Taking a leaf out of the book of a variety of MMO developers, Valve have stealthily added something to Team Fortress 2, alongside the other announced features that came with the Uber Update.
For a while now the game has had “Unusual” hats available. Obtainable only through opening mysterious crates – using a key that costs $2.49 – these Unusual hats are blessed with cosmetic effects, such as confetti falling from the brim, a swirling holographic Team Fortress logo or unearthly glows in a variety of colours, among many other neat effects.
But the chances of finding one of those Unusual hats has always been quite low, with the chance of a regular version of a hat not being much better. Couple that with a general reluctance of players to spend even more money on a game they’ve already paid for and the mysterious crates are not as enticing as they once were.
And so now mysterious crates can be unlocked to reveal… “Strange” Weapons.
Fortunately these aren’t dolled up with particle effects, as are their Unusual Hat cousins.
Instead, the “Strange” version of any given weapon looks and performs identically to the regular version but with the addition of a Kill Counter in the item information. Each time you kill an enemy player with that weapon the counter will increment by one. As the count reaches certain predetermined numbers the weapon will update its name.
So you may start out with a “Strange Shotgun” and once you’ve recorded 10 kills with the gun it will update to a “Unremarkable Shotgun”. Score 25 kills in total and it will become a “Scarcely Lethal Shotgun” and so on up the ranks.
It’s a completely cosmetic change – the effectiveness of the weapon never changes, nor do any bonuses or maluses attached to the weapon. But as you attain each milestone with a weapon it will announce the update to the entire server. Which is a bit of extra fun.
The benefits here for Valve are fairly obvious – people will need to buy keys to unlock the crates to get more base level Strange Weapons. More keys sold means more money for Valve!
And by having the items announce their milestones on the server they naturally spark conversations between players wondering how they, too, can have an item like that. Increasing the chance people will go ahead and buy a key.
The players of Team Fortress 2 benefit from this a little less obviously. Assuming you discount the “cool factor” of a fun new mechanic in the game.
First and foremost, people are going to have a reason to use weapons they may not ordinarily choose. The first Strange Weapon I found was a Soldier’s “Direct Hit” rocket launcher, my least favourite of his weapons because I am simply terrible at using it.
But because I could “level up” that launcher, I was giving it another chance. And I even found myself coming to like it… from time to time.
People who do not ordinarily play Scout might choose to give it a shot when they unlock a crate and find a Strange Scattergun inside, or someone might swap to Pyro when the team needs one, just so they can try that Strange Backburner they just uncrated.
Someone might use the Heavy’s Brass Beast for a reason other than not knowing any better.
Secondly, and a little less obviously, if Valve sell more items, be they keys or hats or anything else, Valve are obviously going to be motivated to create more new items for players to collect and kill each other with.
And it’s that new stream of revenue from an old game that has made things like the Uber Update possible. Very few FPS titles have such a strong following this long after initial release and Valve’s continued support has played a large part in Team Fortress 2’s continued success.
So when you see someone’s Strange Weapon update come up on the screen you can see it as “another way Valve is ruining the game” or even “another cash grab by Valve” but in the end the reason you’re still playing the game is because Valve have continued to support it so well.
So just shut up and play the game. It’s supposed to be fun, remember? :-)