The TF2 Troubles

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Last week (presuming you hold to the somewhat insane view that Sunday is the beginning of the week, not the end), the new Team Fortress 2 update was released. Initially anticipated by large numbers of players hoping for a bit of fresh air in their favourite team-based multiplayer game, it was not till the next day that the majority discovered the true horrors that lie within the Sniper vs Spy update…

Or that’s what it must sound like, to the outside observer, listening to most people talk about it. If you have TF2, it’s fairly likely that you’ll have heard about the problems with the new update, specifically the one about the new system Valve has created for unlockables in the game. I’ll give a brief description for anyone that has missed it. Valve have, with previous updates, released unlockables in such a way that for a player to access the new weapon/item, they would have to complete a certain number of achievements in the game first. While this sounds fair, many people were desperate enough to get the new weapons that they decided to remove the fun from the game by specifically ‘farming’ the achievements either by ignoring what the team were trying to do in favour of just doing specific actions to unlock the achievements, or going to the extent of visiting special ‘achievement servers’, where everyone on them were just grinding away at the game.

In any case, Valve were not exactly in favour of this approach, so for this update they looked for a different way to present the players with their new goodies. In the end, they came up with a random drop system, where players would be awarded a random unlockable weapon after playing for a reasonable amount of time. In theory, this was all well and good – people could get the new weapons without having to reduce their enjoyment of the game, and are rewarded for playing the game no matter how good they are. There were, however, a number of problems with this approach.

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Firstly, the random nature of the drops meant that players hoping for a new Spy or Sniper unlock would be presented with a Medic unlock from the very first update. Whereas with the old system you could tell how close you were to getting what weapon, the new system leaves it entirely up to chance. While this might not seem like a huge problem (they’re still being rewarded, after all), quite a few people are miffed that they can’t start playing with the new items Valve have been showing off over the pre-update days. It’s a fair point – one of the major draws of players in the days after a new update is the promise of these new unlocks being available, so it must be disappointing to get excitedly into a game waiting for the first unlock to drop, only to be presented with the Scout’s Sandman rather than the Spy’s shiny looking Dead Ringer.

The second, more pressing problem was that many players were not seeing many unlocks thrown their way at all, while they watched other players on their server gaining new weapon after new weapon. While Valve are still vague on how exactly the system works, however I have a theory…

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Basically, as far as I can tell, the system is based on your previous playing habits. As a result (and, I stress, in theory) those people who generally play a lot of TF2 will unlock the new items at the same rate as those who play relatively little. Put another way, while those people who play less TF2 will earn more unlocks per hour, they play less hours and so the distribution should be level between them and the more regular players. However, the problem comes from this new update meaning that those players who regularly play little TF2 are suddenly playing a lot, and therefore earning new weapons left, right and centre, because the system sees them playing more than usual, but rewards them the same. This, while the regular players are only playing slightly more than normal because they play a lot anyway, means that the new/returning players are being rewarded more than others.

It’s definitely a problem for those people who started playing again for the new unlocks, but Valve are currently looking at tweaking the system further, so there should be improvements in the near future. However, I don’t think Valve should go back to relying on the achievements system. This is a tentative step in the right direction, it just needs a bit of fixing here and there.

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