Newell tells Develop heâ??d hire fifty people tomorrow, providing they meet the standard

Valve hires world-class development trio

A trio of game development elites have joined Valve Software in Washington, Develop can reveal.

Michael Abrash, Scott Ludwig and Mike Sartain have each signed contracts to work at the developer, following years of exhaustive headhunting.

News of the key appointments comes months after renowned System Shock developer Doug Church joined the company. Valve currently employs around 260 developers.

Michael Abrash is a distinguished game programmer with over three decades of experience. He had contributed to Id Software’s ground-breaking Doom project in the early nineties, and went on to create technology for Quake.

He has been hired by both Microsoft and Intel to build software renderers, languages and microchip architecture. Newell last year said he had “been trying to hire Michael Abrash since forever. About once a quarter we go for dinner and I say ‘are you ready to work here yet?’”

Scott Ludwig is not a familiar name in game development circles but Newell was unrelenting in his praise of the senior software engineer.

“The first time I worked with Scott was in 1983, and he’s one of the strongest programmers I’ve ever met,” Newell told Develop.

“He’s one of those people like Abrash and Church that makes everyone around them work better.”

Ludwig worked with Newell in the late eighties as a senior software engineer at Microsoft. In 2004 he was hired at Google to take on the same role.

He co-founded Spiffcode in 2008 and worked on various iPhone projects.

Mike Sartain, meanwhile, was a key contributor of the original Halo project at Bungie. He later joined RAD Game Tools along with Abrash.


In a newly published interview with Develop, Newell said Valve would hire fifty developers tomorrow providing they met the company’s high standards.

“We’ll hire anyone who walks through the door who can pass our review process,” he said.

“The problem is very few people can do that successfully. The cost of lowering those standards is huge. But people we want to work with, we’ll try hiring them for years.”

The hiring process at Valve was described as gruelling by some of its employees.

Portal 2 lead developer Josh Weier said hopefuls have six interviews, with people of different disciplines, to attend throughout a whole day.

“To be honest, it was brutal. They throw challenges at you that are out of your speciality,” he said.

Newell said Valve operates in a way that it can only hire the finest people. The firm’s unique socialist structure means there are no line managers, and therefore there is a bigger risk in hiring people not up to the standard. He is confident the process pays dividends.

“It’s not a case of anyone ever needing to catch up on Michael Abrash to make sure he’s not wandering into the weeds.

“You catch up on him to find out he’s working on something amazing and magical – which would usually be a side-affect of him solving a problem that was annoying him [laughs].

“The point being, when you run a company composed of people like that, good decisions and good ideas happen all the time. That’s decisions made without the need to consult upwards or direct downwards.”


Valve’s comments are drawn from a new six-page feature in Develop magazine issue 116.

The feature draws from interviews with ten key staff at the company. It is available online now, and throughout the rest of the week Develop will publish five separate Q&As with key studio staff.

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