Gamasutra got a chance to have a chat with Gabe Newell (Valve founder and CEO) as well as the project lead for DOTA 2, Erik Johnson about how Valve makes decisions as a company and why they hate pie graphs. The interview is very revealing and shows off why Valve is such a sweet company and how a private company (as opposed to a public company) has the ability to think about gamers and video games before corporate profit and shareholder returns. The full interview from Gamasutra can be found here. 1/4 of the full interview is below for you to check out. And here is my favorite quote from the Gabe man himself from the whole interview, “Premature monetization is the root of all evil.” Enjoy.
Well, Valve chooses very carefully where it treads, right?
Gabe Newell: [laughs] It may look that way on the outside.
Erik Johnson: I’d like to think we just lumber along. And usually run into trees.
So it’s not as deliberate as it looks?
GN: Oh no. Hell no. I mean, Dota 2 is really a result of Erik and a couple other guys being huge fans of IceFrog. So that’s not like this incredibly, deeply reasoned business strategy. It’s like, “I’m a huge fan of this! Oh, we can build a sequel? Awesome, let’s do it!”
Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? You already know the potential there.
EJ: Well, I was a huge fan of it, and saw there were lots of other people that were huge fans of it. And most importantly, meeting IceFrog, he was the kind of person that we all wanted to work with.
GN: But what about your marketing? Your market analysis?
EJ: There’s no market analysis. I mean, I guess there is, but not in a traditional stupid line graph sense.
Just “a lot of people like this sort of thing”?
EJ: Yeah, a lot of people, here’s a person…
GN: But you must’ve had a business plan!
EJ: [laughs] Yeah, there’s no business plan. A bunch of people… It is rare for any single person to be entertaining tens of millions of people on his own. And that’s kind of enough for [a business] to be awfully interesting for us.
GN: One of the things about Valve that sort of works for us is that we think about what we do as being a collection of people who really like and trust each other who build products.
So for us, you could come up with a really compelling business plan or a market analysis, and nobody in the company would pay any attention to you at all. But if you said, “If we do this, then we can work with Michael Abrash”, then a whole bunch of people would say, “Done! That’s it, we have a plan now.”
And that’s really how [Valve works]… It’s a useful thing to know about us if you try to follow what we do, and what our decision-making is, to realize that that’s the kind of thing, to us, that’s really compelling. And lots of other things, which traditionally drive business decisions at other companies, don’t really get much traction at Valve.
Well, I can think of a few obvious examples. One is looking at [Portal predecessor] Narbacular Drop and going, “Okay. We’ll turn this into something because it’s so good.”
GN: Well, the thing there — and I’ve talked about this before — that was really scary to me, was that something had happened with this group, that would’ve been kind of sad if these people all went their separate ways.
Because a lot of times you can look at something and say, “Oh, it’s successful because of this person.”
GN: Yeah. Carmack is so clearly the heart and brain of everything that id does. But with the guys who worked on Narbacular Drop, it was like the magic was in the team, and if the team had split up… That was my read. That there were a bunch of games that wouldn’t get made if these guys went their separate directions. So I was like, “That’d be a real shame, so we need to keep them together and see what they can do.”
And that turned out — we ended up making a ton of money because of it, but we didn’t do it because we thought we’re going to make a bunch of money. We were thinking sort of like, “Gee, it’d be a drag if these guys weren’t able to do their next game together.” You know, they were going to go off and like have testing positions at large publishers, kinds of things, and it seemed like a waste given what they were able to do together.