For eight years, Valve veteran Jason Holtman spearheaded the company's Steam digital distribution platform, serving as the point of contact for developers and publishers that distributed their games through the service. Now he's working at Microsoft, and will focus on the company's PC gaming and entertainment strategy.
"Yes, I have joined Microsoft where I will be focusing on making Windows a great platform for gaming and interactive entertainment," he told Gamesindustry International. "I think there is a lot of opportunity for Microsoft to deliver the games and entertainment customers want and to work with developers to make that happen, so I'm excited to be here."
As reported back in February, the former director of business development was part of a massive layoff that included Jeri Ellsworth and 24 other Valve employees. The company didn't make any explanations about the staff reduction, but the surrounding speculation was enough to pull Gabe Newell out of silence to confirm that Valve had no plans to talk about who was and wasn't working at the company.
"No, we aren't canceling any projects," Newell said. "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."
There's now speculation that Holtman's new job at Microsoft means the company plans to refocus its efforts on the PC gaming and digital distribution space. Up until now, many developers assumed that Microsoft had given up on its Games for Windows initiative in light of Windows 8 and the upcoming Xbox One. That may be due to Microsoft's saying that its first-party strategy won't include desktop gamers.
"We have got everything from very, very casual games, like our very much improved and reimagined Solitaire, all the way to graphically complicated games like The Harvest," said former Midway Games CEO and current GM of Microsoft Game Studios, Matt Booty.
Holtman is considered by the industry as a skilled dealmaker, and has been largely credited for convincing third parties like Electronic Arts -- which has its own digital distribution platform -- Activision and others to publish their games on Valve's platform. He also supposedly helped steer Valve through its DRM controversies relating to Steam, and helped calm publisher fears that special promotional events like the annual Steam Summer sale could devalue their intellectual property.
That said, the respect he has earned from publishers and developers could be a potential gold mine for Microsoft which has struggled to sustain its own platform in a market dominated by Steam, Origin and even GameFly. Microsoft is expected to not only harness those talents in the PC gaming arena, but digital purchases revolving around the upcoming Xbox One as well.
"This kind of direct relationship is the next stage in the evolution of the games business," said John Taylor, managing director at Arcadia Investment Corp. "Valve is already there on the PC side and I think Microsoft would be very happy to have some sort of Valve template to lay on top of the Xbox."