Valve's announcement last Thursday that its 2007 released multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2 is now a free-to-play game has boosted its online player base dramatically. The player stats page on Valve's Steam web site show that Team Fortress 2 is now the number one most played game on Steam, surpassing the player numbers for Valve's other popular online shooters Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike Source.
As of the time of this news posts, Team Fortress 2 currently has close to 98,000 players online compared to 65,000 players for Counter-Strike and 55,000 players for Counter-Strike Source. As PC Gamer's web site points out, Counter-Strike is almost always the top played game on Steam so the fact that Team Fortress 2, a game that's been available for four years, can suddenly surpass Counter-Strike by going free-to-play is a big deal.
Valve's decision to turn Team Fortress 2 into a free-to-play game means that Valve will get revenues from its in-game Mann Co. store where players can purchase new weapons and cosmetic clothing items. The in-game store was launched a number of months ago and has been the subject of some controversy among some Team Fortress 2 players who feel that the introduction of such a store has changed the game from a pure shooter.
In an interview on the Develop web site, Valve's Robin Walker states, " ... we think of it is that there are a class of players who will never pay us a dime, for a variety of reasons. We're not upset by that, it's just a constraint we need to design around. The interesting problem to solve is how to make those freeloaders produce value for our paying customers. Obviously, getting those free players into the game is the first step to doing that."
Some of the items in the in-game store come from artwork created by Team Fortress 2 community players. Valve gives a portion of those item sales to the artwork creators. Walker states that the big Uber update to the game last week " ... contains some items that were made by a fourteen-year-old modeler - hopefully he'll be able to make a strong case to his parents for playing more games when his creations pay for college."
Finally could more Valve games become free-to-play? Walker states, "With just the data from a single product, it seems dangerous to assume that it would be true for all our products. Either way, we'll know a heck of a lot more in a couple of months, and that's the kind of thing that gets us excited around the office."