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Report: Valve's corporate structure allegedly led to poor BLM response

An alleged lack of diverse staff and a desire to stay apolitical resulted in Valve's tepid response on racial injustice.

Justin Carter

January 25, 2023

3 Min Read
Logo for game developer Valve.

People Make Games published a new video digging into Valve, and more specifically the Portal developer's workplace culture. 

Valve has prided itself on being "boss-free since 1996," and People Makes Games' video goes into how the studio's many shortcomings, particularly when it comes to race. 

Following the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, employees reportedly wanted the developer to make a statement as other game studios were doing so. Valve ultimately said nothing, as senior staff allegedly stood their ground against the employees that wanted the developer to make a statement.

"That's how Valve rolls," said another source. "They don't feel like they have to say anything, whether it's a trend or a moral compass."

In the end, Valve allegedly elected to give every employee $10,000 to donate to a charity of their choosing. It would also sponsor 2020's Game Devs of Color Expo after numerous developers pulled their games from Steam due to Valve's silence.

However, it was Game Devs of Color organizer Shawn Alexander Allen that announced the news. Valve itself didn't do much to highlight the event.

Valve has diversity issues go beyond BLM

Sources also told People Make Games of Valve's general diversity problem, as it's mostly made up of white men. One anonymous source said the studio's contractors are somewhat diverse, but things get "more white and more male" higher up the chain. Exceptions are made for HR and finance, which are made up mainly of women.

The alleged lack of diversity is further reflected in the studio's alleged inability to hire junior staff, where diverse hires such as women and people of color typically start in the industry. 

Attempts were reportedly made at Valve in past years to rectify the matter, and included anti-bias training, but company structure and leadership reportedly deterred this.

"It was like, why am I fighting these uphill battles...when I could be doing better and more satisfying work elsewhere?" wrote an anonymous former Valve employee. "I think a number of people who left recently came to a similar conclusion."

"To get hired at Valve, you basically have to not get vetoed by anyone in the hiring process," said one anonymous source. That same person explained that Valve's two biggest hiring problems are its existing demographic of developers, and its hiring process being too difficult to allow diverse employees to enter the hiring ring.

Valve leadership reportedly prefers to take a neutral stance on matters such as racism or whether inappropriate games should end up on Valve's Steam marketplace, much to employees' annoyance. It's even been silent on the previously reported gambling marketplace that exists on Steam.

People Make Games highlighted titles on Steam that specifically feature racism and sexual assault as gameplay mechanics. Even with staff and customers alike pointing out the harmful content in those titles, CEO Gabe Newell's alleged libertarian stance has allowed those games to stay on Steam. 

In 2018, Valve confirmed that it wouldn't police what games released on Steam, which caused a split among game developers at the time.

As People Make Games points out, though, Valve is not as apolitical as it tries to make itself out to be. For a studio that's such a large part of the games industry, and the PC space in particular, staying in the center is more damning than saying nothing at all. Its attempted neutrality means that it's missed on how staying in the center on social issues has shifted in the last several years. 

People Make Games contacted Valve and received no response prior to publishing its video. Game Developer similarly reached out, and will update when a response is given.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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