As much of a downer subject that it may be, I get the feeling reading through threads around here that people are a bit in denial as far as hope for TF2 to receive significant future support, and I just wanted to sound out a bit about the topic. TL;DR is at the bottom if you don’t like words.
Unfortunately, Valve is no longer the happy little company that it was when it was developing Half-Life, and Steam was a twinkle (or the beginning of a cataract) in Gabe Newell’s eye. Valve has grown up into a good little corporation, and as all corporations are, they operate much like a MvM game – scoop up all the cash, and fire the scout if you don’t get a $100 bonus.
From the Community Perspective…
TF2’s community has been through rough times. From the drooling masses that was the F2P update, to the Pinion server profiteering, to the awful gameplay that is the pub servers of today, what life was intended to be given through the act of getting more butts in the seat seems to have instead been more necromancy than resurrection.
In the beginning, there was vanilla, and it was good. Players generally played the game for the sake of the game itself, people pushed objectives, played classes they were decent at, and made more of an effort than you see from the barely sentient pub players today. Sure, Pyro’s flamethrower was a little bit of a joke, but hey, they got through issues, fixed some of their more ridiculous mistakes, and things were pretty decent until the whole “it’s time to release hats ‘n demoknights ‘n make tf2 f2p ‘n stuff” started.
The game today is the worst its ever been. Most quality community servers have atrophied and died, leaving only 32 player instant respawn spamfests, and servers with admins more interested in wanting in making Pinion cash than actually serving a quality game of TF2 to its players.
The majority of people thus quickplay on Valve servers, which have become a Mos Eisley-esque dystopia, the worst of which are the hackers, which I average an encounter with every 2-3 hours of play, up to people who simply don’t care whatsoever about the game they’re playing (these are your “ah do wut ah wan” crowd who will selfishly play their huntsman, market gardeners, and demoknights with no regard for the overall health of their team), up to the people who appear so utterly stupid that you wonder if it’s someone’s pet cat rolling around on a keyboard (how DO you manage as a functioning human being to go 5-10 minutes without scoring a SINGLE point worthy action?)
Any community outreach from TF2 to the general masses of gaming are usually quickly self sabotaged by its cancerous community. Hackers follow and harass streamers, from the little guys like Purister, to the big guys like Stabby or B4nny, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you stream TF2, and your stream has more than 0 viewers, you’ll soon receive a visit from your friendly neighborhood hackerman. Then you get things like the recent flares that care charity fundraiser where the proceeds got scammed by one of the admins. Showing off our trading community’s penchant for fraud is not exactly the best way for us to represent on the world stage of gaming.
TF2’s twitch viewership is lucky if it can reach 1000 viewers. As of the time of this writing, it’s just a bit over 300. While there’s a decent mix of casual and comp play there doesn’t seem to be much demand anymore for either.
Youtube does do a lot better, but it seems the footage that people mainly enjoy is stuff that’s aside the actual game, like griefing videos, Jerma doing voice impersonations, star_ cratering himself on hightower, etc. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but there needs to be more interest in TF2 as TF2 was intended to be played, as a team, towards an objective, not simply taking up server space pretending it’s a sandbox game like Minecraft.
From the Technical Perspective…
This game has more bloat in it than Bonzi Buddy. Okay, jokes aside, just to give you an idea of how awful this game is running right now, here’s my slew of technical issues that occur every time I run TF2:
– Ever since the EOTL update, something went horribly wrong with the particle system, causing my normally 300 fps to shoot down to 40 fps while panning view across a map. Of course, being used to a 120hz monitor and expecting 120 fps, this is really bad for my aim. The only way that I can fix the problem is to run the game in DX7 with mat_dxlevel set to 70. Which makes the game look terrible (my system is a core i7 2600k sandy bridge appropriately similar powered other parts, overkill for TF2). Of course, running in mat_dxlevel 70 gets me kicked from community servers because hackers used to use 70 to run wallhacks, so if I want to play on community servers I have to eat the performance loss of 80.
– When I close HL2.exe, be it by client quit, or crash, it will stay resident in memory for up to 10 minutes and refuse to leave memory. No amount of end processing, end process treeing, end processing on steam, third party task unlockers, getting the PID from tasklist and manually taskkilling it, and deleting and reinstalling TF2 from scratch will work. I either have to wait 10 minutes, or reboot my computer. Real convenient if I happen to be streaming.
– Anytime I record a demo, the playback from my POV is extremely jerky and jittery. It’s the issue this person reports, except I have never, ever found a fix for it. It makes for very ugly Youtube videos and aren’t smooth to view (except when I’m dead and in someone else’s perspective, where it’s perfectly smooth). It has literally been going on for years (yes, that is the old pre-nerf saharan set).
– If I attempt to adjust the effects on my unusuals, such as my dead presidents unusuals, the anchor point of the unusuals goes haywire, and will be at some random radius on every viewing – sometimes they’re proper, sometimes they’re circling me from a mile away, sometimes a short distance, etc. Others report this as well, with people not being able to see them common. While this is a cosmetic issue, unusuals are kinda one of the premium paid contents of TF2, and you’d think paying customers would get some kind of service for the goods they paid for not working properly.
