The former head of Valve’s hardware divison, Jeri Ellsworth, has launched an attack against her former employers’ “hidden management” cliques.
Ellsworth was unexpectedly fired in February, along with a number of other key figures including Steam boss Jason Holtman, has said that the ‘flat management’ structure hides the groups that have formed in the company. Develop reports that in an interview on The Grey Area podcast she said, “There is actually a hidden layer of powerful management structure in the company. And it felt a lot like High School.” She went on to say, “There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there’s the trouble makers, and then everyone in between. Everyone in between is ok, but the trouble makers are the ones trying to make a difference.”
Valve have long been held up to be an example of how to run a games studio, and their management handbook was published online showing that the power was supposed to be shared equally amongst the staff. Ellsworth explained this, “Now we’ve all seen the Valve handbook, which offers a very idealised view. A lot of that is true. It is a pseudo-flat structure, where in small groups at least in small groups you are all peers and make decisions together,” but not all the power is balanced out, “I was struggling trying to build this hardware team and move the company forward. We were having a difficult time recruiting folks – because we would be interviewing a lot of talented folks but the old timers would reject them for not fitting into the culture.”
It should be noted that this is a very personal view, and the full interview is 90 minutes long but it shows that perhaps even in gaming development Utopia not all is as it seems.