Popular free-to-play shooter safeguarding long-term survival of the US studio, says Robin Walker

Valve: Team Fortress 2 a testbed for new ideas

Team Fortress 2 is used by Valve as a testbed to explore new game design ideas and business models, the title’s lead designer has said.

Speaking to Gamasutra, Robin Walker said one of Valve’s goals with Team Fortress 2 was to explore new areas to help safeguard the company’s future.

He explained that testing out MMO features and making the game free-to-play allowed the studio to garner a wealth of data on new business models and genres, allowing them to make informed decisions in the future as the industry rapidly changes.

“Our secondary goal with Team Fortress 2 was to see if we could explore specific game and business design spaces that we felt were potentially a requirement for the long-term survival of our company," said Walker.

He added: “When the game shipped, MMOs were the dominant story in the industry, and one concern we had was that we might not be able to survive if we didn’t build one.

"We didn’t think we were ready to undertake that, but we did think that we might be able to build some pieces of one, learning enough so that if or when we did need to build one, we had less risk on the table.

"We decided that persistent item design and storage seemed like a reasonable amount of risk for us to bite off, and could be made to fit into TF2’s gameplay."

He went on to say that when Dota 2 was initially conceived, they were able to make a decision whether to make the game free-to-play based on data obtained from Team Fortress 2.

Walker added that the thought of having not used the multiplayer shooter as a testbed for new ideas and different business models was “terrifying” as it had informed so many of their decisions as a company.

"In the end, TF2 has been ended up being one of the most useful tools we’ve ever built to reduce risk in our company’s future," said Walker.

"It’s been really nice that it’s also brought in significant revenue throughout that time, but ultimately, the importance we place on understanding our business and our customers has made it totally worthwhile.

"The thought that if we hadn’t done it, we’d be here today without any data or experience with service based monetization strategies is quite terrifying."

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