Note: Picture (right) is not the surprise
Team Fortress 2, the whimsical, cartoonish take on team-based FPS multiplayer (and Orange Box alumni) is back in the news, and with good reason: Valve has decided to lower its cost to the wallet friendly price of "zero dollars," as noted in Steam's news section. In an interview with develop-online.net, Valve's own Robin Walker discussed Valve's newfound interest in a free-to-play approach to TF2, which relies on micro-transactions from TF2's in-game store. Despite losing the profits from the sale of each game, Valve believes that a free-to-play model will ultimately be beneficial.
The more players, the more available servers in your area, the wider variety of other players you'll find, the greater the opportunity for new experiences, and so on. Another way we think of it is that there are a class of players who will never pay us a dime, for a variety of reasons. We're not upset by that, it's just a constraint we need to design around. The interesting problem to solve is how to make those freeloaders produce value for our paying customers. Obviously, getting those free players into the game is the first step to doing that.
I'm always curious as to how such models work out - the immediate assumption being that most people will simply download the game and spend little, if anything, on in-game content - but at the very least, it keeps an interest in a franchise that, while still rather popular, is coming up on four years old. As Walker notes in the interview, Valve's strategy also garners interest in Steam, as well as the "Steam Wallet": the system through which transactions will be processed.
I've become quite a fan of Steam over the years, and despite the bothersome task of waiting for comically-huge game downloads, it has become my preferred platform for PC games, due to the fact that I can retrieve games at well via my Steam Library. For both of you who haven't yet played TF2, it's an absolute blast. Aside from being charming, amusing, and all-around adorable, its accessibility harkens back to the days of classic first-person shooters. Particularly for someone like me, whose adeptness at such bother could be charitably described as "sub-par," it's one of the few multiplayer titles that I genuinely enjoy - and by that, I mean that one can play a few rounds without the bother of "constantly being shot in the face by people half my age," ala Counter-Strike. The one major point of concern I have is the question of hacking. Walker words that "we're as concerned about cheaters and griefers as [gamers] are, so we've spent a bunch of time trying to figure out all the ways that griefers can hurt other player's experiences," are about what one would expect. Still, it's not terribly reassuring.
What do you think, gamers? Is the strategy a bold, new way forward for TF2, does this have catastrophe written all over it (or anything in between)? Sound off in the comments section below!