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Valve Switching Team Fortress 2 To Free-To-Play Increased Revenue Twelvefold 196

Posted by Soulskill
from the ahh-the-rare-dodecaboost dept.
An anonymous reader writes "We've frequently discussed the growing trend among video game publishers to adopt a business model in which downloading and playing the game is free, but part of the gameplay is supported by microtransactions. There have been a number of success stories, such as Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. During a talk at the Game Developers Conference this week, Valve's Joe Ludwig officially added Team Fortress 2 to that list, revealing that the game has seen a 12-fold increase in revenue since the switch. He said, 'The trouble is, when you're a AAA box game, the only people who can earn you new revenue are the people who haven't bought your game. This drives you to build new content to attract new people. There's a fundamental tension between building the game to satisfy existing players and attract new players.' He also explained how they tried to do right by their existing playerbase: 'We dealt with the pay-to-win concern in a few ways. The first was to make items involve tradeoffs, so there's no clear winner between two items. But by far the biggest thing we did to change this perception was to make all the items that change the game free. You can get them from item drops, or from the crafting system. It might be a little easier to buy them in the store, but you can get them without paying.'"
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Valve Switching Team Fortress 2 To Free-To-Play Increased Revenue Twelvefold

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  • I only paid like $30 for the Orange Box when it came out. Valve has given me above and beyond my money's worth over the past 4+ years so I have no problem buying a key every so often to pay them back.
  • We have a winner (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LostCluster (625375) * on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:52PM (#39294883)

    Call it freemium, call it widget frosting, call it whatever you want... giving the core item away and selling the addons has always worked in the gaming industry and this is just another victory for the concept.

  • by Truekaiser (724672) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:53PM (#39294889)

    i know this is trying to be a troll but he is correct. the fremium model prey's on the inability of many people to not only add the micro transactions together. but also disrupts how people gauge the 'value' of the product by infusing emotional attachments into the mix.

  • Pay to win (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Omnifarious (11933) * <eric-slashNO@SPAMomnifarious.org> on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:56PM (#39294925) Homepage Journal

    I think keeping 'Pay to win' concerns at the forefront is the key. Nothing turns me off of a game faster than that. At least, when the game is one where I'm competing against other people online. When it's a single-player game, the idea that you have to pay in order to win really irritates me, but if it merely takes a fair amount more skill to win if you don't pay, then it's sort of OK.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:56PM (#39294931)

    giving the core item away and selling the addons has always worked

    FTFY

    See razors & blades as prior art.

  • by deciduousness (755695) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:56PM (#39294935)

    I think the key to all of this for me, and why I like it over other similar models, is this statement:

    "You can get them from item drops, or from the crafting system. It might be a little easier to buy them in the store, but you can get them without paying."

    If you are lazy, you can pay. If you don't want to pay, you can work a little for it. Sounds good to me!

  • Re:what about (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AvitarX (172628) <me@brandyHORSEwi ... minus herbivore> on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:03PM (#39295031) Journal

    You got to play the game a lot earlier.

  • Re:what about (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:07PM (#39295093)

    Yeah! All we got was four years of the best multilayer game on the planet! And what was that bullshit with it being bundled with Portal and Half Life 2: Episode 2? Who has even heard of those games!? Now people can get it for free? I'd have just waited if I'd known! RIP OFF RIP OFF RIP OFF! And what's with people discounting older games? They should have to refund the difference to me! It's not fair!!

  • by Qwertie (797303) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:13PM (#39295143) Homepage
    Switching to "freemium" now may have increased revenue now. That doesn't necessarily mean it would have been a good idea to release as freemium in the first place. Valve had 4 years to convince people to pay up-front for TF2, and they succeeded quite well! But after four years, you've just about exhausted the supply of people that are willing to pay up-front. Switching to freemium not only brings in new customers, it also convinces some of the original buyers to pay again for in-game items. Now that's smart.

