Public Service Announcement: Valve does not care about Team Fortress 2.
Team Fortress 2 is probably in my Top 5 favourite games ever. It is the video game that I have the highest number of hours put into at 788. I have spent over a month of real life hours on this game over the last 5 years. I have met great friends, I have had incredible fun with this game, and this game is my most reliable source for pure entertainment. I can always go back to TF2, and in some way, it always provides me with enjoyment. So it pains me to see Valve completely disregard this game’s capabilities and misunderstand the player base.
Team Fortress 2, as a game, is incredibly well-designed. Well, the older maps are generally. But we’ll get to the inconsistencies later. This video was sparked by Funke’s YouTube video, which detailed the poor and broken tutorial in TF2, and Valve’s inability to accomodate newer players. Now I am not saying that TF2 should dumb itself down to pander to newer players, but newer players are the bloodline for TF2 at this point. Since the game is free-to-play, there is pretty much no repercussions for a player just picking it up and playing. Anybody who picks the game up has access to every class. It then turns into a game of skill and teamwork, playing off of other classes strengths and exploiting opponents weaknesses. It becomes a game of understanding the opposing team’s composition and how to best counter that. It becomes a game of skilled movement and map awareness. It becomes a game of skill that is really easy to pick up, but difficult to master. It is a beautiful game, one of the, if not THE best first person shooters ever. And it’s free! But all this praise begs the question: why doesn’t Valve care? Shouldn’t they care? It’s one of their few games on the market. TF2, Dota 2, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive are consistently the top 3 most played games on Steam. Why doesn’t Valve care about newer players? Is it because the other two aforementioned games have massive e-sports scenes and much larger player bases? What is killing TF2? Valve is.
You could say “bu-bu-but Overwatch killed it!” Well, in a way, it did. Many team-based shooters attempted to duke it out with TF2 like Monday Night Combat and Microvolts, yet they were plagued by microtransactions and shallow gameplay. Overwatch was the first class-based shooter that had a prominent developer in Blizzard that could directly challenge Team Fortress 2. But, Overwatch didn’t kill TF2’s player numbers. According to the steam stats for Team Fortress 2, there was a slight decrease in 2016, but nothing incredibly major. The decrease happened in January, rather than May, which was when Overwatch came out. This is likely due to there being an annual Halloween and Christmas update, which ticks the average playbase in TF2 up every year. The average player base has fluctuated by hundreds, but it has remained relatively consistent at 40000 daily average players at once. And, for a game that’s nearly 10 years old that hardly gets any updates other than cosmetics, that is incredibly impressive. Even 2016 games like Battleborn have player bases that are lucky to scratch 1000 players a day, so these numbers are phenomenal. Which just begs the question, why doesn’t Valve support this game as much? It’s free to play, and there is a huge market to be found in its items. Heck, even I’m guilty of spending a Steam card on tf2 for hats. I’ve done it, and since anybody can access Team Fortress 2, there is a huge market there. It means more money for Valve. I know i’m probably grossly oversimplifying this and there is probably a lot more behind-the-scenes knowledge that I have no idea about, but i’m just saying, that some advertisement and more frequent patches than one every 4 months would be great. Team Fortress 2 has pumped more money for Valve than I will ever make in my life, so they obviously have something figured out. I mean, if you look at Steam’s recently released Revenue statistics, Team Fortress 2 is still high up there. People still spend money on this game, they still buy keys, and they still buy cosmetics. Valve is still making a lot of money off of this, so why don’t they go even further?
There is still quite a bit of loyalty within this fanbase to pursue. Everybody loves the Source Film Maker movies, so why not get more of those? Those always strum up attention for a big update, which leads to more key and hat sales and unique boxes to open. I probably sound like a lunatic and this is all probably much more difficult than it actually sounds, but Valve doesn’t need to even do much to boost profits from TF2. If others do think like me, then they’ll buy a key or a hat when it’s on sale because they LOVE the game. They feel that the developer has given them a lot of support. I mean, look at what Blizzard did for Christmas. They gave everybody 5 free loot boxes as a thanks, because they know people LOVE these things. Myself included. Loyalty and acts of kindness like that to a player base go a long way. People buy loot boxes not just for dank skins, but because there is a level of trust and respect between consumer and seller. Blizzard’s actions guarantee consumer respect and loyalty. They are constantly updating and diligently patching bugs in the game. When something needs to be polished, Blizzard is always there to do it. I know this sounds like Fanboying, but Overwatch is really the only Blizzard game i’ve gotten into, and I know how scummy their Diablo 3 launch fiasco, their neglect and misunderstanding of World of Warcraft and their shutting down of the Nostalrius Private server, and Hearthstone and Overwatch microtransaction antics can be. They aren’t perfect, not in the slightest. I despise when a game makes you pay for it, but also includes microtransactions. I love the lootbox in overwatch, I also hate it because developers use it as an excuse for even scummier practices *cough cough* Infinite Warfare, but that’s another topic for another video.
