizations. Like, oh, management structures have failure modes, so let's just not have one. But that's not enough. You just end up with a de facto structure that no one can talk about because it's not written down anywhere, is not beholden to any formal rules, and most likely operates in private, in groups that you're not invited to.

The problem is in almost every group of people lacking a formal hierarchy, an informal un-official hierarchy will start to emerge with a higher likelihood of manipulators, sociopaths or other political climbers on top. I'd rather not be part of one of those.

This is, tangentially, my objection to my friend's dream of anarchy. Maybe the world would be better off without government- but the power vacuum will always be filled, so it's almost certainly better to fill it deliberately.

Another way to look at anarchism is just favoring the smallest possible power structures. So maybe there is someone who runs the oven, and everyone knows they're in charge. But you don't have someone in an office 1000 miles away making decisions about 1000 ovens.

Another way of thinking about it is that any and all power structures are allowed, they just have to be opt-in. If you want to be a 4th tier worker in a 6 tier command-and-control structure, that's fine. You just have to be there by choice.

The power vacuum which is filled by government today is, I think, fundamentally not a power structure you can opt out of. Aside from moving, which is already how it works today.

Totally agree. Humans are social, and in social settings leadership emerges naturally, no matter what your management vision is. Sometimes the natural leaders are the same as the official ones, sometimes not.

Although I am curious why do you think that this setting is more likely to attract manipulative personalities, since there is no recognition, status, etc?

Let me start by saying that I love reading these kind of handbooks from various companies.

One thing that stuck out to me was multiple mentions about "raising the issue" for the tough topics (compensation issues, feeling uncertain) -- who is the issue "raised" to if there is zero hierarchy and I have no manager/adviser/councilor? Does the flat structure only apply to "individual contributors" and is there a more traditional HR/operations structure that is not shown?

What worries me about this handbook is that it rarely gets updated. For a healthy culture to sustain, rules have to evolve based on all the new employees who join Valve.

Is Valve expanding all that quickly? I suspect it still has well under 1000 employees.

Somebody cited roughly 330 elsewhere on this page.

Cough, that was me. Between posting this, and posting that, I went to Wikipedia :)

Even if it's not accurate to Valve of today, it's a helluva reach goal for most dev-oriented companies.

Keen to know how they are different now.

How is pay handled if there is no hierarchy? Who decides how to spend the company's money? This type of recruiting-marketing is almost as bad as Google's.

Anyone knows what software is good for doing a beautiful styled book like this one?

The "flat structure" at Valve reminds me of the"unlimited vacation" policy at Netflix. It sounds liberating, but also offers the potential for employees to be judged by rules that are no longer clearly spelled out.

"Unlimited PTO" Is a hallmark of most tech companies. And yeah, it's total bullshit. Give me my 4 weeks a year and let me take them without any judgement, thank you.

Heh. Unlimited PTO is unlimited in the same way ISPs provide unlimited data - it's unlimited for people who don't use it.

It may not be spelled out in the handbook, but it's not that hard to figure out the rules in a company like this. Office politics make or break your career.

It's a great place to work for three or four years if they're doing something you want to learn. You wouldn't want to stay too long, though.

I'm going to assume they don't have any remote software dev positions?

I wish my company was this organized


Cults focus on "we/us/them" not you doing what you feel is best for you.

In my experience a tremendous amount of religious teaching focuses on self-improvement (avoiding sin, cleansing of past sins, etc, etc).

I do agree that the USA isn't a cult though. Too big/diverse.

US expats sometimes sound a bit like recovering cult members. (Probably generalizes to other countries, don't know.)

"Oh my god, did they make you 'pledge allegiance' to that fucking flag too!? [1] That was so fucked up! And over 4 in 10 of us believe the earth was created 10,000 years ago??? [2] We're gonna kill the Earth, aren't we?"

[1] http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/pledge-of-allegiance-sta...

[2] http://www.livescience.com/46123-many-americans-creationists...

In the example you've given the group is defining what is best and what is not; you doing what is best for you is defined by only you.

Here's a better explanation of the concept: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nash_equilibrium

"Avoid sin" and "cleansing" does not always goes together with self-improvement, but it usually goes tight with regret. I would have agreed with you if you used self-control as self-improvement.

Plus... the concept of sin depends on the religion.

Honestly I only skim read this wondering if there was a policy not to talk about Half Life 3! Interesting read, though.

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact