At this year’s Eurogamer Expo, Chet Faliszek – Writer at Valve Corporation – gave a Developer Session talk on how gamers could go about giving themselves a job in the games industry. During the session, Chet mentioned that the best way as to how someone could go about getting a job, and gaining recognition, was to create something.
While Chet’s noble gesture to inform and educate gamers was extremely enlightening, as he spoke to those who possess the inclination to self-start and be self-motivated, not all of his message was universally acknowledged or appreciated. Some members of Eurogamer’s community commented that “you have to find the time in between working your day job and living life, which is often very hard”, whilst others argued that Chet should “stop pretending to giving career advice and just admit that he’s plugging Steam Workshop”.
In any case, some of the comments expressed on Eurogamer’s website were symptomatic of a more glaring problem – a something-for-nothing culture, where gamers expect to reap all of the rewards, yet aren’t prepared to expend any effort towards working for their goal. Indeed, this cultural norm managed to acutely manifest itself during Rllmukforum’s battle for survival, when the largely talentless hive-mind community believed that its members deserved a free ride – to the extent that the forum became a glorified charity case.
I guess some gamers aren’t prepared to better themselves (and improve their skillset), yet still expect to be treated as mature adults and with respect.
Still, Chet Faliszek had a lot of interesting things to say. And I really appreciate his generosity and willingness to speak with me with regards to the criticisms his Developer Session received, as well as the rumours regarding Half Life 3, Steam’s upcoming launch on Linux, and Valve’s future direction (amongst other things).
Enjoy the interview.
Mr Faliszek, you mentioned during your Developer Session talk at this year’s Eurogamer Expo that the best way someone can go about getting a job in the games industry is to create something. But for those people that don’t necessarily have the tools, what tips would you give?
Everybody has the tools, and there are so many levels at what you can make. If you have Portal 2, you have the tools right there – you can create maps inside Portal 2 and release them on the Steam Workshop. It’s so easy now to release something out there and start getting a following by getting people excited. You can make maps in Portal 2, and until you make a good map, no-one’s going to follow you. The minute you start making good maps, people will subscribe to you, or react to it, and you’ll learn a lot during that process.
Following your talk on Friday, you received a number of comments from Eurogamer readers, who objected to what you had to say. A number of readers criticised your talk and the message you tried to portray by arguing that it’s easy for someone of your stature to tell others to create something. You already have a (good) job, are an established developer, and rake in a good salary. But what about those who are less fortunate than you, and who are stuck in a rut with mortgages and kids to feed? What about those who just don’t necessarily have the time to, as it were, “create something”? What would you say to that?
See, that’s always the weird thing. Whenever someone sees you, they always figure that you were always doing it. But when me and Eric Wolpaw started out, we didn’t have anything. I got hired because of Old Man Murray – we literally got hired because of that. When that website started, I knew of the internet, but I didn’t really know what it was. I went to a store and got Mosaic (web browser), and I didn’t really know how to use it, so I had to go to someone’s house who taught me how to connect to the internet.
Then I wanted to make a web-page, and didn’t realise that it was just a text file and not programming. I thought that since it was a text file, that I could do that. After that, I bought a server, even though I didn’t know how to set up a server, and later on the server got hacked because I didn’t know what I was doing. But I started there and I thought “hey, let me figure this out”. I had this piece of software at the time that allowed me to write script files, which is what allowed me to have a web-page. But then I had to figure out how to make content for it.
The point is: everything was a struggle, and everything was hard. This is whilst I had a job, but I took the time because this is what I wanted to do – and it wasn’t to get into the games industry. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do. It was almost like peeling the onion in a way, where we just wanted to keep publishing stuff and to reach more people, and so I did that work. Everybody starts that way, and nobody starts at the top. People forget that and don’t realise that it’s an ugly struggle. If you want it enough, you basically have to push through.
It’s basically, to use Nietzschean philosophy, having the will to power. Isn’t it?
Yeah. There’s a risk involved, and a little stupidity, if one is willing to forgo a lot of things in order to achieve something. You just have to do it. I mean, I’ve always been good at self-starting and being self-motivated, but I admit that it’s hard. I’ve quit jobs, although I’ve never regretted a job that I’ve quit. Valve’s the longest place I’ve ever held a job.
How long have you been at Valve for?
Almost 8 years.
How long has Valve been going for?
About 15 years.
How many people work at Valve?
About 300. I started just after Valve shipped Half Life 2, and there were roughly 75 people at the time.
Having not read Valve’s Handbook For New Employees, I assume that one of the reasons as to why Valve enjoys such a flat corporate structure is because the calibre of its employees happens to be so high. And also because an aggrieved employee will have no problem getting another job with one of your competitors – such as Activision or EA – should they feel that they aren’t being valued or respected at their present workplace. In other words, they’re “the shit” basically. With that being said, what is Valve’s recruitment process?
One route is to submit your resume, and we’ll take a look at it. There’s also the other route where we know a bunch of people within the industry, and recently we hired Clint Hocking who was the game designer of Far Cry 2. We thought about games in the same way, and we heard a rumour that he was thinking of looking around, so we reached out to him and started talking to him and we brought him up to Valve. He still had to go through the whole interview process however…
As you mentioned, Clint Hocking worked on Far Cry 2, which was an open-world game. There was a recent article in Journaldugamer which alleged that the next version of Half Life will also be an open-world game. Can you maybe shed some light on that?
I have no idea where they got any of those rumours from.
What do you think Clint Hocking brings to Valve Corporation?
The thing that interested me was what they were trying to do with Far Cry 2. He knows the mistakes they made and what they were doing. But he also knows that it was the first iteration of what they were trying to do, so he accepts those… We just talk about that kind of story-telling, and that kind of narrative, and what we’d like to see and do. And he’s strong on that, but equally he’ll deliver work in other places as well. He’s good about it being about game design.
Can you shed any light on this supposed hardware console platform that Valve is meant to be working on?
I have nothing there. I don’t work on anything in that space, and we haven’t been saying anything about anything. There are so many rumours, that I am not going to go through all the list of rumours. It’s almost as if people think there must be something to the rumours, because there are so many rumours, when it’s just a lot of rumours.
These rumours must materialise because there is a certain amount of public interest in the subject – and in this case, the subject is Valve. Obviously for a company like Valve, and even though you try to maintain an indie philosophy, you’re not an indie developer and also adopt extremely closed communication channels. With that being said, how hard is it for a company like Valve to keep its secrets?
See, that’s the really weird thing for us, as we don’t really try that. If you tell us that you’re close to Seattle and you want to come in for a tour, if there is time available, we’ll bring you in and you can walk through every office. There’s no secret office, and we’re pretty open. It’s just that we don’t like to talk about things since we are so iterative. We don’t like to talk about the future because whatever we are working on is not this unmoveable road map. Instead it’s this journey to it, and so it’s hard to talk about the end until we’ve made that journey.
I guess one can almost talk about Team Fortress 2 as being a game that isn’t quite finished (yet) as you’re still iterating on it. Although I haven’t played it for a while, it’s meant to be a completely different game from how it was when it was first released. So I guess when people want to talk about the state of Half Life 3, I guess it is just their impatience (and the human condition) which demands that Half Life 3 be released be released in whatever state it’s in – even if it is just another iteration of what may not be reflected in the final product. So I guess the game is “ready”. But not ready, ready, ready. And it’ll probably never be ready. Does that make sense, because you’re still iterating on it?
It does to some point. We’re all allowed to choose what we get to work on, so we all get to choose as to what we think is the most valuable thing to be doing. So at a personal level, I think about what would be more valuable in five years? A great Triple-A game that people love, or… See, there’s all this stuff that’s going on at the platform level, with closed gardens and restrictiveness. Instead of working on the game, what about trying to help this so that (the other outcome) doesn’t happen. Five years from now, I think people would be more happy that I did that than the other. But there are a lot of people at Valve, and just because we are doing one thing doesn’t mean that we’re not doing another. Often people go “stop talking about developing, and go and make Half Life 3”. It doesn’t work that way.
You’ve mentioned the term “closed garden”, and Windows 8 is meant to represent a closed garden of sorts, to the extent that Gabe Newell has expressed his disappointment with ‘Microsoft’s Windows Store’. Do you think Linux is the answer?
I don’t know about that, and I’d like Gabe to speak about that issue.
I know that we’ve talked about this previously, but is this supposed console that Valve is meant to be working on a means of offsetting the supposed threat that is posed by Windows 8?
