Leaked Valve handbook sheds light on how games get made without a ‘boss’

valve employee handbook

There’s a certain allure to what goes on behind the closed doors over at Valve. In a recent blog post, Valve developer Michael Abrash discussed how Valve’s flat management structure leaves employees to do as they please, as long as the project you pursue benefits Valve. It allowed him to work on wearable computers.

Now, a user of the forum Flamehaus has published what appears to be Valve’s “Handbook for New Employees.” Sent by Greg Coomer to the Flamehaus user, the handbook reveals what it takes for a candidate to get hired, but outlines the pros and cons associated with its nontraditional structure. It’s an intriguing read, particularly for those fans of Gabe Newell and for those of us who have played nearly every Valve release.

Figuring out what to do is the hardest part of the job

With a flat management structure, trying to figure out what to do can be the most difficult part about adjusting to a new company. Without a manager or boss assigning you tasks, there’s no one to tell you what to do.

“We do have a founder/president,” the handbook explains in reference to Gabe Newell, “but even he isn’t your manager.”

Job candidates looking for a traditional hierarchical structure are going to be in for surprise. Even a talented candidate who can’t function in the atmosphere stands little chance of getting hired. Working within the company’s culture evidently trumps an employee’s individual skill.

“Deciding what to work on can be the hardest part of your job at Valve. This is because, as you’ve found out by now, you were not hired to fill a specific job description. You were hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work you could be doing. At the end of a project, you may end up well outside what you thought was your core area of expertise,” the handbook states.

methods to find out what's going on

Groups of employees = Cabals

A “cabal,” or groups of people sharing the same interests, has been Valve’s term of choice when describing how employees congregate around projects. It’s up to the employee to ask around the office to find out what project would be of interest to them, and once they’ve found the group, Valve encourages a rather interesting method of congregating teams. The handbook has a humorous one-page guide describing “How to move your desk.” All the desks in Valve are on wheels. Wherever the team decides to settle is where they’ll set up shop until the day that the project disassembles or ships.

method to move your desk

Work and family life not balanced? Something’s wrong

Long hours are an inevitability, but Valve’s handbook points out a great bit of advice that anyone, whether or not a Valve employee, should remember: “For the most part working overtime for extended periods indicates a fundamental failure in planning or communication.” It’s apparent that with a gym, entertainment room, free food and snacks, year Hawaii vacations and other perks, Valve encourages a balanced work and family life.

method to taking the company trip

The customer is the boss

Valve’s handbook has some great advice to just about anyone, even if you can’t agree with Valve’s management structure. There isn’t an explicit mention about who the true “boss” is, but we could figure out that at the end of the day, it’s the customer.

“We are all stewards of our long-term relationship with our customers. They watch us, sometimes very publicly, make mistakes. Sometimes they get angry with us,” the handbook states. “But because we always have their best interests at heart, there’s faith that we’re going to make things better, and that if we’ve screwed up today, it wasn’t because we were trying to take advantage of anyone.”