Monday, March 12, 2012

I don't Trust Valve and Neither Should You

Sitting here and watching DOTA2 unravel more of itself every passing week truly is a exciting sight to behold, and while many enthusiasts and fans tend to watch with awe and admiration, my reaction is usually more in the likes of somebody with both hands on their face, fingers parted at the eyes- terrified of what could potentially ruin the game at any moment. So far, so good. But with the inevitability of the ever dreaded Microtransactions already well underway it's only a matter of time before Valve starts unveiling stuff they plan to sell.

It seems to me that most people aren't worried. Part of this sense of calm comes from the fact that, after all, "It's Valve!"- the company that can "do not wrong". But for me, somebody who know all too well what a Microtransaction store can do to an ARTS game in particular, the whole shebang leaves me with this terrifying sense of possible bullshit still to come. League of Legends, Bloodline Champions, Heroes of Newerth- all these games have incorporated Microtransactions to their games and in many ways made them worse in the process. Of course, I don't blame them, as the money is good and League of Legends has proven time and time again that it's simply the most Economical strategy for an ARTS game. Nevertheless, as a player of the game it's virtually clear (at least, to me) that Microtransactions can only make an ARTS game more bloated. HoN got Early Access, BLC got a weird rune system and a bunch of other weird garbage, LoL... well, I've never played LoL so let's just leave it at that.

All this sort of raises the question inside of myself- how badly could Valve fuck this up if they really wanted to? How much could they get away with? The answer to that in my own mind sort of scares me. People tell me that I shouldn't worry because Valve is a beloved company that would never do any harm, but to me that's ironic- I'm scared because valve is a "beloved company"- because anyone knows that "credibility" in the video game industry is just another form of currency waiting to be cashed in- the question is simply when?

Team Fortress 2 is, in many ways, the poster boy in all of this. The F2P model in TF2 has been very successful and there's no doubt among anyone's mind that DOTA2 will have a very similar model. While a lot of people seem to have embraced the TF2 Man Co. Store (I would be lying if I said I had not spent some money in there) I must confess I never really liked the whole thing. Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but the as "Trading Hats General" replaced "TF2 General" on the Forums I became increasingly annoyed at how much the actual gameplay was being replaced by the ever-present "hat market". As somebody who values Gameplay over gimmicky items, luck and lottery garbage, this whole change was a rather unwelcome one for me. What's more, the implemented "Crate System" that Valve introduced later was basically a cash grab- players were required to purchase keys in order to unbox Crates they got (you couldn't do anything else with them) and proved to be the only way to get Unusual Hats (aside from trading, but nobody would trade you an Unusual Hat for anything less than another Unusual Hat). Stuff got so out of hand that people began making TF2 items and "Hat Pricing Lists" to put value on the things. Sometime around the day I was reading an Excel spreadsheet online trying to figure out how much my virtual Fedora was worth I had to stop what I was doing and wonder what I was doing with my life.

It feels like Microtransactions ruin everything they touch- and while a lot of people seem to put it passed Valve to ruin DOTA2 with them, I don't, and to be honest, neither should you. A lot of players don't consider TF2 "ruined" by the in-game store, but I see TF2 as a shell of its former glory. The new weapons are fun, but often blatantly overpowered (stuff like the Pomson) and purposely difficult to craft in order to entice players to buy it in the store instead. Many players rationalize a lot of the stuff from TF2 with the idea that "it's only cosmetic" and that most of the stuff you have to spend money on to get doesn't influence gameplay. But really, I don't buy it. Even if this were true, the entire cosmetics "market" creates such a strain on the Community by shifting the focus from gameplay to meta-gameplay (people idling TF2 for hats instead of actually playing the game). But the worst part is it's not even completely true. Valve likes to walk a fine line of what could be considered "pay for power", a while back they introduced a hat for the Sniper that could make him immune to headshots when worn in combination with other items, making the hat very valuable and would basically have to be purchased in the store.

I suppose I just don't really trust Valve (any more than I trust any other video game company) to make Microtransactions not-obnoxious. Even if they continue to walk their fine line of "not pay-4-power" then I'm still not really going to be satisfied. I feel like DOTA2 is a competitive game that, much like HoN, shouldn't be tampered with. HoN already "blew it" by limiting the Hero pool for new players (which makes countering some Heroes difficult if you don't have the Hero you need unlocked), something that DOTA2 players like to critique. But really, DOTA2 players who make fun of HoN because of the cash shop are in for a rude awakening- the same rubbish is coming to DOTA2 in some form or another. So, while I guess I do respect Valve more than other game companies, I wouldn't put it passed them to clog up the game with a bunch of cosmetic garbage that will get in the way of features and hero development (looking at you, HoN). I don't want to see every character in DOTA2 with alternate costumes, I don't want to see "items" that I can equip my character with to look "cooler", I don't want different looking versions of the same spells- I want a competitive consistency, something that, apparently, is on the way out.