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Valve Corporation

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Valve Corporation
Valve, L.L.C. (1996–2003)
FoundedAugust 24, 1996; 22 years ago (1996-08-24) in Kirkland, Washington, U.S.
Area served
Key people
Total equityUS$2.5 billion[1] (2012)
OwnerGabe Newell (50%)[2]
Number of employees
~360[3] (2016)

Valve Corporation is an American video game developer, publisher and digital distribution company headquartered in Bellevue, Washington. It is the developer of the software distribution platform Steam and the Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Portal, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead, and Dota 2 games.

Valve was founded in 1996 by former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington. Their debut product, the PC first-person shooter Half-Life, was released in 1998 to critical acclaim and commercial success, after which Harrington left the company. In 2003, Valve launched Steam, which accounted for around half of digital PC game sales by 2011. By 2012, Valve employed around 250 people and was reportedly worth over US$3 billion, making it the most profitable company per employee in the United States.[5][6] In 2015, Valve entered the game hardware market with the Steam Machine, a line of third-party built gaming PCs running Valve's SteamOS operating system.



Valve's logo between 1996 and 2018

Valve was founded by former longtime Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington on August 24, 1996,[7][8] as Valve, L.L.C., based in Kirkland, Washington.[9] Alternative names explored by Newell and Harrington include "Fruitfly Ensemble" and "Rhino Scar".[10] Harrington left the company in 2000.[9] In 2003, the company moved from its original location to Bellevue, Washington, and re-incorporated as Valve Corporation.[9] In 2010, the office was moved again to a larger location in Bellevue. In 2016, Valve signed a nine-floor lease in the Lincoln Square complex in downtown Bellevue, doubling the size of their offices.[11]


For its first product, Valve settled on a concept for a horror first-person shooter (FPS) using a modified Quake engine licensed from id Software, later known as GoldSrc.[12] Half-Life was released in November 1998.[13] It was praised by numerous publications as one of the best and most influential games of all time;[14][15][16] according to IGN, the history of the FPS genre "breaks down pretty cleanly into pre-Half-Life and post-Half-Life eras."[17]

Valve acquired TF Software Pty. Ltd., the makers of the Team Fortress mod for Quake, in May 1998 with the intent to create a standalone Team Fortress game.[18] The Team Fortress Classic mod, a port of the original Team Fortress mod for Quake, was released for Half-Life in 1999.

Gearbox Software created the expansion packs Opposing Force, Blue Shift, and Decay, and ported the game to PlayStation 2.[19] A port to Dreamcast was canceled in 2001.[20]


After the success of Half-Life, the team worked on mods, spin-offs, and sequels, including Half-Life 2. All current Valve games are built on its Source engine. The company has developed six game series: Half-Life, Team Fortress, Portal, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead and Day of Defeat. Valve is noted for its support of its games' modding community, most prominently, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, and Day of Defeat. Valve has branched out with this tradition to continue developing Dota 2 as the standalone sequel to the Warcraft III mod.[21] Each of these games began as a third-party mod that Valve purchased and developed into a full game. They also distribute community mods on Steam.[22] Valve announced the Source 2 engine in March 2015, later porting the entirety of Dota 2 to the engine in September of that year.[23][24]

Acquisitions and awards

Valve has grown both in scope and commercial value. In January 2008, they announced the acquisition of Turtle Rock Studios,[25] which would be renamed Valve South.[26] Turtle Rock Studios spun out of Valve again in March 2010.[27] In April 2010, the company won The Escapist Magazine's March Mayhem tournament for the best developer of 2010, beating out Zynga in the semi-finals and BioWare in the final.[28]

In December 2012, Valve acquired Star Filled Studios, a two-man gaming company, to open a San Francisco office.[29] However, Valve ended the operation in August 2013 when it was decided that there was little benefit coming from the arrangement.[30] In April 2018, Valve acquired the independent developer Campo Santo, known for the 2016 adventure game Firewatch. Campo Santo will continue to develop its own titles under Valve.[31]

Network intrusions

Valve's internal network has been infiltrated by hackers three times, in 2003 where content of the yet to be released Half-Life 2 was leaked onto the internet,[32] Newell's email account was compromised, and keyloggers were installed on several Valve systems.[33] In 2011 the Steam customer databases and forums were compromised.[34][35] In September 2011, a hacker broke into the network and downloaded the beta code of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.[36][37]