– I like to mod TF2’s sounds, particularly hit sounds, crit sounds, etc. Recently the Valve servers went sv_pure, which means a lot of sounds can’t be edited (with good reason, because you don’t want things meant to be quiet like spy watches being modded with something stupid like this. But, for some reason, Valve didn’t bother putting things into the pure whitelist like crit/mini sounds, and worse, these sounds play at curious pitches on non-pure servers.
– Misc minor issues, like having open the loadout screen 3 frickin’ times before it’ll load properly. Workaroundable, but annoying, unpolished, and reeks of untested product.
On the bright side, my localization files are as updated as updated can be, right? Seriously though, these are just the issues that I encounter off the top of my head all the time, other people likely got bad ones too, and it’s quite clear that the potted plant that is the programmer isn’t getting any calls soon about updating the game from the stuffed Archimedes plush that is the QA department.
From the Creative Perspective…
It should come as no surprise that Valve, after many years of prodding this mule along, has come up a bit dry on ways to prod it along and keep it dragging its arthritic bones. We can empathize with that, all of us have experienced writer’s block or other creative impediments from time to time. And while we do enjoy new content, what we don’t enjoy is content that adds nothing/detracts from the game.
Valve’s creative and technical additions to the game are like hiring a guy to come and paint your house white, only to find the guy went, brought 6 different neon colors of paint, dipped his brushes in them, and then spun himself around in a circle rapidly until the house is covered with rainbow splatters, and then excused himself and left you a bill.
Consider this excerpt from Valve’s blog on how they consider adding (game changing) content to the game:
Originally Posted by Valve
In playtesting the parachute, we all had a bunch of fun, and at the end of the day that’s really what we’re hoping for with all of our weapons.
From a dev standpoint, I can hardly begin as to how wrong this perspective is, and shows why failures in concept such as demoknight keep popping up.
When you add a weapon to the game, fun factor is something you have to consider ALONGSIDE how the weapon affects your game on the grander scale (both from a fun and a balance standpoint). With what you add, you are saying “Hey, this is a thing. We all encourage you to use this. Go forth and frag.” The problem is that fun is like a balance weight. There is fun to you, fun to your team, and fun to the opposing team that has to be accounted for. If one is weighted too heavily on one side, it will cause fun to recede on another. Just because something is fun for you, doesn’t necessarily mean your teammates are going to appreciate you using it (ie. you’re being useless with a rocket jumper), or your opponents (ie. being the only pyro up against a slew of sentries). This is why I don’t play on maps like Dustbowl or Hoodoo, while the demomen and engineers may have tons of fun, it’s not quite so fun for the scouts or pyros that have to wade through all that mess.
Let’s use a couple controversial weapon additions to illustrate differences in weapon design quality.
To start with, let’s analyze the huntsman. This weapon was originally added because the developers felt that sniper lacked good “close range” options (ignoring that SMG isn’t that bad actually). The huntsman epitomizes bad design from the all round perspective. First, it violates the class design of sniper which is precision elimination. The huntsman is a projectile with wonky hitboxes that will hit everything and anything anywhere. It’s not precise at all. Half the time you fire it, and something you didn’t even know was coming ends up getting smacked in the head by it. Huntsman also ignores the normal rules of how quickscope snipes work starting damage rampup so fast that you can actually just quicktap headshot a pyro/demo to death. On the flipside, huntsman snipers find themselves getting dominated constantly by snipers using actual rifles, rendering them invalid at performing countersniping, and putting their team at a significant disadvantage.
For its weaknesses, the huntsman only adds generic damage, and is outclassed by the classes that actually do it better – demos and soldiers namely, which can deal area damage and destroy sentries, and have higher amounts of hitpoints to allow them to survive on the front.
From the fun standpoint, huntsman is not balanced. While users of the huntsman often have fun with it, it causes their teammates to suffer because they are unable to fulfill their class role, and the enemy team has to suffer instant, cheesy deaths from around blind corners and through crowded team fights that didn’t even require precise aim to land. This makes the huntsman a poor weapon design choice.
Also controversial is the gunslinger, specifically, mini-sentries. This one is oft complained about because of the fact people don’t like being hit by something that aims itself, even if that thing does relatively low damage and usually isn’t fatal unless you ignore it (which people tend to do because they want sick frags, not to play destroy the building).
From a fun balance standpoint, the gunslinger introduced a massive shift in useful engineer play, at the cost of some enemy team dissatisfaction. When the gunslinger was first put in, there was no rescue ranger, so all engineer gameplay consisted of just sitting there and hitting your lv3 sentry with a wrench. You could not put your sentry anywhere it could be shot at, because you, by proximity, would be shot at too, and just overrun anytime an uber or organized attack came along. It was unsatisfying unless your enemies were completely stupid lemmings, not too greatly useful to your team because you couldn’t be flexible and move alongside them, and boring as hell because who seriously wants to just sit there and hit a sentry with a wrench?
