Valve loses its fourth writer in two years, as Jay Pinkerton leaves the company

We tease Valve for not making games any more, what with their not making games any more, but it’s really starting to look most peculiar as the company loses its fourth big-name writer in less than two years. According to a Facebook update on Jay Pinkerton’s timeline, he left the company last night.

Pinkerton, who came to fame as a writer for Cracked.com, joined Valve in 2008 at what was the heyday for their wider written output. In the wake of The Orange Box, the company found great legs in producing additional materials to dramatically increase the tails of their games, such as the completely splendid “Meet The…” series for Team Fortress 2. Teaming up with Erik Wolpaw, Pinkerton co-wrote many of the incredibly funny bits and pieces that were a huge part of earning Valve their reputation for throwing out armfuls of wonderful free extras years after the sale of a game.

Of course, that doesn’t quite describe the Valve we think of now. They still produce the comics, written by Pinkerton and Wolpaw until now, and old games are amazingly supported, but the Valve of today comes across much more as a company focused on tech and tournaments. And perhaps that’s a part of the reason why we’re seeing what is now an exodus of writing talent from the company?

Chet Faliszek, originally hired as a writer who went on to be a senior bossman in the company that pretends it doesn’t have bosses, left in April. His former writing partner at Old Man Murray, Erik Wolpaw, moved on in February. And last January saw Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw leave the company after eighteen years. Add in Ted Kosmatka who left after finishing writing the DOTA 2 lore, and Valve has only Steve Jaros left on its roster.

Valve is a famously closed and secretive place, and people who leave the company tend to maintain that disquieting quiet – we’ve not managed to prise (sensible) reasons for leaving from Wolpaw or Faliszek – but it’s impossible not to call it a trend when all their big-name scribes walk in eighteen months. Maybe it’s just that all four were close enough that once their companions started moving on, it made the door look wider to those who remained. Maybe the lack of narrative gaming from the company means their ambitions are unlikely to be realised these days. We can only guess. We’re obviously reaching out to Pinkerton to see if we can find out more.

72 Comments

  1. Christo4 says:

    I think it’s because they’re just searching for more. Writers are artists themselves, maybe they just felt like their talent wasn’t put to use since no new games have been launched.

  2. jezcentral says:

    They’re so far along with Left 4 Dead 3, they don’t need the writers any more, right?

    Right?

    • weedrk says:

      LFD3. i’m not too nostalgic, but i want it. badly. Valve is a not even a tease factory anymore. They’re 3 lane stuff and hats I’m not interested in. Steam is good now and a good service, but how boring to just stay there. I don’t want a new controller, I want Valve GAMES.

  3. Spuzzell says:

    Valve Writer Work Schedule June 2017:

    Hat back story
    Hat back story
    Hat back story
    Customer service excuses
    Hat back story

  4. ZippyLemon says:

    The message: want to be creative? Don’t work at Valve.

    RIP

  5. Halk says:

    Episode 2 turns 10 soon. Just saying.

  6. c-Row says:

    […] the Valve of today comes across much more as a company focused on tech and tournaments.

    And making as much money off Steam while putting in the smallest possible effort.

    • UncleLou says:

      Bit “armchair expert”, no? Who does it better – Microsoft store? Heh, no. Uplay. Urgh. Origin? Nope. GoG? No, still a confusing interface, and a mess with games like, say, the Gwent open beta. PSN? Not really.

      Who else is doing refunds like this? Absolutely nobody.

      Etc., etc., etc.

      • c-Row says:

        Other stores being worse makes Steam better in comparison of course, but being better does not necessarily equal being good.

        • Dewal says:

          I would like to know what your definition of “good” is, if being the best (in the world) at something useful and popular doesn’t cut it.

          Of course you can always fantasize about something that would be even better, but for now they kinda do a good job.

          • c-Row says:

            It’s an ever growing piece of bloatware at this point. General performance is horrible especially compared to their very own TV overlay which works much faster than the standard storefront. At this point, it feels like they are “eh, that will do” about it rather than trying to improve it.

          • April March says:

            If every fish store in the world hit you in the head with a hammer whenever you bought a fish, the fish store that hit you the softest would be the best. That still doesn’t mean being hit in the head with a hammer is good.