In June 2014, a developer from SCS Software reported an exploit that allowed announcement pages to be injected with code, and after no response, he edited an announcement to redirect users to a Harlem Shake video.[38][39][40] In March 2016, a vulnerability on the Steam Store allowed a user to publish a game without any authorization from Valve.[41][42]


Valve has developed and published the main games in both the Half-Life and Portal series, as well as published both and developed one of the Left 4 Dead games, the other of which was developed by Valve South (now Turtle Rock Studios). Valve also developed and published Team Fortress, Team Fortress 2, Dota 2, and Artifact.

Several of Valve's series feature only two primary games, such as Half-Life and Half-Life 2. With no apparent announcements of a third title in these series, Valve has acquired a joking reputation for being unable to count to 3.[43] In the absence of an official announcement of a Half-Life 3, players and journalists have repeatedly claimed to have found proof that a sequel remained under active development, many of which have been revealed as hoaxes or leaks of dubious authenticity.[44]

Unreleased and cancelled games include a fairy-themed role-playing game,[45] Prospero,[46] and Stars of Blood.[47][48] Valve worked with Arkane Studios on The Crossing, which was canceled in May 2009. Arkane tried to develop Return to Ravenholm without consent by Valve, which was also canceled.[49][50][51]


Gabe Newell (foreground) and Doug Lombardi (background), 2007

Valve announced Steam, its digital distribution software platform, at the 2002 Game Developers Conference.[52][53] It launched in September 2003 and was first used to deliver patches and other updates to Valve's online games, which it later became mandatory to use.[54][55]

On August 1, 2012, Valve announced revisions to the Steam Subscriber Agreement (SSA) to prohibit class action lawsuits by users against the service provider.[56][57] By July 2014, there were over 3,400 games available on Steam, with over 150 million registered accounts by January 2018.[58][59]

Alongside these changes to the SSA, the company also declared publicly the incorporation of Valve S.a.r.l., a subsidiary based in Luxembourg.[56][57] Valve set up a physical office in Luxembourg Kirchberg. According to Valve's project manager Mike Dunkle, the location was chosen for eCommerce capabilities and infrastructure, talent acquisition, tax advantages and central geographic location – most major partners are accessible, with 50% within driving distance.[60]

Valve S.a.r.l. was used to sell games to United Kingdom–based users to avoid paying the full 20% value-added tax (VAT).[61] The tax loophole was expected to be closed on January 1, 2015.[62] In December 2015, the French consumer group UFC Que Choisir initiated a lawsuit against Valve for several of their Steam policies that conflict or run afoul of French law. One of the reasons was for using the tax loophole.[63] Valve S.a.r.l. stopped doing business on January 1, 2017, with the main company taking over EU sales again.[64] In August 2017, Valve announced that Steam had reached over 67 million monthly and 33 million daily active users on the platform.[65]

Other projects


PowerPlay was a technological initiative headed by Valve and Cisco Systems to decrease the latency for online computer games.[66] Gabe Newell, the managing director of Valve, announced the project in January 2000 and after 12 months the project was quietly abandoned.

PowerPlay was described as a set of protocols and deployment standards at the router level to improve performance. It was claimed that a player with 1000 ms ping was able to play against another player on a LAN connection with no noticeable disadvantage.[67] Initially the protocol was to be released with PowerPlay 1.0 focusing on Quality of Service (QoS) and later a revision, PowerPlay 2.0 that would focus on functionality. Cisco and Valve intended to deliver a single dial-up service in Q1 2000 in the United States with a 30-day free trial with a bundled copy of Team Fortress modified to support PowerPlay.[68] Despite never deploying the dial-up plan featuring PowerPlay 1.0, Valve announced in January 2001 that the standard had indeed been finalized.[67]

The standard was to involve purchasing PowerPlay approved Cisco hardware and infrastructure that had adequate bandwidth and QoS standards that prioritize PowerPlay gaming packets at the expense of all others. Gabe Newell conceded that Internet service providers (ISPs) would bear the brunt of this expense: "The ISPs are going to need to spend a fair amount of money to be compliant with PowerPlay. But how they get that back is up to them. Some will have a tiered service, and some will just try to recoup their investment through reduced customer churn and customer acquisition."[69]

