[Team Fortress 2 is considered by many, to be one of the best multiplayer games around. With the recent announcement of it moving to a F2P format will further cement that. However, I find myself drifting away from it and I think I know why.]
Team Fortress 2 is one of Valve's banner titles and is still going strong since 2007. With that said, I can’t play it anymore and no matter how many hats, guns, replay editor, in game store and tutorials will keep me playing. I started playing TF2 when the Heavy update was released in 2008 and played it consistently until Left 4 Dead was released.
Since then my time spent has declined gradually until this point where I'm giving it up. Originally, I thought I was the only one who felt that way, however the more people I've spoken to the more I hear about long time fans quitting the game as well.
As I thought about Team Fortress 2 and compared it to other multi-player games I've played, it dawned on me as to what the problem was and who to blame for it. Team Fortress 2 is a victim of being too open to customization and the influence of a Meta game, and the blame is split between Valve and you, the fans.
I know that many fans are into the whole Meta game of getting items, but for me the game-play has to hook me first. My problem is that while Valve has gone to great lengths to improve the Meta-game but have done nothing to fix a problem that they let get out of control. The actual game-play has devolved into nothing but imbalanced death matches and the inclusion of a meta-game has further pushed this over the edge.
When Team Fortress 2 was first released, maps were supposed to be played with a fix number of players. The primary reason was to keep the game from being imbalanced. The map design falls apart when you have a huge # of players. Just about every map has bottlenecks or one way areas where all it takes is a few extra demo men or engineer turrets and the area becomes a death trap. When that happens the only options are to get multiple medics with uber-charges at the same time or wait for time to expire.
To give players more freedom with their options, Valve allowed people to set up their own servers and to alter settings at their leisure. Unfortunately as it turns out, gamers weren't interested in balance. The majority of the servers available have re-spawn timers set very low and usually have a twenty plus player limit. This kills any kind of team strategy and devolves matches into meat grinders at bottlenecks. With the reduce spawn timers even if one team makes any head way, the other team will be back in full force in seconds.
Sadly Valve has made this problem worse with the inclusion of item drops. Valve designed the system to work on time spent playing ,which at first led to the idling problem which was soon corrected. The issue is that this kind of system rewards the wrong type of play. Instead of rewarding players who help their team or work together, it rewards that mindless game-play that I didn't like before. Every game I join amounts to me running to one area, getting killed by seven rockets and six grenades and then replaying it three seconds later.
When items were originally introduced, they were a reward for getting so many achievements for a specific class. I agree with Valve that limiting items to achievements only was not a good idea. However with so much design spent on the Meta-game, nothing was done to make sure that it integrates well with the actual gameplay. Currently with crafting, dueling, recipe formulas and the in-game store, the meta-game has become more complex then TF2's actual gameplay.
Putting on my designer's hat for a minute, here are the changes that I would implement. First, I would either remove the ability for servers to alter spawn timers and player limits or only allow items to drop on servers using the default settings for these. Second, I would keep the same item drop system in place but add the following additions. The team that wins the current round of play will have a positive modifier to their drop chance rate. On the other team the top three players for that round will also receive a modifier but smaller then for the winning team. Lastly on multi-map games, if a team wins every round they will automatically be rewarded with a random item.
These changes, while still giving some rewards to the people who just want to death match all day long will reward people for contributing and being a team player. The actual game-play should come first and not the Meta-game, as the former is supposed to hook players and the latter should keep them around. The more people I've spoken to, I hear the same story of how their departure from TF 2 began with the introduction of items.
There is a reason why in Left 4 Dead that you don't see many servers that allow more survivors or special infected at a time, because the maps are not balanced for any less, or any more players. Why Valve has let it get out of hand with Team Fortress 2 is beyond me. In the past, I thought how cool it would be if Left 4 Dead had a similar Meta-game style as Team Fortress 2, but now I wonder if that would ruin Left 4 Dead for everyone.
The concept of Team Fortress 2's Meta-game looks good on paper, but when it comes down to it, a good Meta-game should be secondary to the actual game-play. If the designers mess up, we'll have a situation where the Meta-game takes precedence over playing the game when it should be used to supplement the gameplay.