We usually don’t use this blog for much other than self-promotion and letting you know that I’m fucking up the website with my less than passable .css skills. But I thought, hey, why not use it for something else also?

I want to talk a minute about Team Fortress 2 and the new MannCo. in-game store (more after the jump).

Let’s kick this off with some good old fashioned ass-covering by saying that I am not a video games expert. I have not studied video games and the business involved in any extensive capacity other than my own extracurricular efforts. I also don’t know anybody at Valve (but if anyone at Valve is a fan of Guilded Age, I have but one request: Please make Syr’Nj’s goggles a Medic Hat). This is all speculation and opinion based on my experiences playing games for a long damn time.

As far as I could ever tell, TF2 has been a labor of love by in the eyes and hands of its creators. They’ve always been extremely kind to their playerbase, even the ones that bitch endlessly about a class being “OP as fuck.” I hadn’t heard so much clamour over class differences since I was playing World Of Warcraft. Having been a Warlock for a number of years, I was rather used to that topic (and a close friend of mine spent a likewise amount of time as a Warrior, and was thoroughly uninterested in hearing OTHER classes whining about not getting buffs).

Either way, the obvious talking point about this new venture for the game is $DLC. It has become evident that $DLC is the wave of the future in gaming, and if not the wave, it is certainly a wave. It’s easily a low-cost high profit sort of thing, which is definitely what any business looks for. But up until now, TF2 wasn’t strictly a business other than being a video game that people could buy. Providing fresh, new content and throwing random events for free in a game is a fantastic way to drive sales and keep people playing, but therein lies the problem: Once the game is purchased, it’s purchased. And after a certain point, the rate of copies being sold has to diminish does it not? Not simply in the face of strong competitors (such as a little game called HALO: Reach), but also over the fact that most of the people that ever will play TF2 are currently playing TF2.

And this game is three years old now. Valve has done a fantastic (perhaps even unprecedented) job at keeping the game alive, new, and interesting over this time. But there comes a point where you can only continue to pump energy and resources into a game that your target demograph is pretty much already playing (obviously there is an untapped section of the audience that is new to computer gaming et al, but I feel that is more or less a given).

Eventually, you must start charging more money to keep a Thing alive if there is not a regular subscription model in place. That’s just a fact.

Personally, I am thankful that there is no subscription model for TF2. It would be horribly out of place for an FPS game, and it would cut the playerbase down by considerable portions. The fact that everything in the Mann Co. store is optional purchase is what makes it great. But what can be said about the fact that you can power up simply by handing over some credit card info? Is that something justified? Do we want to see that in the games of our future?

It’s a moot question. We have that now. It’s here. It’s proven to print money. It’s staying. But I have to say, I appreciate that it exists, and fully support it.

Let’s look at TF2’s case, specifically. They’re probably executing the best model I can think of: Prices of individual items scale based on rarity: Any weapon that existed prior to this update is just $0.99. I was more than happy to pay $2 to get those last two weapons that I destroyed at one point seeking a Golden Wrench (but as of this writing, I am now just realizing that I forgot to replace my lost Kritzkreig). There are a few bonus weapons here and there that offer complete changes in class for about $5/pop, but as far as I know, they can also drop randomly. The promotion that’s going on now allows you to purchase all five of the Polycount Packs for a sum total of $50. A hefty pricetag, I’ll agree. But personally, I love TF2 so much that I’m willing to drop that on it. It’s like an expansion pack in that way, and considering just how much more game you get from the purchase, it’s worth it.

Think about it: It comes down to $10/class, and that’s good for all perpetuity. You’ll never have to pay it again, and you never had to pay it to begin with. You could perfectly enjoy playing TF2 with the free-only content. Hell, you could play it with all the defaults: it is entirely up to you. If I understand correctly, everything that’s in the store can also be found on a random drop, so statistically speaking: You’ll get everything if you just keep playing anyway.

There will be complaints over some sort of “imbalance” between the classes, particularly now that Sniper can make himself immune to headshots. I mean, that’s fairly ridiculous, but in order to accomplish this, he sacrifices his own ability to score headshots. Seems fair to me. A lot of the complaining will probably stem from the initial confusion on how to deal with what are essentially new classes. All I know is that I was playing Pipline Payload last night and got The Battalion’s Backup as a random drop. After equipping it immediately, a medic and I held down that fucking tunnel long enough for me to get the defense buff up three times in one life (got The Boostie Boys cheevo in the process). Broken? Perhaps. If so, I’m not complaining: I feel the Buff Banner is equally devastating. And if it is deemed broken by the community, it’ll get fixed within a week. Like all the other crap. Video gamers are sometimes guilty of being less than patient for things like this, as if there were some kind of magic switch built into all games where all you have to do to fix an imbalance is change a single value in an excel sheet. This expectation is less than appropriate.

I’ve been rambling here for a minute, so I’ll wrap up: Anyone who’s truly a fan of TF2 should be happy that they have established what is probably going to be a strong revenue stream. The fact that fan-created content can not only be submitted and added to the game is great, but the part where the creators get a portion of the profits for making these items suggests a whole new direction for the Game Developer-Game Player relationship: A symbiotic one where they feed each other ideas in an environment where creative works take place, and rewards follow for all involved. I would like to see an MMO like this, it might even make me swear off my “No More MMOs” vow (or if they finally make a Pokemon MMO).

We’re already living in a wacky age of remakes, re-imaginings and reinventions for franchises across all media. Creativity, itself, has never been in such a constant flux that blurs the line between creator and consumer, to the point where everyone’s collaborating together on making the thing we all like into the best thing it can be. Like any other process in the universe, there will be failures and successes in different degrees all over the Goddamned place. It will never be a concrete science, it will never be the same thing for everyone, and there will come a time where nothing will ever be the same thing one moment as it will be the next. Like some kind of fucking Quantum Creativity mode that compliments the traditional McLuhan-style unilateral method. The definition of Game, itself, might end up changing as this medium continues evolving into some brand new thing that we cannot comprehend now, but will see as obvious when it arrives.

How does that not excite you?