Remember when Valve said it was looking to hire all sorts of people from every walk of life – from lowly programmers to the giant-bow-tie-wearingest of fungineers? Well, one bit in there stood out: “And if you’re a first-class economist,” Michael Abrash wrote, “please check us out. You’ll have a sandbox with 40 million users, and I promise you’ll never be bored.” Well, apologies to RPS’ substantial audience of budding TF2 hat economists. That position, you see, has officially been filled.
Newly minted Valve economist-in-residence Yanis Varoufakis explained in a blog post:
“While a total ignoramus of the world of video games, the people at Valve and I discerned a double coincidence of interests. My academic curiosity blended nicely into Valve’s burning desire to serve its gaming community better, through the development of services that are in tune with the community’s needs as gamers but also as traders, developers, participants in something much bigger than just video games.”
“By studying Valve’s economy, we would have an opportunity to enhance the experience of its customers, in addition to sharpening my own thinking about what makes real economies tick. And as if all this were not enough, there was another incentive thrown into the mix: the opportunity to understand better the remarkable social organisation of production within Valve itself.”
Apparently, there’ll be weekly reports of Valve’s economic discoveries if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, though, I have to imagine you’ll still probably be seeing some off-the-wall sales experiments on, say, Steam, TF2, or DOTA 2 before too long.
Granted, this isn’t the first time a game company’s hired its own economist (hello, EVE Online), but it’s quite a different thing to see the single biggest seller of PC games ever in history begin to seek the greenest pastures in which our wallets roam. And while cynical sorts might see this as some scheme to put customers on a juicer and squeeze our bank accounts dry, that’s never really been Valve’s style.
Moreover, Varoufakis – a professor at the University of Athens, among other things – seems driven by curiosity more than anything else. So – weird as it is to say this – I doubt Valve’s decision to analyze money is being driven entirely by, well, money. As for where it’ll end up, that’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps RPS should hire an economist that analyzes other economists. And one day, when our children’s children sit on our laps and ask us how we finally figured out Episode 3’s release date, we’ll prompt shocked whispers and silent reverence with a single phrase: business trends.