The world’s most popular war-themed hat simulator is now permanently free to play. The entire game can be played: all modes, classes, and maps. Most (but not all) weapons will still be available through achievements, drops, and crafting. They’re still going to keep developing the game, but they’ll be funding it with purchases players already make in-game to get new weapons, crate keys, and (of course) silly hats. They also say they will be sharing profits with community members who create content for the game, but the specifics of that aren’t clear yet.
Develop conducted a great interview with Robin Walker of Valve about the business of making a high-quality game free, including this quote:
It’s a belief of ours that in multiplayer games it’s generally true that the more people playing the game, the higher value the game has for each individual customer. The more players, the more available servers in your area, the wider variety of other players you’ll find, the greater the opportunity for new experiences, and so on.
Another way 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.
One of the big concerns is that free accounts will attract cheaters and griefers. Valve will be monitoring the creation of accounts to react quickly to people creating several accounts, and they will disable any features which get abused too much from all the free accounts if things get out of hand.
What about everyone who bought the game already? Anyone who has made a purchase in the Mann Co. in-game store or activated a paid version of the game is being automatically upgraded to a premium account. Here are the differences between free and premium accounts according to the Free-to-Play FAQ:
After the jump is the funny new “Meet the Medic” video and a video announcing the free-to-play release. Hmm, these videos are sorely lacking in whimsical hats.
[Sources: PCGamer, RockPaperShotgun, Slickdeals, Develop, TeamFortress]