After a report went live stating that Jeri Ellsworth and around 24 other employees of Valve Software were let go, Gamasutra received news that Valve's director of business development Jason Holtman was part of that list. Even more, a comparison between the current employee directory and one stored last month by the Internet Archive shows that nine are no longer currently listed.
According to the original report, affected employees were asked not to speak about the specifics. But there's speculation that the cuts weren't made over performance issues (as in Valve is cutting the slackers), but that the cuts are driven by "company challenges".
The biggest surprise cut was Jeri Ellsworth who not too long ago was publicly talking about Valve's hardware efforts. She worked in the studio's year-old hardware division and indicated that hardware testing would actually begin in 2013. This division was working in tandem with Steam's Big Picture Mode, creating a hardware solution to the control-based limitations found in many titles offered on Valve's Steam platform.
So with Ellsworth out of the picture, does that mean Valve's hardware plans have been canned too (outside Piston)? No. According to Valve bossman Gabe Newell, all projects remain in active development.
"We don't usually talk about personnel matters for a number of reasons," Newell told Engadget. "There seems to be an unusual amount of speculation about some recent changes here, so I thought I'd take the unusual step of addressing them."
"No, we aren't canceling any projects," he continued. "No, we aren't changing any priorities or projects we've been discussing. No, this isn't about Steam or Linux or hardware or [insert game name here]. We're not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn't working here."
Engadget said that Valve reps would not confirm or deny the layoffs at Valve, nor would they comment on the confirmed exit of Ellsworth. The site also points out that we've already seen Valve in action on the hardware side this year at CES 2013 with its Piston project in association with Xi3 Corporation. The company is also slated to reveal its VR plans this year at the Game Developer's Conference next month.
Still, what's the big staff purge all about? As stated on Wednesday, it's unusual to associate the words "fired" and "layoff" with the Half-Life developer -- it's a peculiar predicament for such a secretive, lucrative studio. Perhaps we'll know more before the whistle officially closes the week on Friday.