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Valve Loses Business Director And Reportedly Lays Off Over A Dozen Developers In “Great Cleansing”

News & Rumors Valve

UPDATE: Gabe Newell has released a statement responding to these reports (Engadget and Forbes were among those to receive a response):

We don’t usually talk about personnel matters for a number of reasons. There seems to be an unusual amount of speculation about some recent changes here, so I thought I’d take the unusual step of addressing them.

No, we aren’t cancelling any projects. No, we aren’t changing any priorities or projects we’ve been discussing. No, this isn’t about Steam or Linux or hardware or [insert game name here]. We’re not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn’t working here.”

And that’s it. It’s a reassuring response, but it all but confirms that the reported layoffs have, in fact, taken place after all.

Valve has one of the highest employee retention rates in the entire video game industry – and just a few years ago, their Jobs page touted a 98% retention rate. But though we haven’t really heard of any significant layoffs from the company, ever since its inception, that doesn’t mean they don’t fire people at all. In fact, according to Gabe Newell (in his first talk at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin), due to Valve’s inherently flat structure and hierarchy, they have to be really aggressive about firing people, and he adds that they haven’t done a very good job with interims or new employees.

But again, we’ve never really seen that process in action. Well, until now.

Valve Loses Business Director And Reportedly Lays Off Over A Dozen Developers In “Great Cleansing”

According to an exclusive report from Gamasutra, a number of developers were laid off from Valve yesterday. Though they could not confirm the exact number of staff that were let go, it could be as many as 25 employees (a significant figure for a company with 350-400 total employees), and affected employees described the layoffs as a “great cleansing“, and the circumstances surrounding it as “large decisions“.

Apparently, the layoffs may have been driven primarily by company challenges, and were not limited to a single development team. Gamasutra specifies that hardware and Android development, in particular, was among the departments affected. Among the devs laid off was Jeri Ellsworth, perhaps the first hardware engineer hired by Valve, back in mid-2011. Yesterday, she tweeted that she had just been fired from Valve, and was now pursuing entirely new projects (later on, she even tweeted a picture of all the pinball machines she had brought to Valve, presumably about to be removed from the building):

Meanwhile, the LinkedIn profile of Ed Owen, another hardware engineer hired by Valve last year, shows that his employment there as ending in February 2013 (as spotted by ValveTime). Another possible departure would be Olivier Nallet, whose LinkedIn profile also shows his employment at Valve ending in February 2013 (though he was not a member of the hardware development team, and was hired back in mid-2010).

And even more disconcertingly, quite a few employee entries that used to be on the People page of Valve’s official website are no longer there – entries that were still on that list, as of 5th February, little over a week ago, as this web cache of the page clearly shows. However, keep in mind that not all Valve developers employed there are on that list (Jeri, for instance, was never on there), and this is has always been the case – so this is not a definitive, completely accurate list of who exactly has been laid off.

These are the now missing entries, 8 in total:

  • Moby Francke, hired in 2002 (art director on Team Fortress 2, character designer on Half-Life 2)
  • Bay Raitt, hired in 2004 (lead developer on the Source Filmmaker and animator/artist on a number of Valve games)
  • Realm Lovejoy, hired in 2005 (one of Portal’s original creators, artist and creator of the Companion Cube)
  • Marc Nagel, hired in 2008 (lead on Quality Assurance/playtesting)
  • Tom Leonard, hired in 2002 (lead developer on Left 4 Dead 2, senior game programmer, and an instrumental figure in the development of the Half-Life 2 series)
  • Keith Huggins, hired in 2006 (animator on Team Fortress 2)
  • Elan Ruskin, hired in 2006 (engine programmer on a number of Valve’s games)
  • Matthew Russell, hired in 2006 (animator on a number of Valve’s games, and the TF2 “Meet the Team” series)

And according to a separate report by Develop, Valve’s director of business development Jason Holtman has just left the company, for reasons unknown. He had worked at the company since 2005 and played a significant role in relations with third-party developers and publishers within the Steam space. He is also the ninth developer to no longer be listed on Valve’s People page… and his departure is the most disconcerting of all, I think.

It’s also worth noting that Bay Raitt has actually just confirmed he’s no longer employed by Valve, on his personal Facebook account.

In total, 12 developers have been confirmed as no longer with Valve – but according to Gamasutra, 13 others may have been laid off within the same, single targeted layoff, which took place just yesterday.