    IMO they struck the right balance, too: TF2 is still fun without paying anything (or in my case, any more than I paid for the Orange Box.) If you had to "pay to win", people might be pretty pissed off.
  • by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:13PM (#39295147)

    prey's on the inability of many people to not only add the micro transactions together. but also disrupts how people gauge the 'value' of the product by infusing emotional attachments into the mix.

    Screwing with our brain wiring is sort of how video games (or board games, for that matter) get us to buy them in the first place. There's nothing rational about buying a video game for $50 and then wasting tons of time playing it - it's a purely emotional experience. If running around smashing ogres is what gets your endorphins going, great. If buying Farmville charms does it, who is to say that emotional response is any worse?

    Now's when people will start in with this-or-that study that shows that video games sharpen this-or-that skill, as if that's why they bought the game!

  • by Truekaiser (724672) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:17PM (#39295195)

    no the humble indie bundles are 'pay what you want' the fremium model is called fremium because it's nicer then the actual description. 'pay to win'. the fremium model is designed to give those who don't pay a lesser experience then those who willingly ignore simple addition and pay for a weapon here(10 dollars), a perk there (12 dollars), double experience(10 dollars), unlocking classes(15 dollars), etc.

    any way, anyone who DOES pay only ONE cent on a 'pay what you want' IS ripping them off. since they are giving you full, unhindered my any sort of these rip off schemes, games. on the good faith you give them a good amount of money. I pay more then the average for linux which in it's self almost always almost double what window's users pay.

  • by marnues (906739) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:27PM (#39295299)
    So different people value different items in game differently, ergo the system is broken? Certainly there's a psychological factor involved with many small purchases vs 1 large purchase, but suggesting that people need to value a game purchase the same as many micro-transactions is ludicrous. Sounds like old-man syndrome.
  • by marnues (906739) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:42PM (#39295441)
    If a game is pay to win, it'll eventually lose it's customer base. You may have noticed that TF2 is explicitly trying not to be pay-to-win. I'm not a user, so I don't know, but at least they are trying. And eventually a functioning model where game designers are encouraged to improve the game while gamers can't just "pay to win" will develop.
  • by vux984 (928602) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:42PM (#39295447)

    The paid content doesn't give you a huge advantage over the free content.

    So it gives you a minor advantage over the free content?

    Is that actually "good" or just "better than worst case"?

    My problem with freemium even when done "right" or whatever you want to call it is still is unacceptable to me at a fundamental level:

    I -do- not want to be confronted with real life purchasing decisions every few minutes while playing games. Period. I don't want to be dropped into a "store" everytime I die. I don't want to be prompted to buy something everytime I start up, and every time I quit, and every time a new level loads.

    I don't want to asked to evaluate whether or not some two dozen different micro-items is worth $X to me.

    I don't want any of it. I don't want to subject my kids to it either.

    That saod, I don't mind expansion packs. 20 new tracks and 5 new cars for $10 bucks or whatever is perfectly fine. But don't advertise it in the game so that I have to explicitly decline buying it every time I play... and don't break it up into micro-transactions... $1 per track, 1$ per car... I don't want to excert the mental process of deciding is this car worth a buck, is this car worth a buck, is this car worth a buck to me... I just don't.

    And don't have me competing with people in the expansion pack cars if they are anything more than just skins.

    Remember even "Situationally better" is still better if you get any control over the situation, which of course, unless you are an idiot... you always do.

  • by DreadPiratePizz (803402) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @07:55PM (#39295559)
    The problem with this line of thought is that you've ALREADY decided to use your time for leisure and not for making money. There's no opportunity cost there; by playing the game you've already committed yourself to not making money. So you could either not make money and not have to pay, or you could not make money and have to pay. Which sounds better?
  • by Hadlock (143607) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @08:07PM (#39295649) Homepage Journal

    You're forgetting the fact that without a player base, a game dies. Particularly multiplayer, which is all that TF2 is. By introducing it as F2P, Valve probably quadrupled the player base overnight. Not only that, but they introduced them in to a game with hundreds of bugfixes, content updates and major graphical overhauls. All of which had already been paid for. Even while most of those freepers will never buy anything in the store, they provide the much needed player base for those who are spending money in game to play with. They're mainly playing on third party servers, so by opening up the game to anyone, they've increased the game's perceived value at no additional cost to valve or the end user, while allowing the game's popularity to flourish.