        • ButteringSundays says:

          Do you have a problem with Steam that isn’t inherent with them being an extremely popular marketplace? I mean ‘maximising profit’ is hardly a criminal offence.

          They’ve democratised games like no other, and provided a platform for indie developers to actually make money. Their platform quite literally changed the face of the games industry.

          • c-Row says:

            See above. Steam sure changed the face of the gaming industry (mostly for the better) but it feels like they have lost all interest in improving their store front – the single thing users interact with – unless there’s a potential profit involved.

          • nimbulan says:

            With the current state of Steam it’s actually extremely difficult for indies to get noticed, mixed in with the endless flood of shovelware that Valve is doing everything possible to avoid dealing with. They created the problem with Greenlight and are so loathe to actually put any effort into fixing it they’re still relegating the problem to their latest magic algorithm that in all likelihood will accomplish nothing. We all saw how long it took them to give up on trading (hardly doing anything in the meantime except adding more annoying restrictions to legitimate users,) dealing with the scamming epidemic for years after they opened Pandora’s Box.

            They also keep introducing major bugs to the Steam client (most recently, The Witcher 3 is currently unplayable with kb/m with a gamepad plugged in due to Steam’s new controller config system which can’t be disabled, and the latest update to the browser engine causes it to run at about 0.2 fps at random and requires restarting Steam to fix, since restarting the browser process doesn’t help) and it’s like talking to a brick wall trying to give them feedback about any of it.

            I think people would be more at ease if there was ANY communication between Valve and the community or at least any sort of visible positive progress. We just get announcements every once in a while about changes that the majority of us can easily see are either negative or will not help and there’s no way to provide feedback or suggestions.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        It’s a bit early for hitting the bottle isn’t it?

      • Walsh says:

        Valve copied Origin’s refund policy. If anything, Steam looks like antiquated garbage coded by a hoarder compared to everyone else’s client.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        How is the interface on Gog confusing? I love to just browse on there.

      • Premium User Badge

        subdog says:

        Right now both Origin and GOG are both doing better than Steam in terms of making a usable and well supported portal for buying and playing games.

        Steam is falling behind, thanks in no small part to its inability to properly curate its collection and a distracting focus on shilling microtransactions and non-game content.

      • Daemoroth says:

        Steam got refunds after Origin, btw. Oh, and Origin refunds are within 24h of launching the game for the first time (So you don’t have to watch the clock and track how long you’ve been playing).

        And GoG does refunds as well, 30-day money-back guarantee actually (Mark it on a calendar maybe? Admittedly this is more ‘standard’ guarantee of ‘if it breaks and we can’t fix it, you get a refund’).

        So yeah, nobody does refunds like Steam, they’re more generous…

        You can get back on your knees in front of Gaben now, sorry we took up your time.

        PS – If you honestly find GoG confusing, you must be struggling badly with Steam.

  7. overflow says:

    well they are now basically just a store.

  8. StAUG says:

    What would a writer have done at Valve since… erm… Portal 2?

    • ButteringSundays says:

      Did you read the words that came after the title? There are some clues :)

  9. pH101 says:

    Release reads: “We’re experimenting with a new writing system that allows the community to direct the narrative content of our games going forward. The ideal system will ensure a wide array of plot points that are easily discoverable, whatever story tastes the end user exhibits. We’re working to keep the barrier-to-entry for characterisation, humour and readability as low as possible whilst maintaining variety and quality. Our new system may require human eyes-on-story, but only at key stages of the community-driven creative process.”

    • gou says:

      write a basic plot, don’t worry about holes. Goto reddit/forums and see what the rabid fan’s theories are, then adopt the best ideas.
      It what arenanet do to keep the guildwars 2 narative going all this time.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Overwatch’s characters seem like they were at least partially designed this way.

    • AngoraFish says:

      Touché

  10. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I’ve been holding out, maintaining cautious optimism that there might one day be a continuation of Half Life (which I would still be invested in), but with so many people who made those games what they were leaving I think I’m finally past caring.

    Maybe they’ll come out with a crazy VR game in that universe tomorrow, but honestly I don’t see how it could satisfyingly carry on the series at this point… and certainly not without writers.

    • Premium User Badge

      zapatapon says:

      Past caring: welcome to the 47th stage of grief. You are on the right path!
      Me, I’m still plodding along.

