Valve hires remarkable talent. Comic artist Michael Avon Oeming, writer Erik Wolpaw, game designer Kim Swift; these are just a few of the remarkable forward thinking creators that have, at various points, joined Gabe Newell’s gang of secretive visionaries up in Kirkland. They make great games, they manage quality digital distribution services, and they drive us insane by not telling us whether or not Half-Life 3 exists. The company’s latest hire is an intriguing one to say the least. The lantern-jawed Yanis Varoufarkis, who sounds and looks like a badass companion for James Bond, is not a game designer. In fact, he knows very little about games. Varoufakis is an economics professor and is now in charge developing Valve’s “social ‘economies.’”
According to an introductory post on Valve’s official blog, Valve head Gabe Newell reached out to Varoufakis in 2009, shortly after Greece’s economy went into catastrophic collapse. The reason was that Valve was going to attempt to create a shared economy between two separate games. Newell’s introductory email read, “Here at my company we were discussing an issue of linking economies in two virtual enivronments (creating a shared currency), and wrestling with some of the thornier problems of balance of payments, when it occurred to me ‘this is Germany and Greece’, a thought that wouldn’t have occurred to me without having followed your blog. Rather than continuing to run an emulator of you in my head, I thought I’d check to see if we couldn’t get the real you interested in what we are doing.”
First, if you need a little background on the diseased economic relationship between Greece and Germany that created much of the current woes plaguing the European Union, go read Michael Lewis’ book Boomerang for an easy-to-follow primer than come on back.
Second, Varoufakis new official position with Valve as an economist-in-residence is fascinating and vital to the growth of both the video game industry and to the art of building persistent virtual worlds. As he writes, he has some experience studying and advising on the maintenance of virtual economies. He’s worked with CCP on EVE Online, arguably the world’s most durable virtual economy. His new work with Valve though will bring a modicum of expertise to a field that is still largely unregulated and misunderstood. By having an economist track the exchange of data, goods, and funds in communities like Steam, it’s possible that certain extreme scenarios can be avoided. Maybe in the future, Korea and other nations won’t feel the need to ban the commercial trade of in-game goods.
Varoufakis closes his introduction by welcoming readers to “Valve ECONOMICS.” Happy to be aboard, sir.