How Valve’s Culture Sets It Apart

Like any other game company, Steam’s creator Valve faced challenges in recruiting talent during its early days. As a solution, CEO and Co-Founder Gabe Newell decided to focus on building a strong culture with unique practices.

Half-LifeRecently, Newell told the Washington Post that his Bellevue, Wash., company has created a culture of management systems without managers, unlimited vacation and sick time, allowing workers to take on more than one role, and embracing out-of-the-box thinking.

The strategy has paid off. Valve’s first-person shooter Half-Life has landed more than 50 Game of the Year awards and snared some Best Game Ever kudos. Meanwhile Steam, the company’s online multi-player platform, has connected roughly 35 million users to 1,800 game titles.

A Workforce to Do Battle

As the company began to grow after its founding in 1996, Newell wanted to develop a model that would encourage job candidates to see Valve as the best place to work. He created a company where there weren’t any bosses, employees didn’t have titles and there was no org chart. Although traditional workforce approaches are “useful in the short-term,” Newell told the Post, “in the long term they really end up hurting you a lot.”

For example, in traditional set-ups employees can feel proprietary about the game features they work on, sometimes to a fault. “You don’t want them to sort of burrow into that – you want them to recognize that being really good at Half-Life level design is not nearly as valued as thinking of how to design social multi-player experiences,” Newell said.

Like other companies, Valve relies on perks and benefits to keep employees. But Valve differs in the type of perks it offers. Besides unlimited vacation time, for instance, it offers onsite training and an annual company trip – to which employees often take their parents. “It’s amazing the number of times parents have come up to me and said, ‘I’m telling my daughter, I’m telling my son how lucky they are to work here and how proud of them I am.’ I’m like, yes, that person is going to work here for another five years.”