Empowering Others to Empower Yourself:
A Success Story Featuring Valve
Professor Tona Henderson
People don't like being told what to do. This is a fairly simple concept. If you want people to do what you want them to, explicitly commanding them to do it isn't always the best strategy. Oddly, many companies regularly fail to comprehend or appropriately respond to this idea. Businesses that are out to make a profit are commonly associated with things like salesmen, bosses, CEO's, and in-your-face advertising, all of which carry the idea of telling people what to do.
Valve Software is arguably one of the most successful, well-known, and highly commended companies in the video game industry, responsible for incredibly popular titles such as Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Portal, Team Fortress Classic, and their sequels (all of which are just as popular). However, from its very beginnings, Valve has set itself apart from other companies not only through the superior quality of its work, but by the way in which it continually empowers those that are a part of it. This includes staff, as well as community contributors, and even average users of any of Valve's services. As Valve continues to empower its supporters, it continues to succeed. This brings a logical theory: empowering people, and therefore not telling them what to do, is a very viable way for a business to increase both its profits and its notoriety.
Now, when I think about Valve on a regular basis all of this ambiguous, theoretical junk isn't what goes through my head. When it comes to Valve, the absolute, most important thing for me is that Valve makes amazing games. Valve makes mind-blowingly awesome games. On multiple occasions, Valve has immersed me into video games in ways I had never thought possible. I will never forget one particular section of Half-Life 2 in which I, the player, was required to navigate my way across the underside of a bridge over water, walking carefully on steel girders as enemy soldiers fired at me from the other side. One evasive step in the wrong direction would lead me plummeting to a watery grave below. I had never imagined that a video game could invoke a sudden fear of heights into the player so well.
I have played Team Fortress 2 for 300 hours. It was a near daily activity my junior year to play after school with my best friend as we discussed how much we hated our history teacher. I have braved the intense battles against the Combine race, which tried to take over Earth in Half-Life 2. I have spent many late nights fighting seemingly endless hordes of zombies with friends in Left 4 Dead 2. And I have spent hours solving the puzzles in Portal and Portal 2 just to hear the perfectly game's perfectly crafted dialogue. I have come to hold Valve in the highest regards among all other developers in the game industry.
I have also acquired almost 100 games on the Steam platform, purchasing many games largely because they were heavily discounted (some were only a dollar). I estimate I have spent close to 40 dollars on items for use inside the game Team Fortress 2. I have also recently experienced the thrill in realizing that I can make my own levels for Left 4 Dead 2. I have realized that in many occasions, I have felt empowered by Valve, empowered as a consumer, as a player, and as a community member. In some ways, I could even say I was manipulated, but I am okay with this. In the end, Valve's products and services continue to impress me, but I was left wondering if maybe there was a connection between how powerful I see Valve and how powerful they can make their users feel.
To start understanding the way in which Valve empowers its patrons, we must first look into the groundwork: Valve's employment structure. Valve is known for its complete lack of bosses among its developers. In fact, Valve's handbook for new employees refers to this as the “Flatland,” meaning...
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