Jason Holtman, who spearheaded Valve’s Steam business for eight years before leaving the company in February, has a new job.
The former lawyer has taken a job with Microsoft, with a focus on PC gaming and entertainment strategy. Because he has just started at the position, Holtman declined an interview request, but confirmed the move.
“Yes, I have joined Microsoft where I will be focusing on making Windows a great platform for gaming and interactive entertainment,” he said. “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.”
Holtman’s departure from Valve after an eight-year tenure came cloaked in mystery. He left the company at the same time as several high-profile employees were reportedly laid off. Valve did not address the reasons behind the staff reductions, with founder Gabe Newell telling Engadget “We’re not going to discuss why anyone in particular is or isn’t working here.”
At Valve, Holtman was the primary point of contact for developers that distributed games on Steam – and, to many in the gaming world, was the service’s driving force. While he certainly wasn’t the sole reason for its success, he was its biggest cheerleader and an even bigger proponent of digital distribution.
As a result, his move to Microsoft has raised many questions about the Redmond-based company’s plans in the PC gaming space.
With the Xbox One launch looming, Microsoft has greatly de-emphasized PC gaming of late. Some developer sources tell GamesIndustry International they were under the impression the company had largely given up on the Games for Windows initiative.
Holtman’s hiring could signal a renewed emphasis on the computer, though.
“It seems like a guy who comes from Valve who has no peer, in my mind, in the gaming space relative to really strong B-to-C [business to consumer] relations could indicate a ramp up in the importance of that space,” says John Taylor, managing director at Arcadia Investment Corp.
A skilled dealmaker, Holtman is largely credited with convincing third party publishers such as EA, Activision and more to sell their games directly on Steam – as well as recruiting many smaller companies who might otherwise have vanished by now.
He’s also credited with steering Steam through the DRM controversies it encountered and calming publisher fears that the annual Steam Summer and holiday sales would devalue their intellectual properties.
The respect he has earned in leading digital distribution could be invaluable to Microsoft, which has not had a lot of success in that world. Though available in 41 countries, the Games for Windows Live service is currently not viewed as a strong player in the PC gaming world.
It’s not just his relationship with publishers and developers that’s valuable, though. Holtman also knows how to connect with customers – something Microsoft has been lacking so far in its digital distribution efforts.
Of course, Holtman’s duties could expand beyond just PC gaming as well. Digital distribution is expected to be a major component of the eighth generation of consoles. And while his experience so far has been on the PC side, Microsoft may be looking for Holtman to drive adoption and consumer loyalty of online purchases on the Xbox One in the years to come.
“[Business to consumer] is not just having someone’s credit card number,” says Taylor. “It’s how you use that handshake to maximize satisfaction for the vendor and maximize satisfaction for the customers. This kind of direct relationship is the next stage in the evolution of the games business. 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.”