Valve’s flat management structure hasn’t led to the utopian working environment the company claims to have achieved, said a former staff member who was fired by the company in February.

Jeri Ellsworth, the former head of Valve’s hardware division, spoke at length on the Grey Area podcast about what she considered to be Valve’s hidden management structures.

Valve runs the immensely popular PC gaming service Steam, and is the developer of many highly acclaimed games such as Half-Life, Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead, and Portal. It claims to eschew traditional corporate hierarchies. However, Ellsworth claimed the system defaults to something more like adolescent high school cliques.

“There are popular kids that have acquired power, then there's the troublemakers, and then everyone in between,” said Ellsworth. “Everyone in between is OK, but the troublemakers are the ones trying to make a difference.”

Ellsworth went on to describe Valve as a company possessed of a “weird paranoia” about its culture and how it might be contaminated.

She claimed it was this so-called popular faction that instigated the “witch hunt” that led to the firing of many “undesirables” including Steam lead Jason Holtman, and Ellsworth herself.

Valve gives all new employees a handbook – recently made public – that outlines the company’s culture and corporate structure, or lack thereof, and its peer-review approach to hiring and firing.

Ellsworth’s attempts to hire her own team were what put her out of favour at Valve, she said.