Managing the Creative People: Game Maker Without a Rule Book



In the MW book, Mark claims that “media organizations can indeed be considered to quite special, partly because of the delicate and contested balance between the creative autonomy of culture creators, and the scientific management of commercial enterprises.” [1] According to Mark, the difficulty of media management “is underscored by the combination of this rather unique element of media workers’ sense of professional identity and a structural sense of risk and unpredictability at the heart of the cultural production process.”[2] When it comes to the management aspect of highly creative profession such as video game design and production, the problem can be even tougher. I never worked in creative industry but I totally understand the suffering of the leaders there, scratching their heads, managing to urge their creative talents to come up with new and attractive things under no pressure while keeping everything smooth and neat inside the organization or group. However in this news piece you will find game makers work well under no watch.

The long New York Times article tells the story of the Valve Corporation, the uncorporate company that brought the famous Half-Life series to the world, how they are trying to make their way in this highly competitive market. Let’s focus on the how Valve manages its inventors of magic: Valve fosters unorthodox thinking through a corporate culture unusual, even by the quirky standards. Valve has a “Boss-less” workplace: according to Valve’s handbook for new employees, they don’t have any management, and nobody “reports to” anybody else. Valve even has no formal titles so you don’t see a bunch of “officers” in Valve’s office.

There are arguments that cultural/creative industries are witnessing longer and irregular working hours. Mark Banks (2007:36) believes that cultural industry “increasingly requires working longer or unsocial hours, taking onboard additional responsibilities”. The Hesmondhalgh & Baker (2011) article raises an interesting fact that there is “a strong tendency towards self-exploitation in the cultural industries.” Self-exploitation may lead to more production but in my opinion you cannot guarantee the quality and creativity of the products by working extra hours. In order to spur creativity, Google management created the concept of “20 percent time,” the portion of employees’ schedules that they could commit to entirely self-directed projects. But in Valve, it’s more like 100 percent time: New employees are not told where to work; instead they are expected to decide on their own. One interesting fact is that many desks at Valve are on wheels so workers could simply push their desks over to where they want to join after they figure out what they want to do.

Valve’s eclectic work force can also be regarded as an example for other corporations in creative industry: they do hire people with very different background. In the article we can see Vavle recently hired an artist who was dedicated to spray-painting graffiti art in Britain, a scholar of the virtual economies of Valve games, who had never heard of Valve and is not a gamer, and an inventor and self-taught chip designer, whose pinball machines decorate Valve’s offices. The company is frustrated by “the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space” so it started a striking recruiting campaign to “establish a hardware group to develop technologies that can enhance the playing of games”.

I personally am very impressed by the company’s “rules” on its workplace, work force as well as how it spurs creativity. We can argue that there can be flaws in this system; “no rule book” will not work since an organization has to be regulated to achieve their mutual goals. But Valve does offer this industry some inspiration in how to balance the autonomy of creators and scientific management of administrators.


by Feiran Liu


Click HERE for the New York Times article titled “Game Maker Without a Rule Book

[1] M. Deuze, Media Work, (Polity Press, Malden, MA, 2007, Reprinted 2008), pp. 51

[2] M. Deuze, Media Work, (Polity Press, Malden, MA, 2007, Reprinted 2008), pp. 65


One Response to “Managing the Creative People: Game Maker Without a Rule Book”

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