Valve, the development studio behind the critically acclaimed Half Life series has had its foundation shaken.
People leaving a development studio is very common in the industry, very recently Rod Fergussion, and Cliff Bleszinski, both veterans at Epic Games, left the studio unexpectedly. It was a big name departure to say the least and it made a lot buzz regarding Epic’s future and what direction they were heading. It’s standard practice and it happens.
Now, something similar has taken place at Valve but at a whole other scale. This is a massive departure or firing (not able to confirm details during this time); we aren’t talking two or three employees here. We are talking about roughly 11 people here – and those are only the confirmed ones, rumored to be 25.
This started with Jeri Ellsworth publicly stating she had seen her last days at Valve very recently. Ellsworth was working at Valve designing next-generation gaming hardware for Valve. Laying off Ellsworth might have been a decision on Valve’s part about where it’s going in the future – maybe they felt she just wasn’t needed.
However this doesn’t explain the firing or departure of Moby Francke. Moby Francke was the character designer behind Half Life 2 and the art lead on Team Fortress 2. This is top tier talent and Valve did away with him. That’s not all, numerous other artists and engineers behind Half Life 2, Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike, Portal, and Left 4 Dead have also been laid off. These aren’t the people who were with the company for a year or two, these guys have been there a while – they are not expendable but Valve certainly thinks so. They weren’t all laid off at the same time – it’s a process that probably took months.
The much more surprising layoff was awarded to Jason Holtman, the Director of Business Development. He aided Valve with Steam distribution and SteamWorks. He was pretty much the man behind Valve’s very successful business platform. It’s also safe to say that Holtman brought Valve a lot of revenue by making Steam a trusted and friendly software to use.
So why were these people let go?
I personally believe Valve is doing away with big budget games, now this seems like a pretty ballsy statement but I’m not alone. This was mentioned by Viktor Antonov (the art director behind Half Life 2, now works at Arkane Studios) when he was asked about his Valve departure, “I left precisely when they stopped making epic, triple-As, which was Half-Life 2.”
Valve still brought us big scale games such as, Team Fortress 2, Portal, and Left 4 Dead after his departure so his statement wasn’t too concerning. However, from the 3 games I mentioned, only one started development at Valve’s own offices and that was TF2. Portal was developed by the team who made, Narbacular Drop. Valve absorbed the team and then they worked on Portal. Similar thing with Left 4 Dead, the game was developed by Turtle Rock Studios – not Valve. Even Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was done by an outside team, Hidden Path.
Valve obviously helped with the development of each game but that still leaves its main workforce dwindling their thumbs while being moved from project to project. Dota 2 is the only game I know of that was developed in-house, from top to bottom at Valve.
It seems like Victor Antonov might have been exactly on the money. Valve is a very different company than when it was with the release of Half Life 2.
Another theory I have is that the layed off team might have been part of Valve’s latest rumored outing, Stars of Barathrum. The game’s concept art was leaked late last year but we have not got a formal announcement. The game might have been scrapped and the development team with it. The game did seem like a very high caliber project and some of these people might have been spear heading development.
Gabe Newell also confirmed Source Engine 2 was in the works and that had everyone’s hopes up for a new big-scale Valve game, Half Life 3. The veteran team would probably be the one tasked with creating the 3rd Half Life game so seeing them leave is very disappointing to say the least. Maybe Valve simply believe they didn’t need the talent anymore. Maybe this is a publicity stunt and Valve is just waiting to to say “Gotcha” with an announcement of Half Life 3.
What are your thoughts on the departures? Is Valve going to be a different company going forward?