But, if the player base for TF2 is consistently strong, what’s the big issue? Valve doesn’t need to support this game more, right? Well, knowing what I do about Team Fortress and its content creators, they have been dwindling. TF2 was powered a lot by its big Youtubers. They had creative ideas and playstyles and showcased mods and weapon models. It allowed people to edit in-game appearances and customize the game to their liking. It started with STAR_ not caring much for the game anymore, which led to Jerma985 posting less TF2 content, which led to Muselk posting less, and the big figureheads were dwindling. Garry’s Mod and Source Film Maker videos are losing views. I know this comparison i’m about to make is a weak one, but please bear with me. As of writing this, the view count for “Practical Problems” sits at 7.8 million views over the course of 4 years. Source Film Maker videos are lucky to crack 1 million in a year anymore, as it peaked in popularity 2 years ago. The software itself is still used and is very intuitive, but the TF2 content creators are petering out. And, it’s not their fault. These people can only be entertained by a game for so long and make content about it before it gets stale. That’s a limitation of any game.
I personally got burnt out by the game. After hitting the 600 hour mark, I felt that I had done all I could. I stopped in around late 2014, which was also when I noticed people stopped going on the custom map servers. I dabbled in a few Brony servers, some Mario Kart servers, and I scuzzed my way through some idle servers, and there were generally cool people there. One of the biggest appeals about Team Fortress 2 was its casual, laid-back nature. You could hop into a standard game and have a serious match, but you also had the option to mess around. My personal favourite was a Warioware server, where each player would have to do a series of microgames until they won the highest amount of rounds. For some reason, however, I stopped seeing these servers mid-2014. I would only be able to play on Valve servers, because the joke servers around my area never played them anymore. Again, this isn’t really a fault with Valve, moreso with myself and why I stopped. I can only play Badwater and Upward so much before I eventually get sick of them. Just joking, Upward will never get old, even with 100+ hours on it.
To emphasize Valve’s lack of care, there are still bugs in the game that were discovered 5 years ago. They just take forever to patch them out, which is a huge problem, because Valve rolled competitive matchmaking around when Overwatch released, with this “eh, whatever” mentality still present. But it feels like Valve jumped the gun with the update and changed too much to the core game. In my opinion, the best part about TF2, was to pull up a list of servers, see what fits, and join. You could try and get as many kills as possible, test out different weapons and loadouts, or just meme around. There was so much freedom and so much custom content from a dedicated community. Then Valve struck. And changed everything. In May of 2016, you could only choose a quickplay option, and the joke servers were pretty much gone. TF2 tried to become Overwatch, and, despite millions of YouTube videos asking the question, No, they are NOT the same game. Not at all. Playing a match of each game is all it takes to show how different they are. The biggest difference between the two games is the pace of every match. In Overwatch, even quickplay is hyper competitive. Blizzard is very anal about players being AFK and kick you if you stand still for like 10 seconds. Your attention HAS to be on the match in Overwatch, and there is little room for joking. All of their maps are asymmetrical and linear, and the game emphasizes team fights so much, that it is very difficult to wreck shop on your own. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Overwatch wants to be serious with its competitive nature, and they want their maps and gameplay to reflect that. I am perfectly okay with that. In Team Fortress 2, however, there is a lot of time spent walking. Team limits can go up to 12, and it can become a ridiculous battle. Timers in Team Fortress are also much longer as well, and maps don’t railroad you. Not every single person in TF2 is incredibly valuable because of a larger team limit. Two people on a team of 12 in TF2 won’t hold the unit back, but in Overwatch, one person underperforming can mean the difference between victory or defeat. It is why Overwatch feels faster paced and more addictive. Matches are quicker, and each movement means something. Rewards are more constant, and feedback is more gratifying. TF2 doesn’t have medals or play of the game’s to strive for. TF2 will pop up a list of who got the most points at the end, and that’s it. I like that system, but I understand if those who are playing games to show off their MLG skills and contributions may feel discouraged. Yet, as described earlier, Overwatch’s competitive nature leads to problems. Overwatch leaves little room for expression or community involvement. You have the core game, which is fantastic, but it railroads its players into a competitive mindset. TF2’s matches could be competitive, but they could also be laid back. If you hop into a match in TF2, it isn’t a life-or-death situation. There is time to get acclimated to the surroundings, and there are no penalties for leaving the game.