  11. Zorgulon says:

    I really hope they managed to finish writing the final issue of TF2 comics before they all left.

    But I’m sure he’ll go onto more great things!

  12. LearningToSmile says:

    With all the departures I guess I should count myself lucky that I was never really that invested in Half Life.

    No meaningful continuation/successor of Portal sucks however, as writing was the thing that made the games special to me.

  13. Derpkovsky says:

    Valve have confirmed that they’re working on multiple full-fledged VR games, so the department of the writers in combination with the hiring of the kerbal space program team tells me that these games are going to be much more system heavy / sim like. Which imho is probably a better fit for VR.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      At this point I would not be surprised if all of those close quietly, just as all the others did (that space game that was going to be the one Prey 2 got canned as) or just “Steam Store VR”.

      They do still buy/publish other people’s games… right?

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      I disagree. The killer app for VR isn’t going to be a system heavy sim, it’s going to be an immersive story experience that pulls the player into its world.

  14. FuzzDad says:

    I just wonder if they know something about Gabe’s plans and were given the opportunity to leave on their terms. I have a bad feeling about this in terms of something perhaps not said here…Gabe is getting older and I wonder about the continuity of the company. What happens when Gabe steps down? What happens if he has to take an extended period of absences (not unlike Steve Jobs did). At some point everyone leaves…do the writers know something about that? All speculation on my part but you don’t have the core of your writing team leave the company for individual reasons…I believe this is being driven by something they collectively agree on or know…that may have nothing to do with anything half-life related.

  15. DThor says:

    I agree with the general comment that, as writers, they simply aren’t getting many chances to do what they want, so they left. They are basically just a store now, yes, but a stunningly successful one and despite the predictable snide insults from whiney gamers (are there any other kind?), a pretty damned good one.

    As to why the departing writers won’t dish any information, it could be that it’s an amazing place to work but just not what they’re after, they’ve signed contracts that keep things private in return for extra money, their embedded brain chips still have a charge, or perhaps they’re like you and me and why they left is none of your bloody business!

    • BooleanBob says:

      I agree that there’s nothing necessarily sinister about a writer leaving an organisation – otherwise we’d think something was decidedly whiffy at Castle Shotgun, what with the departure of Kieron, Quinns, Nathan, Jim, Rab Florence, Lewie Proctor, Chris Livingstone, Porpentine, Emily Short and others over the years.

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        Of those you list, only four worked full time for RPS – Kieron, Quinns, Nathan, and Jim. And yes, if we hadn’t hired new writers to replace them, it’d have been a worrying sign.

        • Stellar Duck says:

          Be honest John! You ate Kieron, the lot of you? How else would you explain him no longer playing Amy Pond on Doctor Who?

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      From what we know about the way Valve works, it’s a culture of “work on anything you think is interesting”. And that’s probably great if you’re on the technical side of things.

      But if you’re a writer and no one on the tech side is making something you can write for, then there’s not much room for you under that kind of culture. Cranking out those comics was like a huge red flag that the creatives (art/writing) aren’t being engaged by the techies.

  16. Premium User Badge

    pegolius says:

    9 years in a company is a long run in todays time. And creative people tend to switch jobs more often in general. So while it might be a sad thing, I can somehow understand the move. Perhaps we will see a book from the gentleman in two years time as compensation for leaving Valve :)

  17. 2helix4u says:

    Jay, Chet and Erik are literally my top 3 funniest people on the internet, I have been kinda mad at Valve for basically stealing them from the internet comedy scene and then having them do total fuck all for years.

    At least they’re free now but I don’t know if Portal 1 and 2 alone and some TF2 comics were worth years without reading some of Pinkertons stuff.

    • Scandalon says:

      So I just found out about the cracked.com connection yesterday. How? From the sendoff article about the other main cracked editor.

      link to cracked.com

      Perhaps Jack O’Brien and Jay Pinkerton (and maybe Chet & Eric) are going to start something new?

      • Crusoe says:

        Imagine what creative minds like that could do with TV or film.

        Or if they created an indie dev studio intent on making games…

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        That sucks, I didn’t know Jack was leaving. I always enjoyed his Walken-esque cadence.

      • robotslave says:

        I have a nit to pick with the “rose to prominence at Cracked.com” bit here.

