Valve has gone and done it again. In this past Wednesday’s Steam update, Valve made it possible to trade in-game Team Fortress 2 items for gifted and extra copies of games. The full user agreement can be found here. The TF2 blog post detailing this update suggests other in-game items from other games will be available to trade down the road. Maybe one day we’ll be able to trade TF2 items for Portal 2 items. But for now, we’ll just have to make due with what we got now. This is an ingenious move by Valve; they have effectively turned Steam games into another form of currency, and since their cut of each transaction is substantial, Valve will be pulling in the big bucks. This is kind of similar to World of Warcraft gold farmers, who make money by selling digital gold (which is against Blizzard’s policy, but it is still done anyways, especially in China). Blizzard has already introduced the Diablo III auction house in order to take back control of the gold farming market.
However, buying a sword or shield is entirely different then buying a game for a digital hat. If I buy a $50 game and trade it for a hat, then is the hat worth $50 too? Good question. The TF2 community has already made the in-game item business very lucrative for Valve; I’ve seen people throw down hundreds of dollars for items in that game. No doubt these TF2 fanatics will be willing to pay money for extra games to acquire rare hats. To illustrate my point, during a recent Killing Floor playthrough, a fellow player inquired if any of us had the TF2 Foster mask and tie. I did have the items in question, and he quickly offered a large set of games just for those items. I passed on the opportunity, but this goes to show that players are already taking advantage of this new trading system.
Personally, I have no problem with this. As I mentioned earlier, this is ingenious. Although I would never buy (or buy a game to trade for) a digital hat or any item purely for aesthetics, I know others who would (just look at the above example). People can complain that Valve is simply after money. And you know what, they probably are. It’s a business. The difference between this move and the one made by Capcom as detailed in my last article, is that we’re not missing out on essential content or being cheated out of stuff that was promised. It’s an honest (albeit silly) money-making tactic. Ultimately, this is about trading, not buying content. And besides, who can fault Valve after they made TF2 free? Although on a side note, I wouldn’t be surprised if the TF2 free-to-play move came because of the substantial gains they’ve made from the in-game economy, much like how many free-to-play MMO’s nowadays make money off micro transactions.
I wanted to touch on something else real quick before we conclude today. You may notice that Valve tends to give away TF2 promotional items if you purchase a game through Steam. The Foster mask and tie for example, were given away if you purchased Killing Floor (or already had it) during a special period of time. I do have to say that receiving a TF2 hat or in-game item by purchasing a game through Steam is a bonus. I would never, as I said, buy a hat on its own; I would also never buy a game for a hat. But to receive a hat for buying a game that you want or that is interesting is pretty cool (note: these items are available in the TF2 in-game store, but they are not always on hand). This helps both Valve and the developer of the purchased game. Many fanatics will buy the game just for the hat; Valve profits and the developer profits. Also, Steam tends to spam you when promotions are going on; although it can get annoying, this at least provides exposure for the games and can expose gamers to titles they never heard of.
For example, the game From Dust was a title I vaguely heard of while browsing through various gaming sites. It has already been released on the Xbox Live Arcade, but after Steam spammed me with a promotional message, I decided to look into the game moar and was very interested as a result. I made the purchase and as a bonus, will receive a nice little Shaman mask for the Demoman (promotion ends on August 17th, the release date). Last weekend I also purchased Fallout: New Vegas. It was 50% off, so I got it at $10. Very nice. And as a bonus, I got a Pip-Boy for the Engineer, which is very sweet to say the least. These are but a few examples of good promotions. After reading through this article, I hope you realize that Valve isn’t just another greedy company; if anything, they come up with creative marketing schemes and know how to please their fanbase moar than a majority of other developers (*cough*Capcom*cough*). Now if only they can tell us something about Half-Life Episode 3. Until next time people…