The history of Valve


On 24 August, Valve celebrated its nineteenth birthday. Over the past years, the company has managed to release numerous hits that have turned it into one of the leaders of video games industry. Today we will recall all key stages of Valve’s development and try to explain how the management model used by the director of this corporation works. 

Key stages of the company formation


The company has emerged after Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington’s departure from Microsoft and their eventual decision to start doing something else. They shifted their focus from the work with Windows operation systems to the development of video games. This move was influenced by the results of their former colleague Michael Abrash, who has also left Microsoft and joined id Software to work on Quake. In 2011, he became the part of Valve, finally accepting the one of many Newell's attempts to headhunt him. So, on 24 August 1996, former Microsoft employees established a new multimedia company, known as Valve Software today. All formation papers were signed on Gabe’s wedding day. The main idea behind their company was to create a first-person sci-fi shooter that will deliver something new to the fans of this genre. In order to speed up the process of its development, they have purchased Quake engine license and based their game on it. All initial expenses, by the way, were covered with their personal savings. 


Two years later, Valve Softare finally released their first game, Half-Life, which has met with phenomenal success. Thanks to it, the company has experienced incredible rise in popularity, as both professional critics and gamers have given positive feedback on their work. The great quality of the game have made a few world publications call it one of the best ones in the history of video games (i.e. PC Magazine Gamer). As the members of the developers team have admitted later, their success came as a huge surprise to everybody, as the vast majority of all workers had very little to no experience in video games industry. Half-Life became popular because of its in-game scenes, which were much more intense than usual thanks to the intelligent rivals of the players. Being motivated by such a huge success, Valve has started working on a new version of the game immediately. In 1999, they implemented a free SDK that allowed everybody to create their own interesting game modifications.Thanks to this decision, such multi-player shooters as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic were released.

Gabe Newell at the dawn of Valve

In early 2000, Mike Harrington decided to leave the team. Gabe Newell, in his turn, has bought out his shares and became the full and rightful owner of Valve. The next time we heard about Harrington was in 2005, when he launched his own company, Picnik. The startup offered photo editing services that worked in online mode via a web-browser. In that same year, Counter-Strike 1.0 was released. We all know the story about two developers that downloaded the Half-Life SDK and created their own multi-player game. If only they knew how big it will become! Their first versions of Counter-Strike received such a great feedback that Valve have noticed it and made them a job offer, promising all needed help and support. Thus, Counter-Strike started to develop independently from Half-Life. 


Before developing the second Half-Life version, Valve have also launched Steam and their own Source engine. Compared to the previous one, this engine made the game more realistic-looking and allowed deformation of all in-game objects. Half-Life 2 itself was released in 2004, and, thanks to being as impressive as the first one, received more than 30 different awards, from the title of the best scripted game to the title of the best PC-game of all times. However, unfortunately for all fans of Half-Life series, there were also the aspects that threatened its success. First, the release date of the game was considerably delayed. Second, all users were obliged to authenticate and install Steam. Most players responded with a distinctly negative feedback and without any doubts were right, as the first versions of Steam were extremely unstable. 


The first version of Steam 
Steam, in its turn, is certainly worth separate mentioning, as it played a crucial role in the development of Valve. The platform was lauched in 2003, and its initial purpose was to simplify and automate the update process. A bit later, it has also been modified with the security system against cheaters, known as Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC). At short notice, the company started selling the games created by other developers through this service, and Steam became one of the most popular digital distribution platforms. Valve managed to change the way video games were sold, doing something similar to what Apple did with their iTunes and music. Note! Further information about Steam and its history can be found in a separate article dedicated to this topic.


2007 was incredibly successful for Valve, as well. Mostly, it was connected with two main events: The Orange Box release and the launch of Steam Community. The Orange Box featured collection of the best games created by the company, including Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2. The last 3 games were presented for the first time and much anticipated. Steam Community was a huge update of Steam service whose main goal was to improve the social aspect of gamers’ community. For instance, it provided players with the opportunity to form groups or invite somebody out of their friends to play together. According to statistic, Steam was actively used by 15 millions of people at that time.


