Team Fortress 2 became a free-to-play game on June 23, 2011. This shifted the 2007 multiplayer shooter to a model supported entirely by optional in-game microtransactions.
The History of TF2‘s Pricing
Let‘s start at the beginning – when TF2 first launched as part of The Orange Box in October 2007.
Back then, the only way to get TF2 was to buy The Orange Box bundle for $49.99. That may sound steep by today‘s standards, but it was the normal full retail price for PC games at the time.
Over the next few years, TF2 saw some significant price drops:
- April 2008 – $29.99 USD
- March 2009 – $19.99 USD
- September 2010 – $9.99 USD
The lowering base price made TF2 more accessible. But it was still not a free game prior to 2011.
There were a few promotional periods where TF2 could be played for free temporarily, such as free weekend events. But the game always reverted back to being paid afterwards.
It wasn‘t until June 23, 2011 that TF2 finally went permanently free-to-play. A full decade after launch, TF2 still remains a completely free game today.
TF2 By the Numbers
To understand TF2‘s popularity, let‘s look at some key statistics:
- 119,114 – All-time peak player count reached in December 2019
- 1+ million – New accounts created within 1 week of going free-to-play
- $139+ million – Revenue from TF2 in 2012, one year after going F2P
- 1 billion – Total hours played by July 2015, 4 years after going free
- 60,000+ – Approximate current monthly active players as of late 2021
These numbers demonstrate the massive growth TF2 enjoyed after removing the paywall. The game was finding success with paid updates. But dropping the base price entirely unlocked the floodgates.
Monthly active players remain strong ten years later, which is rare for an online shooter of this age.
The Benefits of Free-to-Play
So why did Valve make the call to embrace a free-to-play model?
There were likely a few key factors:
- Attract more players by eliminating the paywall
- Drive higher engagement with existing players
- Monetize through microtransactions
- Reduce piracy
- Keep older game relevant and evergreen
Based on TF2‘s player counts and revenue, Valve‘s gamble clearly paid off.
Let‘s explore why free-to-play turned out to be so beneficial for TF2 specifically:
Bigger Player Base
By removing the mandatory purchase, TF2 opened the floodgates to millions of new players who might have been hesitant to try a paid shooter. The game became much more accessible to a mainstream audience.
Microtransactions gave TF2 a long tail of monetization funded by a small portion of players. This provided ongoing incentive for Valve to keep updating the game rather than focus resources on a risky sequel.
Adding multiplayer anti-cheat deterred pirates from continuing to play illegitimate copies online for free. Legitimate free access removed the need for piracy.
Transitioning to a service model with seasonal events and economy kept TF2 feeling fresh and relevant many years after launch. This increased lifespan is rare for multiplayer shooters.
Free-to-play was a perfect fit for TF2. The game likely would have faded away much quicker as a paid-only title.
The Evolution of Microtransactions
Let‘s explore how Valve monetized TF2 before and after going free-to-play:
For the first few years, TF2 releases major Class Updates adding weapons and maps. These required purchase to access new content.
The Mann-Conomy Update in 2010 added purely cosmetic items made by the community. Players could purchase them directly from the in-game store.
Supply Crate System
Crates containing random cosmetic items also appeared in 2010. Players had to purchase keys to unlock them, encouraging repeat purchases.
Trading and Marketplace
2011 saw the introduction of trading between players and selling items on the Steam Marketplace. A cut went to developers and community item creators.
This evolution shows Valve experimenting with various models even before going completely free. The mix of direct purchases, limited-time content, trading, and randomized crates created an addictive TF2 economy.
The Rise of Loot Boxes
While not the absolute originator, TF2‘s crate system helped kickstart the popularity of loot boxes across the industry.
Some key moments in the rise of loot boxes:
- 2010 – TF2 introduces Supply Crates with randomized contents
- 2012 – FIFA Ultimate Team packs become a massive money maker
- 2017 – Overwatch crates and other games spur controversy
- 2018 – Some countries start banning certain loot box practices
TF2 demonstrated that even full-price games could successfully adopt loot box mechanics. This undoubtedly helped influence other premium titles embracing similar models.
However, unfettered loot boxes eventually faced backlash, and the model has shifted towards battle passes and direct purchases.
The Future of TF2
Looking ahead, what might the future hold for TF2 after more than 15 years? Let‘s speculate:
- It seems unlikely TF2 itself will return to being a paid game. The entire economy is built around free access and microtransactions.
- However, a hypothetical TF3 sequel could potentially launch as a new paid title similar to the original.
- Valve may slow down major content updates to TF2, but the game seems set to retain a large active player base.
- Shift more development focus to Steam Deck compatibility and updating TF2 for modern hardware.
- Pivot to community creators doing more of the legwork in keeping the game fresh.
Given Valve‘s aversion to making "3" games, TF2 may just slowly evolve over time rather than getting replaced. The free-to-play model ensures continued support either way.
Let me know if you have any other TF2 questions! I‘m always happy to chat more about one of my favorite games.