There goes the neighborhood: Team Fortress 2 grapples with free players

An influx of new players who haven't paid their own way are unsettling longtime players of Team Fortress 2, an artsy game with a cult following.


Published Jul 1, 2011   Updated Jun 3, 2021, 4:09 am CDT

For years, players of Team Fortress 2, a critically acclaimed video game known for its Norman Rockwell-meets-comic-books style and fair game play, have enjoyed the hipster-like snobbery that comes from indulging in a lesser-known video game.

But now players have to contend with new foes not on the R.E.D. or B.L.U. teams: Laggy servers, trolls, griefers and newbs are coming to TF2, upsetting the game’s social dynamics.

On June 23, Valve, the game’s publisher announced that Team Fortress 2 would be free to play; it had previously charged $5 to $10. Valve will make money off Team Fortress 2 exclusively  through their Mann Co store, where TF2 players can buy hats and other items to customize their characters.

Following Valve’s announcement, gamers downloaded Team Fortress 2 en masse, effectively dethroning Counter-Strike as the most played game on Steam, a popular digital-distribution service. TF2 has held a dedicated user base for the past 5 years, and while the majority of them view going free as a good move for Valve, the influx of new players has created some problems.

“Obviously more players = more fun for everyone that plays, and Valve gets more money through their in game store, and with their upcoming games they can really use the free marketing – especially with Half Life 3 and Dota 2,” explained TF2 player Like a Whisper in a Steam chat with the Daily Dot.

Smurfette, a member of The Elders, a gaming community dedicated to TF2 and other games, also agrees that free is good for Valve as a whole as it draws in new customers. She hasn’t noticed an upswing in griefing yet—a griefer is a player who logs on to a game to cause trouble by killing players’ characters or otherwise disrupting game play.

“They all seem to be willing to learn,” said Smurfette. “And if they have questions, they ask. I think most gamers who are new to this game are willing to take the constructive criticism to heart and learn from it. Some of our regulars have expressed they feel it is a bad thing for them, to have made this free simply for the fact that you should have to pay and support the game providers.”

The influx of players has affected gameplay in other ways on The Elders servers, though.

“The amount of people who have been playing lately is really affecting our lag,” or the responsiveness of the game servers. “The server stays full a lot more, which is great for our community as it brings people in, but we will definitely have to make adjustments to our server to handle the amount of people on it.”

The Elders is considering switching server providers or raising dues, Smurfette added.

Other servers have taken to banning or kicking out the new free players to prevent lag, according to MTV.

TF2 player Hunter Class said he’s torn over the free-to-play initiative. He’s happy because “I can show it to broke friends and now they can play too” but on the other hand, he too is pissed off because he “paid good money for it” in 2009. Hunter Class also enjoys “beatin’ da nubs,” or new players, but says “griefin’ suxorz”.

30-year-old gamer Grasshopper says he hasn’t played TF2 since it went free, citing “cheaters” and “griefers” as reasons, as well as “12-year-old mic spam,” where players shout inappropriate things into the game’s audio communication channel, and “aimbots” which allow players to hit the target every time.

“Anyone not willing to buy the game but willing to buy a $7 hat from dlc is not a gamer,” said Grasshopper, who has gone back to playing World of Warcraft. A video by YouTuber Freddie Wong captures some of his sentiments towards what’s happened:

The improbably aliased player “carpet #we b rollin str8 thru,” a two-and-a-half-year veteran of TF2, said through Steam chat that it’s not the new players, it’s “the terrible old players that piss me off.”

So there you have it: Everyone in TF2 is annoyed with someone else on TF2, whether it’s the newcomers, the oldtimers, or the people they play with all the time. And if that’s not proof that TF2 is a vibrant community, we’re not sure what is.

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*First Published: Jul 1, 2011, 11:06 am CDT