The Game Boy: War, Valve Knows What It's Good For

Nathan Grayson

Gotta say, it’s a bit ironic that a blood-soaked week of virtual warfare – during which, more than twelve million casualties met their abrupt, though most assuredly excruciating ends – is the perfect template for videogame immortality. But hey, when happenstance writes my jokes for me, who am I to complain? And so it is with Valve’s Team Fortress 2.

As you’re probably already aware, last week saw Valve launch its latest update for the now two year-old Team Fortress 2. Which, in videogame years, roughly equates to dead. And a half. At the very least, you’d expect the public eye – easily distracted as it is -- to have wandered elsewhere by now, leaving Valve’s wacky shooter to the vultures and tumbleweeds of the world. But it hasn’t. War, as with each of TF2’s other updates, grabbed all kinds of attention – even as newer games like Modern Warfare 2 watched jealously from the outside.

So, why hasn’t interest in Team Fortress 2 faded over the years? Well, I can’t uncover the entire recipe for Valve’s incredibly intricate immortality potion, but I can outline one of its major ingredients: presentation. When Valve gives TF2 a tune-up, it does so with style. While other developers are content to toss their DLC out into the cold, harsh world with little more than a press release to keep it warm, Valve rolls out the proverbial red carpet with comics, videos, week-long Advent Calendar-style reveals, and – most recently – in-game competitions.

The result? People notice. And in a news scene where top blogs’ biggest selling points involve “X-gazillion number of updates per day,” that’s saying something. In response to this trend, Valve has mastered the art of the drip-feed. One day, a new item, the next day, a new level, etc. Drip, drop, drip, drop. Along with comics, videos, and the like, then, Valve’s TF2 updates aren’t simply garden variety DLC; they’re bonafied events . And when people see all this fervor and excitement – partially manufactured though it may be -- surrounding a single game, how can they not get a little curious? Only a few clicks later, they’re giving the game a try.

This is – at least, in part -- how Team Fortress 2 has managed to keep the notoriously attention-deficient gaming world locked in for so long. And Valve’s not the only successful developer to make use of this method, either. You’ve almost certainly heard of – and probably played – a little game by the name of “World of Warcraft.” Blizzard, too, gets people talking about its updates with a slow drip of in-game events, cinematic trailers, and things of the like. Is that the only reason Blizzard’s opus is five years-old , yet – improbably enough -- 11.5 million players strong? Of course not. But there’s a trend here, and it’s well worth noting.

Here's hoping more developers decide to take a page from Valve's book and go the extra mile with their DLC. Keeping a game alive is a tricky balancing act, and these days, what developers do outside the game matters just as much as what goes on inside it.

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