Steam Machine

Newell has been critical of the direction that Microsoft has taken with the Windows operating system in making it a closed architecture similar to Apple's products, and has stated that he believes that the changes made in Windows 8 are "a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space".[70] Newell identified the open-source Linux platform as an ideal platform for Steam, noting that the only thing holding back its adoption is the lack of games.[70]

In 2012, Valve announced that they were working on a console/PC hybrid for the living room which was unofficially dubbed by media as the "Steam Box".[71][72] A precursor to such a unit is SteamOS, a freely available Linux-based operating system that builds upon the Steam client functionality that includes media services, live streaming across home networks, game sharing within families, and parental controls. SteamOS was officially announced in September 2013 as the first of several announcements related to the Steam Machine platform[73] as well as their unique game controller.[7] In May 2014, Valve announced that the company's own SteamOS-powered Steam Machine would be delayed until 2015 due to problems with the game controller.[74] In 2015, Alienware, ZOTAC, and CyberPowerPC launched their versions of the Steam Machine. By June 2016, fewer than half a million had been sold.[75]


In July 2013, Valve announced Pipeline, an intern project consisting of ten high school students working together to learn how to create video game content.[76] Pipeline serves to discuss and answer questions that teenagers often ask about the video game industry,[77] and see if it is possible to train a group of teenagers with minimal work experience to work for a company like Valve.[77] The latter purpose breaks Valve's tradition of employing experienced developers, as the company is not good at "teaching people straight out of school".[77]

J. J. Abrams collaboration

At the 2013 D.I.C.E. Summit, Gabe Newell confirmed that he and director J. J. Abrams were collaborating to produce a Half-Life or Portal film, as well as a possible new game.[78]

Virtual reality

In March 2015, Valve and Taiwanese electronics company HTC announced a joint project to develop the HTC Vive, a virtual reality headset with motion tracked controllers.[79] The companies are working with Google, Lions Gate, and HBO to develop content for the device.[80]

Following the release of the Vive, Valve began development of their own VR hardware. Valves' VR system was formally announced on April 30, 2019, with an anticipated release in mid-June 2019. It includes the Valve Index, a headset which can run at 120 Hz and experimentally up to 144 Hz at 1440 x 1600 resolution per eye, a pair of SteamVR Knuckles handheld controllers each with 87 different sensors to monitor hand movement,[81] and a pair of Base Station 2.0 units to track the player's motions. The system features backwards compatibility with HTC Vive games.[82][83][84][85]


Valve does not make its finances public. In 2005, Forbes estimated that Valve had grossed $70 million that year. Ed Barton, a Screen Digest analyst, estimated Valve's 2010 revenue to be in the "high hundreds of millions of dollars". As of 2011, the company had an estimated worth of $2 to 4 billion, and according to Newell, it was the most profitable company per employee in the United States. Most of Valve's revenue comes from Steam, which controlled 50 to 70% of the market for downloaded PC games in 2011.[86]

Organizational structure

Valve's early structure was similar to other development firms; this was principally driven by the nature of physical game releases through publishers that required tasks to be completed by given deadlines, requiring a more regimented structure.[87] As the company moved to digital releases where they serve as their own publisher, the structure has become a flat organization. Valve publicly published their employee handbook in 2012,[88][89] demonstrating at that time that outside of executive management, there were no bosses, and the company used an open allocation system, allowing employees to move between departments at will.[90][91] This approach allows employees to work on whatever interests them, but requires them to take ownership of their product and mistakes they may make, according to Newell. Newell recognized that this structure works well for some but that "there are plenty of great developers for whom this is a terrible place to work".[87]

Economist Yanis Varoufakis, the former Finance Minister of Greece, worked as an economic consultant for Valve; he attempted to place Valve's organization in the context of theories of the firm and broader economic thinking.[92][93][94] Former employee Jeri Ellsworth criticized the structure as "a lot like high school" in that certain employees have more influence than others.[95]

Legal disputes

Valve Corporation v. Vivendi Universal Games

Between 2002 and 2005, Valve was involved in a complex legal dispute with its publisher, Vivendi Universal Games (under Vivendi's brand Sierra Entertainment). It officially began on August 14, 2002, when Valve sued Sierra for copyright infringement, alleging that the publisher had illegally distributed copies of their games to Internet cafes. They later added claims of breach of contract, accusing their publisher of withholding royalties and delaying the release of Counter-Strike: Condition Zero until after the holiday season.

