We talked a couple of months ago about the augmented reality project that Valve let loose after it laid-off the team behind it, and now, we hear from one of those team members, Jeri Ellsworth, who explains how things went down. If you’re willing to set aside an hour-and-a-half, you can watch the full interview over at YouTube.
For those who prefer their information a little more concise, game development site Develop breaks it all down nicely. One of the things that has long set Valve apart in the way they do business is their “flat management” style of operation, which is where anyone, no matter what their role in the company is, has an equal say about projects. It kind of reminds me of how Atari operated in the 80s, although not likely quite as generous with the freedom (I recommend watching Once Upon Atari to learn all about that; a great documentary).
According to Ellsworth, this flat management only goes so far. According to her, the company has a hidden layer of management that behaves like a clique in high-school. She believes that it was this clique that led to all of the layoffs that occurred earlier this year. Given her work at the company, she has felt as though she’s been “stabbed in the back“.
Notably, Ellsworth hadn’t been too pleased with the company for a while: “I shouldn’t say the numbers, but there were very few of us in the hardware department. We were understaffed by about a factor of 100.” If a project has potential, the next obvious step is to hire more people to help out, but it becomes clear that Valve didn’t want to risk sinking too much more money into it. Ellsworth ultimately believes she was “fired for being abrasive” in her quest to hire more people.
Regardless of the reason for it, being “abrasive” isn’t a great way to retain your role at a company. As an outsider, it’s pretty difficult to not agree with her point-of-view, however. In the end, it seemed Valve (or people at Valve) just had no interest in the project any longer, and thus, this was the way to close it down. The entire situation was unfortunate, to say the least.