Time moves quickly in the world of gaming, and if a franchise is not prepared, it will find itself eating dust. A significant amount of time, money and resources are needed to release a new installment of Call of Duty, a new adventure of World of Warcraft or a new edition of Halo. So how do games stay afloat when the budget sinks and players abandon ship? Instead of developers locking themselves in technological dungeons for months at a time to invent an entirely new game, some companies release their games as Free 2 Play. Free 2 Play titles simply add features to the existing concept. New game modes, weapons or enemies are created to keep gameplay fresh and interesting. Successful companies like Valve, Electronic Arts, Bethesda Softworks and Monolith Productions all offer Free 2 Play features on certain games.
Although Team Fortress 2 had thousands of veterans stealing intelligence and capping control points, Valve decided to expand its horizons with Free 2 Play. This would mean more servers, more activity and more players. These veterans, some of whom have been playing the popular title for years, were less than thrilled with the sudden influx of ‘not’ talent. The Free 2 Play trailer on YouTube alone is filled with spiteful comments and negative ratings. Even now, if some veterans determine server users to be Free 2 Play, they will be kicked accordingly. Conversely though, Free 2 Play users have also kicked their fair share of veteran trolls. It’s the school playground all over again. Can you play on that swing set? Absolutely. Until the older kids push you down for trespassing into their ‘fifth-graders only’ territory. It doesn’t matter how high you can swing, or how expertly you can cherry bomb. You’re still in a fourth grade, and you automatically suck. Despite these veteran ‘bullies’, Free 2 Play has arguably made Team Fortress 2 better than ever.
Servers are always up and running. Different game modes are always available. Every update is automatic and free. Even Mann vs. Machine, TF2’s largest update since becoming Free 2 Play, was offered to users at no cost. This major overhaul took the familiar model of RED vs BLU and turned it inside out. For the first time in the franchise’s history, TF2 had a cooperative mode. Instead of mercenaries killing each other, they are forced to work together to defend MannCo from waves and waves of robots. Disappointingly though, all mercenaries are automatically placed on RED, while the robots are painted blue. Are we to believe the entire BLU team was wiped out? Randomizing team colors for the mercs would have been more interesting.
So how does Valve make any money off this slaphappy, free-of-charge bloodbath? The answer is simple; the MannCo store. Hats, weapons, outfits, items, all of these can be found in TF2’s personal store. Players don’t need to buy anything to play the game, but one purchase in the MannCo store grants you a premium membership. For less than a dollar, you can enjoy nearly every benefit to be had both on and off the battlefield. Hats and items are not crucial to gameplay, but they are an indication to other users that you are at least somewhat invested in the franchise. I have bought several Medic, Soldier and Scout items to achieve the look I wanted, but I wasn’t obligated too. After spending so many hours in game, I wanted to see mercenaries that I could call my own.
Frequent updates, new items and challenging gameplay have kept Team Fortress 2 thriving, and Free 2 Play games have a significant advantage over some big-name titles; they aren’t static. Free 2 Play is not a nail in the coffin. It’s not a white flag, or the brand of a ‘bad’ game. Free 2 Play is a chance to experience titles without paying the price. In addition, for those of us who live on Ramen noodles—that’s appealing. There’s no limit to the kinds of games offered as Free 2 Play. In addition to first-person shooters, there are a vast amount of RPGs, strategy games, action games, multiplayers and more. Whether gamers are more comfortable with a sleek assault rifle, a Star Fleet communicator or a spell-casting staff, Free 2 Play has a game for them.