Another great game, Left 4 Dead, was presented in 2008. It was released by Turtle Rock studio that became the part of Valve in 2008. And even though one year later the studio announced that they will continue developing on their own, Left 4 Dead received tons of positive feedback. Its focus on players’ interactions turned it into one of the best cooperative shooters. Its sequel, released the year after that, also evoked positive response from video games magazines. In 2010, Valve finished their work on Portal 2. It was a huge success: critics welcomed this first person shooter as warmly as all previous Valve products, and Gabe Newell received GDC award for novelty in video games industry. The next three years Valve tried to achieve the same success, releasing different additions to this games, namely Portal 2: Sixense MotionPack DLC и Portal 2: Peer Review DLC.

Portal 2 advertisments on the Seattle busses

In 2009, Valve employed the developer of Warcraft III DotA map. In 2010, company's headquarters were relocated to more expensive and prestigious district. Valve presented Portal 2. Finally, in 2011, the company announced Dota 2 release and started accepting the applications for beta-testing. In order to promote the game, they arranged the first International, where Natus Vincere took well-deserved first place. 2012 was another key year in Valve’s history, because it was the year of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive release. Along with Dota 2, it became one of the most popular eSports disciplines. GameSpot called it the same classic shooter, noting that it was modified considerably. Also, Valve never stopped thinking about their software development. In 2013, they launched Steam client for smartphones, allowing their users to stay connected with each other and inspect the store away from home. In 2013, Valve released their own operation system, SteamOS, and are still working to improve it. This OS will be implemented into Steam Machines  that will help players to launch their PC-games through the TV.


Nowadays, Valve are working on various different projects, from new Source 2 engine to their own virtual reality system. This company has had a very heavy impact on the gaming industry and eSports in general and, for sure, will continue doing it in the future. Valve’s success was achieved thanks to many different aspects, including the managment model used by Gabe Newell. Let’s discuss it in-depth.


Gabe Newell's managment model

All achievements of Valve were without doubt positively influenced by a very unique management model, which works despite everything. First of all, Gabe Newell is not interested the higher education of his potential workers. In one of his interviews, he stated that sometimes an employee with MBA can be useless in the company, and even though many successful people were excellent students, the marks say nothing about the person and are not necessary for successful career. By the way, Gabe Newell himself dropped out of the university, but achieved a lot of things that others can only dream of. Thus, Valve can easily employ enthusiasts, who can prove what they can in practice, and ignore brilliant diplomas of the people who are not that good. If Valve’s director notices somebody’s unusual approach or problem solving, he makes a job offer. For example, Yanis Varoufakis, a talented economist from Athenes, has impressed Gabe Newell with his blog about economical situation in Greece, and has been offered a job in Valve.

Additionally, Gabe Newell refuses to use the traditional hierarchical management model, featuring managers and their subordinates. Valve’s handbook for new employees says: "Of all the people at this company who aren’t your boss, Gabe is the MOST not your boss". Also, they rarely employ people for particular tasks. The workers can do whatever they think is the right thing to do. Above-mentioned Michael Abrash, for example, has said that he expected to be given a task of some kind on the first working day, but received various offers from his new colleagues to work in completely different spheres, instead. This way he accentuates that Valve employees do not have any roles or responsibilities. Gabe himself calls positions and responsibilities they require rigid boxes that negatively affect the results of the work. So, nobody there can say anybody what to do. Not even the director.

Gabe Newell is sure that there is no need in formal management and career growth
In one of his interviews, Gabe Newell stated: «We don’t track vacation time or sick time». Thus, everybody at Valve can miss a few days of work if they think that it is what they really need. And as there are no managers, they don't have to explain to anybody where they were. «We just tell people we trust you to make all of these other decisions, of course we are going to trust you to manage your own time.» Lastly, all Valve office rooms are equipped with rolling furniture, so all workers can easily cooperate and form groups. Some of you may think that managment model of Gabe Newell is unusual or even a bit weird. But you must agree that it works perfectly. 


AuthormJay Date26 August 2015, 09:25 Views7624 Comments0
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