Along comes the gunslinger, and suddenly engineers became something where you could have more than 1 of them without it being a drain on the team, and they had an actual presence on the field, with sentries that integrated into the defense rather than simply being an anchor for it, combined with the engineer himself. From a personal enjoyment perspective, this was much more satisfying, from a team enjoyment perspective the team now wasn’t at the mercy of every scout, roamer, or sneaky backburner pyro that came along, at the cost of some annoyance to the enemy team which is forced to deal with the minis (which are completely counterable and balanced in the form they are today).
Even while not perfect (pyros need some sort of mini sentry counter, like scout’s shortstop) the gunslinger worked to correct a fun imbalance that currently existed, while the huntsman made it worse. Both gave their respective classes an alternative playstyle that was quite different, but the gunslinger added to the game as a whole, whereas the huntsman detracted from it.
On a related note, Valve has taken this bizarre strategy of tossing crap on a wall and trying to see what sticks to their map additions, one of the dumbest being the recent halloween updates they did, which added a Mario Kart-esque bumper cars mode into the game (that nobody asked for nor wanted), followed up by an end of the line update (sans map which apparently confused new players too much) with a bunch of bonus ducks flying everywhere, and gibus-clad players running face first into level 3 sentries trying to collect them.
From the multiple examples of poorly thought out weapon design, be the weapons under/overpowered or just plain dumb and disengaging people from the proper game, the devs just don’t seem to have a clue what they’re doing.
Oddly, when it comes from the more artistic parts of Valve, pretty much everything they put out is great, be it the SFM movies, the musical scores, and the comics. Sad to see the game itself takes a back seat.
From the Economic Perspective…
No, this isn’t going to turn into a gigantic trader rant, however, there are significant observations to be made about TF2 and how it compares to Valve’s two other current offerings.
First I want to point out the cost of TF2 keys to CS:GO keys to Dota 2 keys. Having the largest item inventory and being the game that started steam trading, it goes without mentioning that for the longest time the market worth of a TF2 key has been the greatest, in terms of value of trade. What I mean is not the actual retail value ($2.50 USD a key) of a key, rather, the trade value of a key, what it is worth as a token of exchange to other people. As keys are only purchasable from Valve, they have taken the spotlight in terms of being this baseline trade currency, killing refined metal, and now pretty much sapping away at other tokens like Bill’s hats and Earbuds. What I mean to say by this is that keys are extremely sought after and liquid, anything can be yours if the keys are right.
TF2 keys at the time of this posting have a steam community market price of $2.40 USD. They are $1.65-1.75 USD from the trader market, depending on your reputation. A CS:GO key sells on the steam community market for $2.53 USD (might be a bit wonky as I’m converting from CAD) on the community market and sells for $1.75-1.85 from the http://tf2-trader.com/index.php?board=59.0“]trader market[/URL] (again, rep based). A Dota 2 key sells on the community market for $3.22 USD, and sells on the trader market for $1.92-2.20. Keep in mind on the matter of Dota 2, their keys are discontinued (you just buy the unlocked box now) and the keys can be redeemed for an unlocked box (with the keys existing being deleted this summer), so there might be a little rush to sell these right now.
Two things to point out here. First, the key pricing point has shifted from the familiarity of the TF2 market (where the main virtual goods traders were dealing mainly in TF2, which had a rich assortment of goods) to a positive correlation towards the popularity of the game. Dota 2 being the most popular, then CS:GO, then TF2. This means that TF2 keys used to be worth more than the other two keys, but this is no longer the case, as player numbers increase in those games, and demand in those games increases, while TF2 continues to decline (aka dying). Not surprisingly, this trend is also now applied to the overall earnings of these games for Valve. TF2 as recent ago as 2013 was earning more than both CS:GO and Dota 2, but this is no longer the case in 2015 with Dota 2, being also the highest key price, also being the highest earner for Valve.
All that “our developers work on what they want to work on” stuff is of course a load of hooey just said to try to build brand loyalty from fans. Valve is a corporation like any other corporation and their prime directive is to earn money. It’s simply not reasonable to think that out of the entire company, nobody has any interest in L4D, L4D2, or TF2. Especially in the case of TF2, which is still an earner, and is still taking a 10% cut off the steam marketplace (for what exactly?)
Money talks, and suddenly, the voice of TF2 has suddenly become the Pyro. That does not bode well for future Valve interest in the game.
To conclude, we really can’t ignore the red flags waving in the wind. The game has that same feeling that L4D2 had when they were tossing in the odd custom mutation but didn’t seem too interested otherwise. The one big last surprise TF2 really has is a port to Source 2, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Don’t set yourselves up to be too disappointed if nothing further really happens with TF2. Though you can still always count on Valve’s credit card processing servers to be up to take your money for cosmetics, even if you can barely run the game that they’re in.
TL;DR – TF2 is suffering in the areas of community, technical fidelity, creative content, and earnings, so be prepared for it to go the way of L4D2.