Team Fortress 2's item economy helped Valve's "long-term survival"

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Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 established itself as some of the best team-based shooting ever, but according to Lead Designer Robin Walker, PC Gaming's premier hat sim was also a test case for Valve's long-term survival. In an interview with Gamasutra, Walker revealed how the game's successful item economy doubled as an exploratory probe into MMO mechanics which Valve felt would factor into its livelihood going forward.

"Our secondary goal [with Team Fortress 2] was to see if we could explore specific game and business design spaces that we felt were potentially a requirement for the long-term survival of our company," Walker said.

"[When the game shipped], MMOs were the dominant story in the industry, and one concern we had was that we might not be able to survive if we didn’t build one. We didn’t think we were ready to undertake that, but we did think that we might be able to build some pieces of one, learning enough so that if or when we did need to build one, we had less risk on the table. We decided that persistent item design and storage seemed like a reasonable amount of risk for us to bite off, and could be made to fit into TF2’s gameplay."

Valve's decision to turn Team Fortress 2 free-to-play last year also stemmed from monitoring ongoing MMO trends of shifting from subscriptions to microtransactional and pay-once models. "A couple of years later ... we were starting to feel the same way about microtransactions as we did initially about MMOs: that our company was at risk if we didn’t have internal experience and hard data on them," said Walker.

That most players I encounter during my rocket-spamming binges seem festooned head-to-toe with user-made badges, hats, facial hair, clothing, deodorant, and even spectral high-fives speaks volumes of Valve's favorable foray into MMO economics, a financial result Walker also acknowledged.

Read the full interview at Gamasutra.