Right now, the thing that I have intimate knowledge of, is that we are working on getting Linux up and running on Steam. We’re going to have a version of Left 4 Dead 2 up and running soon. Let us do that first.
When is the Linux version of Steam being released?
Middle of October is roughly the date.
Is this set in stone?
No. There’s a whole bunch of things that are going to be changing in Left 4 Dead 2 that we are working on. We’ve said that it’ll be in the middle of the month when we start releasing some of that. What gets released when and in what form, we’ll just have to figure it out.
With the huge library of games on Steam, I guess it comes down to the inclination of whether the developers want to port their games across to Linux on Mac. How hard is it for the average developer to post their game across to both the Mac and Linux?
I have no idea. That’s just so far removed from what I do. I know that there are a lot of guys at Valve who are working on it, and it’s not exactly like clicking a button.
Some people have argued that the $100 submission fee for Valve’s Steam Greenlight project is quite steep, even though I understand that it acts to discourage spam entries. But with that said, and after someone has invested $100 into their game on the Steam Greenlight platform, what is the success rate for their game actually being featured on the Steam Store?
We have no idea. We’ve only just started doing it, and there’s just not enough data to know (yet).
Because one could be needlessly throwing that $100 away…
Well, if you are going to make an Apple iPhone game, then it’s $99 application fee to be part of the IOS Store (for a year). So it seems like a reasonable amount. The success rate for people who get on, we just don’t know yet as we’ve only just started doing it.
Does the $100 application fee for Steam Greenlight cover you for a year, or is it lifetime?
It is once per account and then you can greenlight as many games as you want from that account.
There have been a few headlines in the press recently about how Valve was in talks with a number of publishers (such as Electronic Arts) regarding a possible buyout. Can you maybe comment or elaborate on that?
No comment in the sense that those are rumours. I have nothing more there.
Those are just rumours?
What is Valve Corporation’s future direction as a company?
That’s always hard for me to speak about, so I would prefer to not make any guesses there.
That’s why these rumours start, because of there’s such a scarcity and lack of concrete information…
But we’re really iterative. For example, the Steam Workshop came about because of what we were doing with Team Fortress 2, and Steam Greenlight came out of the Steam Workshop. It’s not as if we aren’t thinking. We’re forward thinking in terms of what consumers want and what we want. We’re gamers ourselves, so we wonder as to what we would want to see, and things go from that.
With Valve supporting Mac and Linux, do you have any plans for supporting IOS and Android?
We have a Steam app on there, so you can chat with your friends and purchase games and stuff. It’s definitely something that we are experimenting with.
What about the Ouya console platform?
At this point, we are developing for consoles that have already been released.
A few people have mentioned that the once great relationship which you guys enjoyed with Sony has recently soured. Do you know as to why that is the case, and if there is any basis for those beliefs?
I don’t know as to why people would be thinking that, or where they would be getting that from, so I wouldn’t want to talk about that. That’s just a rumour.
Another rumour? Maybe this interview should be just about clarifying certain rumours…
Well, we’ve covered a lot. And it’s nearly dinner time.
Considering that Microsoft charges developers for content submission and patches for their XBox Live Arcade service, why was the Left 4 Dead ‘Cold Stream’ map released on PC for free, whilst gamers had to pay for it on XBLA?
Different platforms have different expectations in the way they work. We just adapt, and look at each platform on a case by case basis. There’s no blanket statement to say about anything.
Anything else you’d like to say?
So I haven’t been able fire up my laptop to read the reaction of gamers (to my talk) on Eurogamer, but I did get to read the reaction on Youtube…
What did they say on Youtube?
“Where’s the Call of Duty talk”?
I wish that I did fire up my computer to read the Eurogamer feedback, so that I could have been clearer. It’s bullshit. There are a million excuses as to why someone isn’t going to start, and they’re all bullshit. You just have to start…
Lastly, I wanted to ask you as whether Valve’s location in Seattle had any bearing on the gritty tone and visual aesthetic of Half Life? It’s just that it rains a lot in Seattle (like London).
The Half Life 2 visuals are actually more Eastern Europe. Viktor Antonov was from that area, and I think his brother did some material for us.
It’s funny that you mention that it rains in Seattle, as it hasn’t actually rained in Seattle for about 3 months. We are experiencing a drought…