EWG Editorial: How Team Fortress 2 Took Advantage of the Free-to-Play Model

-Samer Farag

I jumped into Team Fortress 2 after it went Free to Play (F2P). I hadn’t purposefully avoided the game because of price: I simply didn’t have the hardware to run it. I considered the free price simply a bonus.

But then I started playing, and playing. I enjoyed the game greatly. But then I realized something: My heavy was *bald.* Bald in a world populated with hat-wearing Heavies. Why was this? I wanted to remedy this predicament. No Heavy is respectable without a top hat! And then I discovered the Mann CO. Store. 

If you’re a Team Fortress 2 player, you know what comes next: First you buy one hat, no big deal. Stick it on your Heavy, and wham, you’re not a newbie any longer! But then, you’re Medic: He’s hatless too! So you get him one. And you realize your Demo’s bandana is grimy. A pirate hat will better suit him. So you make that purchase. And you don’t want your Scout to look like the Shamwow Guy anymore, so you get him a cool hat too. All of a sudden you realize you’re spending money out the damn yin yang, on hats and weapons-And Valve is laughing all the way to the bank.

But you can’t get mad, no: The game is free, and what you bought can, with effort, be obtained for free, for the most part, and what you get isn’t essential to gameplay. But you bought it anyway. Why?

There are a number of reasons, and they somewhat help explain why Free to Play can sometimes be more profitable than Play to Play in the MMO genre. 

1. You’re already playing: The game is already free, so you’ve already saved some pocket change. Why not spend it on something you can indulge in. Treat yourself! 

2. Peer Pressure: In one round of Team Fortress 2, I distinctly remember a team member shout “look at all these hatless newbs!” as we fought them during a King of the Hill match. The social aspect of hats in Team Fortress 2 is so prevalent that not having a hat makes you slightly looked down upon by the community. You may feel obligated to get some hats so as to feel accepted. 

3. You get free space: In a genius move, Valve made it so that you have fairly limited backpack space until you purchase something from the Mann CO. Store. What you have works, but at the point where you become fully engrossed in the game, you realize that the space for all the weapons you are carrying isn’t enough. So you buy a hat to increase the space. Which leads me to my next point:

4. It’s addictive as HELL: Once you buy one, it’s quite tough to stop. Hook, line, and sinker. 

Valve knows how to work the Free to Play market. It established its market first, over many years, by having its customers purchase the game. When sales slowed down, they made the game free and beefed up Mann CO. Store. They then let the social aspects work itself out. Their reward? Essentially their own Mann-conomy, providing huge profits for the company. 

And who said Free-to-Play doesn’t work?