Gabe Newell is Actually Santa Claus
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
"Happy Summer Valvemas!" I wrote in the message sections of Steam gifts I sent out to colleagues during this year's Steam Summer Sale (which, seductive as it often is, became a major contributing factor to my needing to pick up a third job this fall). We kid around about the benevolent monopoly Valve holds over digital distribution, but the reports which reach us from inside the company's Seattle offices only reinforce this image of Valve as part Disneyland, part Santa's Workshop. And I don't know about you, but it sort of creeps me out.
Take this recent New York Times piece by Nick Wingfield, who only confirms what we've long suspected about the magical wonderland where Portal and Team Fortress 2 hats happen:
New employees aren’t even told where to work in the company. Instead, they are expected to decide on their own where they can contribute most. Many desks at Valve are on wheels. After figuring out what they want to do, workers simply push their desks over to the group they want to join.
A few years ago, a Valve hire who had worked in special effects in Hollywood balked at wheeling his desk. The news reached Mr. Newell, who promptly picked up the desk himself and carried it to the new location, to the new employee’s embarrassment.
The man, whom Valve declined to name, is no longer with the company.
He probably didn't smile enough either.
The article goes on to make the claim that few employees have left Valve's cuddly embrace for a less Montessori-esque office environment. "When they do, it's often because a sick parent needs help," Wingfield reports; "In one case, Valve moved an employee's parents to the Seattle area, where one of them was also able to receive better cancer treatment."
Let's take a moment to contrast this with the case of the 38 Studios employees who found themselves with second mortgages on their hands when the company went belly-up earlier this year. Or even the endless litany of layoffs seeming to affect studio after studio. In light of that, Valve isn't simply being a gentler, kinder company; it's committing itself to a sort of family atmosphere.
Or, well, a cult atmosphere.
Bear with me here. I'm not accusing Valve of necessarily being a cult (although if they sacrifice offerings to Cthulhu in exchange for wealth and fame, would you really be surprised?), but Wingfield doesn't appear entirely conscious of when he's describing Valve as a company with a heart of gold and when his tone suddenly diverts into characterizing Gabe Newell as some kind of creepy Disneyland automaton.
“I get freaked out any time one person leaves,” says Mr. Newell, a bearded bear of a man with John Lennon-style glasses. “It seems like a bug in the system.”
The New York Times piece does get into Valve's upcoming VR hardware efforts, but this is a brief dalliance, next to the many pages spent describing, with childlike enthusiasm, Valve's entrepreneurial godhood and the bearded toymaker at the reins. No mention is made of Steam Filmmaker or the mixed reception Steam Greenlight, its new community-sourced indie game vetting system, has garnered. All we walk away with is the impression that Newell, with his rosy cheeks and the twinkle in his eye, knows if you've been naughty or nice, and you had just better hope that's a good thing.
Read the whole article at The New York Times.
Santa Gabe image source: PA Report.