        Jay (and David Wong and John Cheese) rose to fame at Pointless Waste Of Time, not Cracked.com. Cracked basically came in and bought the whole stable (and the web site, which more-or-less became its forums).

        I’d be fine if these guys didn’t write any more games, but instead started up a little games-criticism web-site, maybe with Chet and Eric (I hear they’ve done that sort of thing before) perhaps with a for-and-by older gamers focus with a nice cranky tone, an “Olds Rant Slurry” sort of thing.

        • April March says:

          Wait, Pointless Waste of Time is a thing? It’s not just Cracked’s glib name for their forums?

          You truly learn something new every day.

          And yeah, I’m with Scandalon. Jack O’Brien leaving Cracked, a website that he seems to have been the beating heart of for over a decade, right when his mate leaves a massive company with three other writers, two of which are also known for internet comedy? I think they’re up to something. Hell, I hope so. Can someone keep tabs on Seanbaby?

        • Premium User Badge

          polygame says:

          One of my favourites from jaypinkerton.com: link to web.archive.org

          I would kill for a PWOT archive…

    • Fartango says:

      @ 2helix4u
      You might enjoy some of the stuff here:
      link to seriouslyinformed.wordpress.com

  18. shoptroll says:

    Something’s rotten in the state of Gabemark. Or at least it feels like it. Having a series of high-profile departures from your writing team over 18 months doesn’t seem like a good sign.

  19. elendil says:

    Right now,Valve has only one writer left: Sheila Sadeghi. She is a junior writer working with Pinkerton and she only worked on Dota 2, CS:GO and TF2 updates, never to a full game.
    She is so junior that she isn’t even in Valve site “People” page.

    Also, the “job openings” page on Valve site hasn’t open positions for writers.

    Valve, that only 18 months ago needed 5 senior writers now need just 1 junior writer for all the games they’re developing (lol).

    I think the meaning of this is obvious.

    • Premium User Badge

      pegolius says:

      Enlighten us, then.

      • elendil says:

        Well, if a video game company goes from 6 writers to 1 junior writer in 18 months, it means they need much less writing. And this means much less narrative driven games, or much less single player games, or much less games, or any combination of these.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      I bet they crowd-sourced all their writing out to Steam discussion boards. Now it’s just Sheila Sadeghi vetting stories mashed together by an AI algorithm.

    • April March says:

      “Your mom’s so junior…”

  20. djvecchitto says:

    I’d be fine with Valve not developing games if they were doing lots of visible work on Steam, but Steam feels pretty sloppy nowadays – it’s just a webview, but it doesn’t use responsive design principles and isn’t zoomable. Plus, from a design perspective, there are a billion different button styles, tons of wasted space, and important links that are crammed into spaces that don’t make any sense.

  21. nimbulan says:

    Well if they’re not making narrative-driven games, they can focus even more on making Steam buggier. Just the other day they updated Steam and now the browser randomly lags like I’m using a 486 and seems to be unfixable without restarting Steam. It’s just like the good old days.

  22. jeremyalexander says:

    I lost interest in Valve as a game studio years ago. It would be nice to see the story of HL2 be wrapped up, but we won’t and it was an overrated series to begin with anyway so we move on. What I’m worried about is that Valve is a company run in such a moronic way that I worry it will fold when Newell dies or retires and I will lose my entire game collection. I could not care less if I see another Valve game title in my entire life, you just keep that company solvent and operational and we’ll be just fine. It’s better that these writers are quitting anyway since there isn’t anything to write. Now they might actually be able to do that.

  23. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    According to a credible rumor that I just made up, all of these guys have been working together at a new studio that has been contracted by Valve to externally develop Half-Life 3.

  24. Crusoe says:

    I think this basically confirms that Valve are finished with narrative driven games.

    They’ll continue to update their money making games.

    Maybe we’ll get L4D3. Maybe. But they would need to innovate and build upon the formula of the previous (almost identical) games, and that’s probably why we haven’t heard about it yet, if it even is in serious development.

  25. spindaden says:

    Maybe they’re leaving because they’ve finished. Finished writing something big. Something 3 times bigger than valve have done before. Something half the internet has been waiting half their lives for…

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      Lemme guess… a guide to sex with a real live (consensual) partner?

  26. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Well, at least these people will be able to get some actual writing done now they’ve left. I wish all of them the best and hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy some of their work in the future.