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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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Meet Team Fortress 2

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Opening the Valve on a legitimate free-to-play game

To my left and right, I see hats. Hats everywhere. The gentlemen standing by my side are supposedly ready to make war, but it's terribly hard to tell that from the various shades of bags, alien monsters, goggles and baseball caps adoring their noggins. In all honesty, this is what draws me to 'Team Fortress 2.' This lighter take on warfare, set sometime in the 50s, is still boasting a huge following despite releasing as a part of the Orange Box almost five years ago. Why's that, you ask? Last June, Valve released it to the public as a free-to-play game.

For the vast majority of hardcore gamers, free-to-play is seen as an incredibly dirty term. Any game that either adopts the model from the start or uses it later on in its lifespan is immediately considered a failure and is generally avoided like the plague. Most of this is based on the stigma that most free-to-play games generally have a pay-to-win philosophy: player doesn't do as well as other players, player buys an uber gun for a fair price, and said player ends up topping the scoreboards with the blood money-bought gun. Another issue that can crop up is charging an exorbitant amount for new content, constricting the non-paying players to a few basic maps or character classes. Either way, free-to-play has left a bad taste in the mouths of gamers that truly want to earn their success. To them, paying for better weapons is trading skill gained over the course of committing yourself to a game for money. You're purchasing hard-fought victories instead of dedicating the time and energy necessary to attain them normally.

However, Valve weighed the pros and cons of the free-to-play system, and came up with a way to appease both sides of the coin. Hardcore players could still earn each and every weapon and item through playing the game, and gamers with less time on their hands could still purchase the items that caught their eye. Players that had already purchased the game before it went free-to-play gained a few perks, such as access to crafting a few rarer items and some unique gear to commemorate their purchase, but for the most part, the game stayed exactly the same for free or paid players.

One the biggest things that separates 'TF2' from the rest of the 'F2P' (I'm sorry, but typing that out each time was getting obnoxious) crowd is that Valve continues to add new content, maps and gametypes for free. They've also embraced the modding community, allowing player-made maps onto official servers. One the biggest perks is the advent of a player-made items market, encouraging designers to create weapons and random bits of accessories which in turn can be sold on the Steam Workshop.

All of this is just a feather in the cap of the frantic tactical action of the game itself. It's Valve, when-it's-done, superb quality. All of the weapons (both purchased and earned in-game) feel perfectly balanced while retaining completely over-the-top features, such as freezing your enemies with a backstab, gibbing them into oblivion or throwing baseballs to stun them. Each map is riddled with intelligently placed choke points and alternate routes, making knowledge of the courses one of your most useful skills. It doesn't take itself too seriously whilst still offering a competitive feel for both newbies and experienced players.

'Team Fortress 2' is not only the pinnacle of free-to-play games at this point; it's the also the blueprint for making them a viable monetizing solution. In this age of $60 price tags, it's not only a welcome thought, but the future of profiting from game development.

To summarize:

  1. Download 'Team Fortress 2.'
  2. Enjoy to the fullest extent without fear of being pressured to buy something to enhance your experience.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to give the hyphen key a break from this article.

Aaron Waite is generally found in TF2' as a google-wearing medic with an Avery Schreiber-esque moustache. Oops, more hyphens.

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