This is very peculiar, to say the least. We’ll keep you posted on any further developments, and LambdaGeneration would like to wish all those affected by the layoffs at Valve the very best in the future.

30 Comments

  1. I understand that the “great cleansing” had to do with some people not fitting anymore with the company vision for the future but I honestly do not understand why Tom Leonard. That guy is a perfect example of the type of employee they say they look for. I mean prior to Valve he was basically the project manager and the great architect of the system AI in the Thief series and he contributed a whole bunch of that to many of Valve’s released projects ever since.

    I’m just baffled at the fact that someone as skilled (and one would think self motivated) as him didn’t fit into the vision anymore.

  2. This place is falling to pieces!

    Somebody needs to attempt a manual override on this article.

  3. They don’t seem terribly upset, do they? It seems to be mostly “Time for new worlds and new projects,” not, “How could they do this to me? I’m applying right now to a competitor.” Those all seem to be insanely talented people with stellar resumes, if they don’t just group together and start a new company, maybe they’ll spread to other game makers and infect some good ideas into them.

  4. Unrelated topic, but would my concerns be unfounded when I say I don’t want this site to go in the way of PlanetHL, as in no updates since Aug of 2012?

  5. Meanwhile, at EA.

  6. That’s how business is run. In this economy you people are surprised?

    Doesn’t mean bad things will happen for the company.

    Don’t forget Valve is not a family, it’s a company and companies sometimes have to do what they have to do.

  7. I wonder if the people who got fired were in opposition to the idea of moving Steam away from the ‘gatekeeper’ position towards reducing into a set of API’s – this might also explain why Jason Holtman left. Perhaps these people were making waves against the direction Valve is going and were thusly asked to leave.

    But it is hard for me to grok why the guy who brought us Source Filmmaker was fired and Doug Lombardi was NOT fired – what in the name of Cthulu has Doug been doing for the past 3 years?

  8. Great cleansing…
    http://i.imgur.com/Z04AjsQ.png

  9. Moby Franck designed all the Tf 2 characters, and peter konig designed all of the l4d2 Zombies,victor antonov made the Combine architecture. Are there anyone at Valve who made something we loved that still works there? except the writers.

  10. valve fired the person who designed the companion cube! :o First time valve have made me kind of sad :(

  11. Ron Paul warned us, but we refused to listen.

    Now, HL3 is ded.

  12. What a weird group of lay-offs; there doesn’t seem to any particular through-line in terms of length of employment, area of expertise, anything…

    If I had to speculate, I’d wonder if Valve’s ostensibly flat management structure has led to factionalism and friction over the direction of the company. Perhaps all the individuals laid-off had formed a group who were pushing things in a direction Gabe didn’t want to go, and since he technically couldn’t tell them what to do, he resorted to a mass firing instead.

    Oh well, I’m sure the true story will leak out eventually, given enough time.

  13. I don’t feel very comfortable with this.

  14. Valve, what is going on?

    First forcing gearboxes HD models in Half-Life, breaking all the mods, now firing all of these brilliant people.

    Things have been bad this month.

    I hope this Steambox doesnt see the end of them, because I still am a little confused by the concept, in relation to their original values. I mean I have Steam because I am a ‘PC’ Gamer, I dont want to play with a controller, or in a public/open lounge, id get a console if I did. Sure they might be trying to compete with consoles and have everyone on board, but as Steve Jobs said, focus on what your best at – PC Gaming as PC Gaming.

  15. I think we’re going to see two ton of Leak footage of games (being Concept art or otherwise), more information on projects going on in the company and so on. It’s a shame about all of these layoffs but it’s the same with any other company I suppose, it’s still a great loss though. All these great people now gone.

  16. Gabe Newell just commented on this layoff: http://www.engadget.com/2013/02/13/valve-gabe-newell-layoffs-statement/

  17. Very sad news :(

  18. I remember meeting Matthew Russell while at Valve… he seemed like such a major part of the animation team. Him, along with a few others on that list, are notable names. It’s very strange to see them all fired at the same time. In fact, I can’t make much sense of it at all. I would expect a “cleansing” to be a bunch of underlings that haven’t proven themselves.

  19. What and why is it happening?! Something must have happened there between them..

  20. Talk about a Valentine’s Day Massacre… i’m worried about Valve’s integrity, now.

  21. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVKsSu_bOz4

    It’s the end times. Daamn.

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