Friday, June 24, 2011

Team Fortress 2

Over the past few months, there have been a string of online games turning to the free-to-play model to attract new players, and now a fairly big title is trying it on for size.
The  game to make the switch is Valve’s Team Fortress 2, which unlike most of the others is not an MMO, but rather an online FPS with a very tight-knit and dedicated community. The entire title is now free-to-play, with Valve only making money from microtransactions within the game.
Valve’s Robin Walker, in an interview with Develop Online, explains the decision:
“We’ve been toying with the idea of making Team Fortress free-to-play ever since the Mann-conomy update [in September 2010],” Walker said.
“The data we got back from that update leads us to believe that TF2 would be more successful as a completely free product.”
Will it work? It’s certainly an interesting prospect, and leave it to Valve to put itself out there like this. Say what you will about their sluggish release schedule, but they’re always trying to keep fans happy, and bring more into the fold.
But of course, with any news on the internet comes a percentage of skeptics, and those questioning the free TF2 model are wondering if it means that item drops in the game will be slowed to encourage microtransaction purchases in the store. Walker dismisses that notion.
“No. Our goal first and foremost is for players to enjoy the game, and we think finding items, and getting to experience new gameplay through them, is one of the things that’s really fun in the game. Removing that seems counter-productive.
Purchasing something is a step that we hope players take after they’ve decided they like the game, not something they should have to do while they’re still evaluating it.”
Seems like all good news for players, if not a bit risky for Valve. But the property sells itself, and while I don’t think Valve will be making ALL its titles free any time soon, I think taking this step with Team Fortress is a good decision for not only them, but the industry. To see a beloved AAA title offered for free might stir the hearts of other publishers to do the same, or at the very least spur them to try the model for themselves in order to compete.