SteamDevDays: Valve shares TF2 and DOTA2 economic insights

SteamDevDays: Valve shares TF2 and DOTA2 economic insights
Seth Tipps

By Seth Tipps

January 17th 2014 at 9:06AM

Handing content creation to players keeps them happy, and Valve rich

Valve employees gave a talk about the in-game economies of Defense of the Ancients 2 and Team Fortress 2 at today's Steam Developer Days conference in Seattle, revealing some startling metrics to back up their philosophy of handing content creation over to consumers.

Players of TF2 have had the ability to create, trade, and sell in-game items for some time now, and recently Valve released a set of tools that will help customers modify content for DOTA2.

This has always been interesting from the outside, and it was obvious that Valve was raking in some serious cash, but conference slides and quotes leaked over Twitter by attending developers at the media-free event showed how it looks from inside Valve.

In short, it looks like happy customers, and a whole lot of money.

A pair of slides posted by Ukranian developer Sergey Galyonkin claimed that 90 per cent of all TF2 items are made by players, and that the rate of new user-created content is accelerating rapidly.

In 2010 Valve payed nearly $600,000 to 62 creators who made a total of 102 items. In 2013 that total had risen to more than 2,300 items from 661 creators, who took home over $10 million in payouts.

Considering that the content creators don't get most of the proceeds from their sale, Valve is certainly raking it in thanks to sales from consumer-created items, though it should be noted that the company splits a portion of its earnings determined by the user with tool manufacturers.

“User generated content is a vision of the game not restricted by the developers resources,” said Tomas Rawlings of Auroch Digital, evidently quoting a Valve employee.

Rawlings was also illuminating when it came to how the addition of DOTA2 to the Valve modder ecosystem affected sales.

“When DOTA2 workshop launched, it didn't eat into models on Team Fortress 2 overall, it increased the size of mod community,” he said.

The Steam Database reports that Valve sold 484,768 'compendiums' – which allowed customers to try and guess winners, vote on awards for players, and compile fantasy teams for the DOTA2 International Tournament – which added $1.2 million to the tournament prize pool.

That means Valve took away about $3.6 million from compendium sales alone.

How can developers emulate this success? Valve offered a slide (pictured above) that summarized their recipe nicely: focus on persistent customer value, create positive externalities, make everything tradable, distribute value randomly, and let users make value for each other.