Most companies work on budgets. People in nice suits meet in air-conditioned boardrooms and discuss things over platters of cold pastries and self-loathing.
“Moving forward, what exactly is this product bringing to the table,” ponders Mr Boss, his shaved acolytes gazing up at him with obsequious awe. “And how can we leverage alignment synergy with our brand’s core competency strategies to impact and empower our bottom line at the end of the day? Something something paradigm shift, sustainability, win-win.”
This doesn’t happen at Valve Corporation, however.
“At Valve, we don’t have a budgeting process. There’s not like some group of people who go off and say this is how much money we think we’re going to make on this title, so that’s how many people we’re going to assign to work on that project. That’s an economy based on that budgetary process. Our economy is based on people’s time. That’s the scarce commodity,” Gabe Newell told visiting members of the press at a recent event at Valve’s HQ in Bellevue, Washington.
“The scarce commodity here is not money – it’s how many hours there are in a day. So everybody is expected to essentially vote on what is most important to our customers by the projects that they work on. So none of the people you saw today are working on those projects because somebody else told them to work on them. Everybody’s working on those projects because they thought they could make the largest contributions to our customers by working on them. People move around all the time.”
The company’s reputation for disorganised organisation – or perhaps organised disorganisation? – is not news. In fact, it’s probably part of the reason why Half-Life 3 is and isn’t and maybe will or won’t ever be in development.
“I talk with other people at other companies and they just…” Newell shrugged. “I’ll talk to another CEO and they’ll say, ‘you don’t have a budgeting process?’ And they’ll say, ‘you are lying. There’s no way a modern company could work like that. Either that or you’re incredibly unprofessional, and you guys will eventually implode.’ And we’re like, no, actually this system works.”
Does it, though? But the “Valve Time” thing makes more sense now, so that’s something.