Team Fortress 2 is now free to play forever

"Meet the Medic" short that confirms F2P:

Triple-A becomes free-to-play, but Valve may not push the model to other blockbusters

Valve has once again turned to Team Fortress 2 as the studio’s outlet for experimentation, this time with a daring move to make the triple-A game entirely free to play.

The Orange Box game has undergone a radical transformation since its 2007 release; with more than 200 updates made to the PC edition. But today’s patch is billed as the most daring yet, with PC and Mac customers given the 'full experience' without ever needing to pay anything at all.

And in an exclusive interview with Develop – now live – Valve’s Robin Walker assured that Team Fortress 2 would only be monetised by microtransaction payments.

No advertising model will be pursued, Walker said. No premium subscription model will be used. No cynical “pay-to-win” options will be implemented, he assured.

In-game items will now be the only way Valve gets any money from Team Fortress 2. But again, Walker assured that the number of gratis in-game items – which are released on a daily basis – would not dry up.

“We've been toying with the idea of making Team Fortress free-to-play ever since the Mann-conomy update [in September 2010],” Walker said.

“The data we got back from that update leads us to believe that TF2 would be more successful as a completely free product.”


However, Walker said there was no data yet to suggest that the free-to-play model would be appropriate for other Valve games.

"It seems dangerous to assume that [free-to-play would work] for all our products," he said.

The Washington-based studio, freed from the contraints of retail, has the liberty to experiment with its digital products and its avid Steam community – something that would not be possible to implement across brick and mortar game stores.

“Over the years we've done a bunch of price experimentations with Team Fortress 2,” Walker said, “going all the way down to $2.49 in our random one-hour Halloween sales.
“The more we've experimented, the more we've learned there are fundamentally different kinds of customers, each with their own way of valuing the product.”

He said making a triple-A game completely free to play would teach the studio much more about its customers.

"We'll know a heck of a lot more in a couple of months, and that's the kind of thing that gets us excited around the office," he said.

The wider hope is that Team Fortress 2 going free will help allure the customers that aren’t willing to pay a flat fee for the game – a move that ties in well with Valve’s “games as a service” model.

That well-referenced credo stresses the importance of deeply engaging with a gaming community; to learn everything about the customer and adapt to their tastes and budget.
“We’re always improving on the relationship we have with our customers, and we’re willing to run experiments if we think it will help us learn how to do that better,” Walker said.
He added that a key motivation for making Team Fortress 2 free is the desire to get as many people as possible playing online.

“It's a belief of ours that in multiplayer games it's generally true that the more people playing the game, the higher value the game has for each individual customer.

“The more players, the more available servers in your area, the wider variety of other players you'll find, the greater the opportunity for new experiences, and so on.”

How did the idea of making Team Fortress 2 free-to-play come around?

We've been toying with the idea ever since the Mann-conomy update, where we added the in-game Team Fortress 2 store.

Over the years we've done a bunch of price experimentations with the game, going all the way down to $2.49 in our random one-hour Halloween sales.

The more we've experimented, the more we've learned there are fundamentally different kinds of customers, each with their own way of valuing the product.

Now that we're shipping it, it feels like a fairly straightforward next step along the "Games as Services" path we've been walking down for a while now.
Is the wider F2P strategy to get more people to install Steam?

It's another goal, yes. But the main connection between this and Steam is the Steam Wallet, which is Steam's microtransaction system that we're using in TF2.

There are now several other free-to-play games on Steam all using the Steam Wallet too, which creates a nice ecosystem for all of us developers.

Any player who buys something in TF2's store will then be familiar with the purchasing process used in all these other games, and that removes one of the biggest barriers to entry for them buying something in those other games, and vice versa.
Speaking of the community, how do you feel they will react to the change - and to the free-to-play newcomers?

One of the neat things about being live is that we often get to see what customers think of something before we do it.

When we did the Mann-conomy we looked around a lot to see what issues people had with microtransactions, and tried to design a system that didn't have those issues - so we don't have a virtual currency, we let you fund your wallet with exactly the amount you want to spend, and we don't force players to "pay-to-win".

For free-to-play we looked for two kinds of feedback: what customers issues were with free-to-play games, and what fears our existing customers had with the idea of TF2 becoming free.

The primary concerns of our existing customers were that the game would be overrun with cheaters and griefers, and that we might start charging our existing customers for ongoing use of the product.

We're not doing any kind of subscription, nor are we taking any features away, so the second one is easy.

For the first, we're as concerned about cheaters and griefers as they are, so we've spent a bunch of time trying to figure out all the ways that griefers can hurt other player's experiences.

It's a tricky problem, because any feature that can be used for griefing might also be the feature that convinces new players that the game is worth their time.

For example, in-game voice chat can be a tool for evil, but it can also be an awesome tool for making new friends.

We're never sure that a decision we make without data will be a good one, so what we've chosen to do is ship with these kinds of features initially available to free customers, but with a system where we can them off from the backend.

So if we see that one of these features is turning out to be a net negative, we'll be able to easily remove it from free customers.


Dec 18, 2008
I kind of now feel cheated for buying The Orange Box. Way to go Valve.


Expansive Ellipses
Staff Member
May 30, 2004
Will be interesting to look at before/after TF2 usage statistics. And the change in revenue, if Valve talks about it at a later date.


Jan 12, 2009
Mama Robotnik said:
Valve, I don't understand what we've done to deserve you.
Me either. They're far too nice to their consumers to be an actual real game company.

I buy all their games, and boy do I want to visit them and give them all a big hug


Bjergsen is the greatest midlane in the world
Dec 22, 2007
This is horrible news. Now there is no way to stop hackers.

Goon Boon

Sep 17, 2008
I'm predicting it, TF2 will go free to play to coincide with the steam free to play promotions, the registry for a free to play tf2, and Meet the medic.

Also I need refines. Lots and Lots of refines.



Bjergsen is the greatest midlane in the world
Dec 22, 2007
Chavelo said:
Currently, price serves as a barrier to stopping hackers. After they are banned from a server they have to buy the game again on a new account to circumvent the ban. Now there is no barrier.


Feb 5, 2008
give me a coupon for a free steam games please

also, time to make 50 accounts and idle them


Mar 21, 2011
Really awesome that more folks are going to get a chance to play it, but I can't help but feel that selfish "but I bought it!!!!" sting that I've felt from so many MMOs.


Aug 29, 2009
Montevideo, Uruguay
the only real bad thing about this is that the south american community is small and the few servers there are will be filled for weeks :(

crimsonheadGCN said:
That isn't good enough. Someone needs to start up a Steam Community group to boycott Steam and Team Fortress 2.

That is totally going to happen man, just wait


Aug 2, 2008
I guess free accounts won't be able to trade? If they can, it will be mining paradise. Although I suppose that will make most hats worthless, so it's not all bad.

Mama Robotnik

Apr 11, 2008
There was some disappointment in the Steam thread earlier, because Valve didn't start their Steam summer sale today.

Now we know why, they were making final preperations to give one of their most popular, most praised and most maintained blockbuster games to every person on the planet as a free gift.

Gabe, I hearby canonize you as a Saint of Gaming.


Blinded by the luminous glory that is David Bowie's physical manifestation.
Feb 14, 2009

Dr. Kirby (IIRC) calling it.

Best news today. Lets me earn Achievements for free to 1:1 my X-box 360 TF2 achievements along with the free Portal.

Now give me Half Life 2, Episode 1, and Episode 2 with achievements for free Valve and I'll have the Orange Box for PC for free.


Mar 30, 2005
I can't believe there's still people that don't own TF2. It's average price over the last year has been what, a couple bucks?