Team Fortress 2 (TF2) began its humble career as an add-on to Valve’s Orange Box in 2007, immediately carving a name for itself in the multiplayer arena. But even then no one – Valve included – could have comprehended the success this game would eventually achieve. It has been nearly four years now and TF2 is still one of the most popular multiplayer games on the PC, supported regularly by tweaks and content, most of which are provided free of cost. But before we delve into what made this game the juggernaut it is today, here’s a quick throwback for newcomers.
Team Fortress 2 is a cel-shaded, multiplayer only, class-based first person shooter from the makers of the Half-Life series. Instead of following the more serious tone laid down by its predecessor, TF2 took a cartoony, over-the-top path that gave this game its charming personality. In fact, TF2 is one of the few games where you don’t feel too bad if you win or lose thanks to this game’s myriad of awesome characters.
Meet the crew
TF2’s biggest strength stems from its solid gameplay that’s been refined and improved over the years. The game started off as an off shoot of the Orange Box which means it wasn’t exactly over-flowing with content. Every class had three weapons and there were a total of six maps to choose from. But as the community grew, Valve realized they had a winner on their hands and they started giving back to the community in the form of free content. Newer, larger maps were introduced (from Valve as well as the community) and the game now boasts of around 35 maps across various modes like Capture the control point, Attack/Defend, Capture the Flag (or intel) and lots more. Besides new map packs, Valve even started expanding every character’s arsenal over a period of time. Some of the newer weapons would be randomly given to players by the server while some could be crafted or bought.
In doing so, Valve established themselves as a company who cared for its audience. They had won over today’s jaded PC gamer who feels like he’s being screwed over by every other developer on the block. And once Valve earned his confidence, it was a matter of time before they started monetizing the game through micro-transactions via the Mann Co store. Introduced via the aptly named Mann-Conomy update in September 2010, the Mann Co store allowed players to purchase hats, weapons and other TF2 items for real world money. For those who didn’t feel like shelling out $17 for a hat, they could exchange products with other players or sit and craft their items from scratch.
Valve capitalized big time on the ‘Hat’ craze that was sweeping through TF2. Trivial headgear you take for granted in most games soon became one of the most sought after commodities in this game. Even though this was an FPS, players yearned for newer hats that they could show off in their kill cam taunts.
Since Valve are the owners of Steam as well, they started offering players an incentive to pre-purchase games, through hats and other TF2 items. Pre-order a copy of certain games on Steam (they didn’t even have to be first party games) and you could win that game’s themed hat. People were lapping this up like crazy fattening Valve’s already hefty pockets in the bargain.
Valve did, however, receive a fair amount of criticism for this approach as many were of the opinion that micro-transactions would lead to imbalanced gameplay. Also, charging nearly $20 on something as meaningless as a fancy hat seemed like a criminal waste of money. But where there’s demand there’s supply so it was obvious people were fully aware of the fact that they were paying through their nose for certain cosmetic items. I for one don’t see the harm in Valve’s business model – till now – as they aren’t shoving items down my throat, forcing me to buy items. Hey, if people want to blow their hard earned money on a Viking helmet, that’s their call.
Be a mann
Plus, when you really think of it, Valve’s one of the few companies that has really taken care of its community – tracking their needs, their grievances and then proceeding to address them all. Had this been done in a crass way, gamers would have been up in arms boycotting the game at hand. But Valve played their cards right, satisfying their audience and wallets in the bargain. And this is why Valve is one of the few developers out there who can charge players $17 for an in-game hat and get away with it.