GDC: 'Players hate buying virtual currency'

GDC: 'Players hate buying virtual currency'
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

March 8th 2012 at 1:12PM

Team Fortress 2 revenues have increased 'by a factor of twelve' since going free-to-play, claims Valve programmer

Players “object strongly” to using real money to buy blocks of virtual currency, says Valve’s Joe Ludwig.

As reported by Gamasutra, the programmer said that the company created the Steam Wallet for Team Fortress 2 as customers hated having to overpay for an item worth a fraction of the cost of a block virtual currency.

"Players actually object pretty strongly to the idea that they'll have to take their money and buy a block of some virtual currency, when they only want to spend a fraction of that on the item they want," said Ludwig.

"Team Fortress 2 uses the Steam Wallet, which supports all currencies you can normally use on Steam, and lets you load it to the exact amount you want to use. It's now used by 22 games on Steam."

Ludwig was speaking about how Valve moved TF2 from a triple-A game with a cover price, to the free-to-play model, four years after the title’s initial release.

Since the move, the company claims to have increased revenues from the game by a factor of twelve.

Ludwig said one of the biggest challenges of integrating the virtual items model in a game many customers had already paid for was to get rid of the notion that paid for items would offer an unfair advantage.

"We dealt with the pay-to-win concern in a few ways. The first was to make items involve trade-offs, so there's no clear winner between two items,” he said.

“But by far the biggest thing we did to change this perception was to make all the items that change the game free. You can get them from item drops, or from the crafting system.

“It might be a little easier to buy them in the store, but you can get them without paying. The only items we sell exclusive to the store are cosmetic or items optional to gameplay."

Ludwig added that despite the huge risks of adopting the free-to-play model, the move had clearly paid off for the company, and said it was “just the beginning” for the model on Steam.

“It was risky, everything could have gone horribly wrong, but we felt it was worth the risk to try the new business model,” he said.

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