Vivendi fought back, saying that Gabe Newell and marketing director Doug Lombardi had misrepresented Valve's position in meetings with the publisher. Vivendi later countersued, claiming that Valve's Steam content distribution system attempted to circumvent their publishing agreement. Vivendi sought intellectual property rights to Half-Life and a ruling preventing Valve from using Steam to distribute Half-Life 2.

On November 29, 2004, Judge Thomas Samuel Zilly of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of Valve. Specifically, the ruling stated that Vivendi Universal and its affiliates (including Sierra) were not authorized to distribute Valve games, either directly or indirectly, through cyber cafés to end users for pay-to-play activities pursuant to the parties' publishing agreement. In addition, Judge Zilly ruled that Valve could recover copyright damages for infringements without regard to the publishing agreement's limitation of liability clause.[96] Valve posted on the Steam website that the two companies had come to a settlement in court on April 29, 2005.[97] Electronic Arts announced on July 18, 2005, that they would be teaming up with Valve in a multi-year deal to distribute their games, replacing Vivendi Universal from then onwards.[98] As a result of the trial, the arbitrator also awarded Valve $2,391,932.

Valve Corporation v. Activision Blizzard

In April 2009, Valve sued Activision Blizzard, which acquired Sierra Entertainment after a merger with its parent company, Vivendi Universal Games. Activision had allegedly refused to honor the Valve v. Vivendi arbitration agreement. Activision had only paid Valve $1,967,796 of the $2,391,932 award, refusing to pay the remaining $424,136, claiming it had overpaid that sum in the past years.[99][100]

Dota intellectual property ownership

Defense of the Ancients (DotA) was a landmark mod first released in 2003 that created the basis of the genre of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). It was originally developed by "Eul" within Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos via its world editor, and spawned several similar efforts, notably DotA-Allstars. While there had been several that contributed to DotA-Allstars, the project was managed primarily by Steve "Guinsoo" Feak, and later by "IceFrog". IceFrog was eventually hired by Valve in 2009, with the rights to the DotA intellectual property being sold to Valve the following year. Eul was also hired into Valve by 2010.[101] Valve then subsequently filed trademarks towards a sequel to DotA, titled Dota 2. DotA-Allstars, LLC, a group of former contributors to the DotA-Allstars project, filed an opposing trademark in August 2010 to contest Valve's claim it owned the property rights.[102]

DotA-Allstars, LLC was eventually acquired by Blizzard to start development of Blizzard All-Stars. Blizzard took over the trademark challenge. The United States Patent & Trademark Office initially ruled in Valve's favor. By this point, Riot Games had hired Guinsoo to help develop their own MOBA, League of Legends. As with IceFrog, Feak transferred his rights to the Dota property to Riot, who in turn sold those to Blizzard. Blizzard filed a lawsuit against Valve to challenge Valve's ownership, pitting the rights assigned through IceFrog to Guinsoo at odds.[103] The case Blizzard Entertainment v. Valve Corporation was settled out of court in May 2012; Valve retained the right to use Dota commercially, while Blizzard reserved the right for fans to use Dota non-commercially.[104] Blizzard changed the names of its own projects to remove the Dota term, and renamed Blizzard All-Stars as Heroes of the Storm. Valve's Dota 2 was released in 2013.[105]

In 2014, mobile developers Lilith and uCool released their games Dota Legends and Heroes Charge, respectively. Both were influenced by Dota and the sequels. In 2017, Valve and Blizzard took joint action against these companies, citing copyright issues related to the Dota names. uCool argued that the Dota games were a collective work and could not be copyrighted by anyone in particular, but the presiding judge, Charles R. Breyer, felt that due to the trio's actions as maintainers of the Dota mods, that they rightful have copyright claim to this. Separately, Lilith and uCool argued that Eul had, in a forum post dated September 2004, assigned an open-source copyright license to Dota, which would make Valve and Blizzard's copyright claims void. The case is scheduled to be heard by a jury to resolve this matter at a later date.[101]

ACCC v. Valve Corporation

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it was taking action against Valve in 2014. On March 29, 2016, Valve was found guilty of breaching Australian consumer law because:[106][107]

  • Valve claimed consumers were not entitled to a refund for digitally downloaded games purchased from Valve via the Steam website or Steam Client (in any circumstances);
  • Valve had excluded statutory guarantees and/or warranties that goods would be of acceptable quality; and
  • Valve had restricted or modified statutory guarantees and/or warranties of acceptable quality.

