Team Fortress 2 isn’t dying. It has had its ups and downs, but there’s still people playing this game and it’s still up there on Steam’s top ten played games. The game still works for the most part. It’s not dying at all. There are issues though. The problem is deeper than simply a game taking its last breaths. The spirit of Team Fortress 2 is ill.
What do I mean by spirit? I mean the population of TF2. Its blood and mind. The community. The middle of the road people. People like you and me.
Team Fortress 2 owes everything to its community. The game wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it has been if it wasn’t for the community propping it up. Then the community started making tons of money for Valve, in the form of creating hats, weapons and taunts, which Valve sells and takes 75% of. The community’s hard work made the game vastly profitable, to the point that we got updates containing nothing more than hats the community had made. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a purchasable in-game model made by Valve.
There’s still hats and stuff being sold though. Keys are bouncing around. Traders are still selling somewhat, although there are people switching economies, heading to CS:GO or Dota 2 or heading back here. And there’s still plenty of new players. The total player count every day hangs around the same level.
Thing is, Valve is aiming at the new people. They want new players to come in and buy a bunch of stuff in the Mann Co. store, rather than waiting for them to drop like we all did. They’re still riding the free-to-play train. This has a nasty side effect of alienating the core community, the people who are already here.
The paradoxical side of this is that the competitive side of TF2 is still somewhat strong. People who play TF2 at higher levels are very much still invested in the game, they have matches to win and medals to earn. If TF2 died tomorrow, ETF2L and UGC would probably carry on for a couple more seasons before fading away. ESEA would probably just go back to mining bitcoins from players and funding CS:GO tournies or something.
So what is going on? Simple. The average player is getting bored of TF2. The average sort of person who has all the achievement milestones for each class, who has most of the weapons in the game and a couple of nice loadouts for each class, maybe an unusual, who has been ranking up the occasional strange weapon and once in a blue moon goes off and plays some custom game modes. People like me and whoever is reading this article. There are other games out there. There are games that run better. There are games with more structured or more chaotic gameplay. There are games in which developers at least pretend to listen to what players want.
The middle class of TF2 starts to leave. But there’s no new middle class to replace them. No, they’re replaced by more newbies. This creates a skill vacuum and a wealth vacuum – you’re either incredibly skilled or incredibly item-rich or you’re just another weekend warrior, jumping on for half an hour or so then not playing again for another week.
While superficially this gives the illusion that TF2 is fine, it’s slowly stagnating everything. Games become unbalanced and predictable. No one learns anything new. People get bored and leave. Soon, they’ll stop coming back.
Eventually, everyone will be the 5th Sniper.