  • by VGPowerlord (621254) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @08:30PM (#39295885)

    The paid content doesn't give you a huge advantage over the free content.

    So it gives you a minor advantage over the free content?

    We're talking about TF2 still, right?

    The thing about "paid content" in TF2 is that you can get any of the non-cosmetic items over time, as you get 6-8 random weapons per week. There are also 27 weapons (3 per class) that can be unlocked through achievements. Weapons can also be crafted, but I'll be honest: It's better to wait for a random drop, because 6-8 items a week makes it take a long time to craft even one weapon, let alone multiple.

    The major problem with f2p accounts is that there are restrictions [tf2.com] on them until you buy your first item from the store. In USD, the cheapest item is $0.49, but Valve has a minimum of $5 for adding funds to your Steam wallet... however, you can use the remaining $4.51 towards anything on Steam, including games.

    My problem with freemium even when done "right" or whatever you want to call it is still is unacceptable to me at a fundamental level:

    I -do- not want to be confronted with real life purchasing decisions every few minutes while playing games. Period. I don't want to be dropped into a "store" everytime I die. I don't want to be prompted to buy something everytime I start up, and every time I quit, and every time a new level loads.

    I've never had a TF2 free account, but from my understanding is that it bugs you once when you start the game with one of the game's characters having a text bubble mentioning it on the main menu. This is the only time the store is mentioned. other than having a button on the main menu for it. This text doesn't appear if you've ever bought anything from the store or bought TF2 itself from a store (or bought the Orange Box from a store or through Steam [steampowered.com]).

    That saod, I don't mind expansion packs. 20 new tracks and 5 new cars for $10 bucks or whatever is perfectly fine. But don't advertise it in the game so that I have to explicitly decline buying it every time I play... and don't break it up into micro-transactions... $1 per track, 1$ per car... I don't want to excert the mental process of deciding is this car worth a buck, is this car worth a buck, is this car worth a buck to me... I just don't.

    When TF2 has new weaponry come out, they sell them as sets along with related cosmetic items, if you really want to pay for them. The catch is that they're ridiculously overpriced... and usually they're added to the drop system at the same time they come out. So, unless you really want the cosmetic items, there's little point in buying them.

    And don't have me competing with people in the expansion pack cars if they are anything more than just skins.

    Remember even "Situationally better" is still better if you get any control over the situation, which of course, unless you are an idiot... you always do.

    I believe I've already addressed this point.

    But more to the point, the way items are balanced in TF2, a lot of the times they're different rather than strictly better. One of the more controversial items from the Christmas 2011 update was the Spy-cicle.

    The Spy-cicle is a melee weapon for the Spy... all Spy melee weapons do instant-kill backstabs. Note: Spies can disguise as enemy players, which becomes important in the description below.

    The Spy-cicle prevents the usual death screams from players, but instead makes a freezing sound and leaves an ice statue behind instead of a corpse. It can also be used to prevent fire damage (and makes the extinguishing sound when this happens) for 2 seconds at the expense of the Spy losing the Spy-cicle for 15 seconds.

    The thing is that its upsides and downsides are tied together. Sure, I can prevent fire at the expense of being able to instant-kill b

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @08:31PM (#39295893) Journal

    Actually, it means that if you don't have lots of free time, or prefer not to spend an inordinate amount of time in the game, you can still have a complete, fulfilling experience, leaving some of the drudgery time wasters behind. I means you can do more of the fun stuff with the time you spend.

  • by Kreigaffe (765218) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @09:46PM (#39296509)

    Yeah.

    Hats don't help you win.

    What you describe isn't a competitive game but a social one -- collecting meaningless bits of fluff that look neat but serve no purpose.

    Pay to win implies that forking over money gives you an advantage over players who haven't. Hats confer no such advantage. You just mad.. for some reason I can't even begin to understand.

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

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