But in general, the best part about TF2 was its openness and casualness. Don’t take that the wrong way though. TF2 is the culmination of “easy to learn, hard to master”. It is easy to aim well with the Soldier in TF2. It is not easy to bunnyhop and rocket jump all over the map. It is easy to shoot a sniper rifle as a sniper in TF2, but it is difficult to quickscope and land consistent headshots. It is easy to get a backstab as a spy. It is difficult to assess the surroundings and anticipate the opposing player’s psychology and reactions to the backstab. The classes in TF2 are simple with simple roles, but are difficult to master. However, TF2 never really has anything to encourage competitiveness. There was a UGC and competitive league, but that had a miniscule community compared to its more casual one, and Valve very rarely supported or promoted it.
I mean. not every change in that May 2016 patch was terrible. I really like how they tried to polish Team Fortress 2 up. There are small things about the game that irk me. These are all small nitpicks though, but they do add up. One of them is the jerky animations. I know this game came out in 2007 and they haven’t updated them since then, but they sometimes look unnatural or off. Another is that hit-marker sound. It just, grates on your ears after a while. ESPECIALLY, if you’re playing Pyro and you hear a DINGDINGDING constantly. Another is just some of the clunkiness with the interface. They added health bars over your teammates heads but they are so small and blend in with the environment that they are difficult to read unless you are right up to your teammate. But the patch made an attempt to clean the interface and some of these problems up. I appreciate that. There were small, quality-of-life improvements to be found in that update, yet, it doesn’t change the fact that it changed the core of TF2. TF2 was always about looking up a server at any time of the day, joining, playing for maybe an hour or more, and then stopping. The removal of searching, and the focus to try and be like Overwatch is what hurt TF2’s fanbase. Again, this didn’t hurt their player numbers, but it did cause distress and a divide in the community.
Personally, I love the addition of a competitive mode in TF2, but again, it came 9 years after the game’s release date. That says something about how Valve treats the community of the game. People have been clamouring for a real competitive mode for so long. We saw Dota 2 and CS:GO get so much love and attention from Valve, and there were real capabilities for TF2 to become an esport. The reason we wanted this, is because there was a conflict between the community. If you hopped in a Valve server, which is just a regular server meant for beginners or the casual player, there would be a vast array of players. There would be a guy with 20 minutes on TF2 who just picked up steam and PC gaming and their name was probably their full name in all lowercase with a 97 at the end of it, and then there would be a guy with a hat worth 600 US dollars and 1000 hours on the game getting 70 points every round. It was a trained hitman and an elementary school student going at each other. So one part of the community REALLY wanted a competitive game mode to flex their skills and utilize the deeper mechanics of the game, and another just wanted to meme around. And there was also the aforementioned UGC league, but it had incredibly small exposure compared to Dota 2 and CS:GO. So competitive mode was requested, and requested, and requested…and it was delivered too late. People became fed up with TF2 and the lack of communication with Valve, especially when compared to what Dota and CS:GO recieved. It felt like the loyal players of TF2 were getting the shaft. We didn’t want more hats, we wanted communication and new content. Competitive felt like a knee-jerk reaction instead of a gift. It felt like a business decision to fight Overwatch. It felt like a desperation move to compete with another game which, as discussed previously, are mechanically different and have vastly different fanbases. And it showed. Competitive had broken leveling initially, and what was going to bring back those lost hardcore players just felt like a mess. Again, Valve could have hyped it up with some advertisements, but they did pretty much nothing. They just didn’t care. They were like “oh some people are saying this new fancy game looks like ours?” and they did like 5 minutes of research and were like “K LET’S JUST DO THIS SCREW IT WE GOT CS GO SKINS TO SELL”
I know I sound incredibly entitled, but it is bad business for Valve to be dishonest to their fans. 2 years ago, Valve used to be revered. People were like “all hail Gaben” and the Steam sales, but their practices with their games and Steam have put a damper on people’s conception of the company. Valve does not care about TF2. Valve is a business that cares about maximizing profits. TF2 will continue to be scarcely updated, and you know what? It will still maintain a large fanbase. Valve has to do literally nothing, and the fantastic game they created will still remain. But, the hardcore fanbase, the people who loved and cultivated the game since its conception have been forgotten about, and Valve doesn’t care. And that’s sad.
But the worst part about all this, is it probably doesn’t matter. My video won’t change a thing. Team Fortress 2 is like Smash Brothers. Both games get very little love and attention from their developers, but have still cultivated dedicated fanbases just on the sole purpose of it being an excellent game. Smash Wii U tournaments consistently get 10000+ viewers despite Nintendo not caring at all for competitive, and in some cases, actively fighting against its competitive scene. TF2 isn’t dying. It’s not at all. It will live forever unless Valve messes more up or pulls the plug on it, which is unlikely. Their current model is pulling them in good numbers still, and their neglect doesn’t matter. But, just that care, just the action of frequent patches, more developer communication, and more rewards for dedicated players can go such a long way. I’m sure if Valve puts more attention into this game, those numbers will increase even more, people will be happy, and Valve will be happy because their investment will pay dividends.