During the prosecution of this case, Valve implemented a refund policy for Steam purchases, but the case still reviewed Valve's actions prior to the onset of the lawsuit. The court overseeing the case sided with the ACCC in assigning a A$3 million (about US$2.1 million) fine against Valve in December 2016, as well as requiring Valve to inform Australian consumers of their rights when purchasing games from Steam.[108] Valve appealed the court's determination that it "engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct and made false or misleading representations about consumer guarantees", as well as seeking to appeal the fine, but the Australian higher courts rejected the appeals in December 2017.[109] In January 2018, Valve filed for a "special leave" of the court's decision, appealing to the High Court of Australia.[110] The High Court dismissed this claim in April 2018, asserting that Valve still was liable under Australian law since it sold products directly to its citizens.[111]

UFC Que Choisir v. Valve Corporation

Consumer rights group UFC Que Choisir, based in France, filed a lawsuit against Valve in December 2015, claiming users should be able to resell their software.[112][113]

A.M. v. Valve Corporation

A former employee filed a $3.1 million lawsuit in May 2016 alleging mistreatment after sex reassignment surgery, and that Valve was exploiting workers.[114][115]

Skins gambling

Valve was named as a defendant in two lawsuits in June and July 2016 related to third-party gambling sites that use the Steamworks API to allow betting with the virtual currency of cosmetic weapon replacement textures, better known as "skins", from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which through these sites can be converted from or to real-world money. Both suits assert Valve aiding in underaged gambling.[116] Valve subsequently stated it has no commercial ties with these sites, and that it would demand these sites cease their use of the Steamworks API as they violate the authorized use policies.[117][118] In October 2016, the Washington State Gambling Commission required Valve to stop the use of virtual skins for gambling on Steam, stating they would face legal repercussions if they failed to co-operate.[119] On October 17, 2016, Valve sent a letter to the Washington State Gambling Commission stating that they had "no business relationship with such gambling sites", asserting that they come into existence, operate, and go out of existence without their knowledge and consent, adding that they were not aware of any such law that Steam or any of their games were violating.[120]

Anti-competitive practices

In February 2017, the European Commission began investigating Valve and five other publishers—Bandai Namco Entertainment, Capcom, Focus Home Interactive, Koch Media and ZeniMax Media—for anti-competitive practices, specifically the use of geo-blocking through the Steam storefront and Steam product keys to prevent access to software to citizens of certain countries. Such practices would be against the Digital Single Market initiative by the European Union.[121]

"Valve Time"

"Valve Time" is an industry term used jokingly with game releases from Valve, used to acknowledge the difference between the "promised" date for released content stated by Valve and to the "actual" release date; "Valve Time" includes predominant delays but also includes some content that was released earlier than expected. Valve itself has fully acknowledged the term, including tracking known discrepancies between ideal and actual releases on their public development wiki[122] and using it in announcements about such delays.[123][124] Valve ascribes delays to their mentality of team-driven initiatives over corporate deadlines to make sure they provide a high-quality product to their customers.[125]

Valve's former business development chief Jason Holtman stated that the company sees themselves as an "oddity" in an industry that looks towards punctual delivery of products; instead, Valve "[tries] as hard as we can to make the best thing possible in the right time frame and get people content they want to consume. And if that takes longer, that's fine".[126] For that, Valve takes the concept of "Valve Time" as a compliment, and that "having customers consistently looking at our property or something you've done and saying, can you give me more" is evidence that they are making the right decisions with their game releases, according to Holtman.[126] The company does try to avoid unintentional delays of their projects,[127] and believes that the earlier occurrences of "Valve Time" delays, primarily from Half-Life development, has helped them improve their release schedules.[125]


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