While games bring us (much appreciated) entertainment and pleasure, gaming is also a billion dollar industry and depends on gamers to purchase products, maintain their user bases, and recommend their games to other gaming enthusiasts. Maintaining a user base and a strong player community is no easy task for any company but Valve has been doing just that for years.
Team Fortress 2 (TF2) by Valve is a great example of a game that has a tremendously large user base and a strong game player community. When introduced in 2007, Team Fortress 2 was released alongside other games as a bundle called The Orange Box. At this time, TF2 maintained a community of around 20,000 people concurrent players. During this time, TF2 made multiple updates to the game, added achievements, items, weapons, and even created its own economy using ‘hats’ as currency. This design that Valve implemented was used to promote its product by providing numerous changes and these in turn generated new users and kept current ones. This gave the community incentive by viewing the game as an investment. Subsequently, on June 23, 2011, TF2 changed its business model and went Free-to-Play.
Valve quadrupled its earnings from TF2 from September 2007 to June 2011 when used this new business model. Valve programmer, Joe Ludwig, at a recent Game Development Conference, attributed the success to its platform, but also stated that its success transpired from the involvement of the community. Valve involved the community in the creation of TF2 content, listened to the gamers feedback, used cosmetic items created by users, created forums for discussions, and facilitated tools for players to create maps and mods.
“Although small updates to the game started immediately after launch, it wasn’t until the medic update in 2008 that significantly changed revenue,” Ludwig said. “Adding so much stuff at once gave the press and community a reason to talk about it, which got more people to try it for the first time.” said Ludwig. Player community involvement was a key milestone in what Valve wanted to keep the TF2 hype alive.
Ludwig involved the community by releasing teasers of new content for the game and Valve developers would monitor forums to listen to player reactions. Using these forums and online communities, Valve created items and features that reflected the positive reactions and also anticipated negative player reactions and designed around them. “At this point, more than half of the items in TF2 are contributed by the community. Pretty much every place you give the community a chance to change the game, they’ll do it, and they’ll probably do a better job than you would,” Ludwig said, “One more way that the community contributed to updates is by building maps. Up to this point we’ve shipped 19 community maps.” Valve also designed around negative player reactions which involved changing the perception of “pay-to-win”. “We dealt with the pay to win concern in a few ways. The first was to make items involve tradeoffs, so there’s no clear winner between two items. But by far the biggest thing we did to change this perception was to make all the items that change the game free. You can get them from item drops, or from the crafting system. It might be a little easier to buy them in the store, but you can get them without paying. The only items we sell exclusive to the store are cosmetic or items optional to gameplay.”
Valve’s design of TF2 and including the player community in its decisions has clearly been successful and trends show that it will continue to enjoy its success. It has been six years since the release of Team Fortress 2 and it boasts a very strong game player community as a result of its design to include its online communities in its creations, updates, opinions in forums, and much more.
Big game developers have certainly joined Valve in its successes in catering to the community. Diablo 3, for one, had sold 6.3 million units in its first 24 hours and it also has designed its game to highly encourage team play, has a community based auction house which involved fake and real currency, and has catered to the community about such issues such as level designs. With the numbers involved, it’s hard not to design your games around the player community.
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