Epic Games President Says Hierarchies Have Benefits

Epic Games President Says Hierarchies Have Benefits

Mike Capps responds to Valve's new-hire employee handbook.

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During a recent Gamasutra interview, Epic Games President Mike Capps rehashed old arguments about long working hours, saying that a certain level of management control is not only desirable, but beneficial to staff. The talks were in response to the publication of Valve's employee handbook, which seemed to champion a different style of employer-employee management.

"The bigger we get as a company," said Capps, "the harder it is for everyone here to feel comfy just walking into my office and telling me what I'm doing wrong." This, Capps feels, is where hierarchy helps solve a very real problem. "If there's no hierarchy and you're just two hundred people standing in a building, who do you talk to about what's making you uncomfortable who can help you to fix it? You need to know who to call on and where the specializations are internally."

Capps also claimed that Epic Games is "certainly closer to Valve's self-organizing process," but said that hierarchy is still a means of achieving "efficiency as well as creativity" while helping "individuals [figure] out what they need to be successful."

Capps may have a point. Creative free-wheeling has its uses, but without some kind of structure a larger company will struggle. Valve's system works for Valve; would it work elsewhere?

Source: Gamasutra

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I suppose if I worked at Epic I too would want some kind of hierarchy with a higher up I could go to when Cliffy B inevitably came after me with his mouth open spewing nonsense and trying to touch me inappropriately.

I recall reading that Valve is basically designed for people who have a lot of experience in the industry. People get to the point of just being able to get on with what they need to do without constant supervision - that's every person in Valve. Can't remember where I read, but I'm certain that I did actually read that from one of Valve's employees. So I agree that Valve's model doesn't work as well outside Valve.

Hierarchies are fine, as long as you've really earned your position. I say Dead Man's boots or nuthing.

koroem:
I suppose if I worked at Epic I too would want some kind of hierarchy with a higher up I could go to when Cliffy B enviably came after me with his mouth open spewing nonsense and trying to touch me inappropriately.

Haha, beat me to the punch on that one. Cliffy B probably would do that.

OT: I would agree that a hierarchy is important. There are downsides to that hierarchy as well though. Neither system is perfect. But one is certainly better for fostering more unique ideas than others, ergo(latin), Epic puts out the same shit again and again.

Both systems seem to have an important place in the industry: one helps to introduce one and help someone acclimate to the industry (hierarchy) while one helps to foster the ideas of experienced designers (free-flow). I don't really see why both can't co-exist.

You have to keep in mind, though, that other studios don't have the luxury of Valve's and Epic's revenue stream from Steam and UE respectively, and thus need to deliver their products in a tight schedule. Though on the other hand, Valve release a lot more games than they used to in the pre-Steam days, and Epic's technical support of the UE3 and UDK community is amazing, so I guess it works.

Just rambling. :)

All I'm hearing from this guy is, "OMG gais look at our penises, its soooooo much bigger than Valve's!"

If there is one company I trust to have business sense, its the one thats actively trying to push the industry into a bling-mapped oblivion.

I've always felt Valve's system could work elsewhere too, if it was made clear to devs affected by it for what it is and what it is not. Problem is with that system comes a release schedule that is waaaayyy slower (or at least more random) than average.

Not to say that everything they do release isn't great, but when HL3 is still not out after an entire decade of demand and anticipation well...it seems obvious that their system does have a very notable cost to it after all.

I'm so curious about the Valve thing. So much could be done with it and it's an interesting idea for other companies to do.

But on a practical note, I also want to know how it works. It can't be quite as simple as they put it. At the very least they'd have to have some structure with the non-designers. Someone has to file the tax returns, and make sure the cheques get sent and you can't just rely on someone wondering along and happening to decide everyone gets paid today.

And if they want to change HQ who does that? Who organises it?

And what about stuff like customer support? Manning the phone? Maybe they contract a lot of it out

Loonerinoes:
I've always felt Valve's system could work elsewhere too, if it was made clear to devs affected by it for what it is and what it is not. Problem is with that system comes a release schedule that is waaaayyy slower (or at least more random) than average.

Not to say that everything they do release isn't great, but when HL3 is still not out after an entire decade of demand and anticipation well...it seems obvious that their system does have a very notable cost to it after all.

This is one of the reasons I think it's Valve specific. I think Valve could do it, Blizzard could do it and then... I'm not sure who else. Because you need some sort of income that will tide you through times where you have to scrap a game or the very long time it takes to make a game. It's not even just that, they don't have anyone who decides if they should be hiring employees or not, so if they company didn't have a reliable income it'd be easy to quickly over-hire and go broke

You also need to be able to employ a lot of people. If you're employing only 40 people and those 40 people aren't even working on the same game, well it's never going to get finished. Remedy have 45 ish people all focusing on one thing and it still took them 5ish years to make Alan Wake.

In the past, when games cost less to make you could do a Valve (like Valve did) and in many ways small company sizes Valve pretty automatically, because when you've only got an artist and a composer, you don't exactly need to put one in charge of the other, or tell them what things they need to do.

I like the idea of big companies Valving too, because it sounds like a good way of doing it, but then there's only a certain number of people who can handle Valve style things (they said hiring was their most important thing of all) and so if several companies do the same thing they're going to be fighting for a very limited talent pool.

Heh, it's not really news that different kinds of management work for different companies. Valve's organizational culture seems like it'd make for a great workplace, but that doesn't necessarily mean the same thing works for Epic.

Valve's structure only works when employees have a pathological need to create. The vast majority of people would never do anything to contribute to society if they didn't have to in order to live with any level of comfort. If you don't have the drive necessary to succeed in Valve, you are better off in a structured hierarchy because that is how you function or else you shut down and give up trying to do anything.

Richardplex:
I recall reading that Valve is basically designed for people who have a lot of experience in the industry. People get to the point of just being able to get on with what they need to do without constant supervision - that's every person in Valve. Can't remember where I read, but I'm certain that I did actually read that from one of Valve's employees. So I agree that Valve's model doesn't work as well outside Valve.

One thing that puzzled me reading over Valve's handbook is that they make a point of mentioning that nobody has specific job responsibilities aside from what they assign themselves. Yet most businesses need specialists in segregated departments. How do you know if you're violating labor laws unless you have trained HR personnel? How do you maintain a sophisticated network without dedicated IT staff?

I suppose Valve could outsource all non development-related business functions, but that doesn't sound very practical.

 

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