Analyzing Team Fortress 2’s Longevity

by in General | Feb, 20th 2019

Even though eleven whole years have passed since its release, Team Fortress 2 is still vastly more popular than many of its successors. How can we explain Team Fortress 2’s longevity? What could be the reason why so many people stuck around and still play the game on a daily basis even after so many years?

We all have a game or two that we’ve played in our lives that has — in one way or another — left a lasting mark. These games might have taught us something new, they might have defined a certain part of our lives, or they could have given us the strength to go through some hard times. In my case, Team Fortress 2 made me want to buy a computer. It might sound superficial and negligible, but I’ve been a console gamer throughout my entire life, and yet here I was, fully realizing that the best and most optimal way to play the game was using a keyboard and mouse.

To me, Team Fortress 2 is intertwined with some of the best years of my life. There hasn’t been a game since that has managed to engage me at that level. Some came close, but none of them had the allure and originality that Team Fortress 2 brought to the table.

Team Fortress 2 Is Honest

The headline above is pretty banal, but bear with me. What does it really mean? From the moment you lay your eyes on the game, it promises a good time, and it delivers on all fronts.

It doesn’t have any of the fancy bells and whistles — it just does as advertised, and it has a deceptively simple learning curve. Fortunately, every class has a somewhat high skill ceiling, but even the biggest newcomers can have a load of fun, much like the seasoned veterans.

When you deconstruct Team Fortress 2, the game doesn’t have a lot going for it, at least not on first glance. One could say that it’s just a more diversified Counter-Strike. But it is the way these things are realized, the execution itself, and the ingenious game design that made Team Fortress 2 what it is today.

Furthermore, the game lacked any of the contemporary gaming pitfalls such as uninventive DLC (downloadable content), season passes, bad balancing, extreme meta swings — you name it.

Team Fortress 2 is simple in its execution, and it nails the core elements down to a tee.

The Voice Acting

For a game without a concrete single-player campaign, there’s not a lot to keep you glued to your chair. Sure, the gameplay is somewhat addictive, but even the best games become stale and boring after a while. How did Valve overcome such a hurdle?

By creating a rich world that immediately etches itself into your consciousness.

A good reason as to why that happened is because of the diverse cast of characters (or classes, rather) that are present in the game. Not only are they all incredibly unique from a visual standpoint, but they all sound and behave differently.

Each class is infused with so much life that it’s downright staggering. Just based on their voice lines, you can deduce everyone’s nature, their motives, goals, backgrounds (ethnic and geographical), and there’s a healthy amount of stereotypes and cliches present as well, just for good measure. These characters feel alive, and they’re brought to life through very simple means.

But the voice acting is just one part of the equation, and that brings us to another key point.

The Expanded World

Because Team Fortress 2 lacked any kind of coherent storyline or narrative, Valve decided to build a vast world through any creative means that were available. In that, they were original. They started releasing fantastic (mostly) one-off comic book issues online along with some of the best, most enjoyable, and funny short films aimed at developing each class’ backstory.

The Sniper isn’t just any sniper. He’s an Australian assassin, a consummate professional with parents that don’t approve of his profession. The Scout is a narcissistic, fast-talking blabbermouth from Boston. Soldier is an unhinged war veteran that takes the art of war extremely seriously — even though he isn’t the brightest trooper around. The Spy, on the other hand, is a French connoisseur that’s also well versed in hand-to-hand combat and the art of camouflage. Oh, and he’s sleeping with Scout’s mother.

Team Fortress 2 Screenshot

These films are oozing with style. They’re incredibly well directed, the voice acting is spectacular, and the way they’re edited and “shot” is absolutely stunning — the “Meet the Spy” one being particularly tremendous.

Valve had these somewhat one-dimensional character classes, but through some exceptional character design and world building, they managed to create amazing and engaging multi-layered personas.

Even when the game reached its peak, Valve never stopped adding exciting new things. Take the Source Filmmaker, for example, released in 2012, which was a fantastic tool that was used to make all of the short films mentioned above. Valve decided to release it to the public, thus allowing anyone to create short films starring their favorite characters — and it wasn’t restricted to just Team Fortress 2, either.

These “little” things allowed the players to get even more invested in the game. The fact that any player could create a new weapon or hat and have that featured in the game was yet another revolutionary idea that paid off for everyone involved.

Unique Classes and Character Design

Other than every class being highly idiosyncratic, they were also completely different in regards to playstyle. There were nine classes in total, and each and every one offered a different way to play the game.

Team Fortress 2 Screenshot 2

Want to be almost indestructible and still deal tons of damage? Go for Heavy. Want to create chaos in close corridors? Demoman. Want to have fantastic area control and utility? Engineer. Perhaps you want to disguise yourself as an opposing player and start backstabbing enemies left and right? The Spy is the way to go.

All of these classes had unique strengths but also intrinsic weaknesses. Heavy was strong but slow and lumbering. Engineer was deceptively capable, especially in closed-off areas, but all of his sentries and machines could easily be destroyed. Spy, on the other hand, could create absolute chaos within enemy ranks, but you only needed a second or two to eradicate him.

Each class also had quirky items, and each of them provided different passive stats. You could tailor your class towards your own playstyle, so no two matches felt the same. It was MOBA-like customization (albeit much simpler in design) in a first-person shooter.

Team Fortress 2 Wasn’t Perfect… and Didn’t Try to Be

Team Fortress 2 was always a bit rough around the edges, and we loved the game for it. It never pretended to be perfect — it embraced its own shortcomings, both in terms of design and game engine.

There’s an underrated beauty in imperfection. Overwatch is considered by many to be TF2’s spiritual successor, with unique classes, incredible voice acting, fantastic cosmetics, and finally — spectacular short films. But unlike TF2, Overwatch is polished.

Almost too polished, perhaps.

There’s an abundance of content, and most things are over-designed, although that’s a subjective conclusion as well. Everything is so incredibly refined, and even its lore — which is, by all accounts, more vast and complex than Team Fortress’ — is still less engaging. While there’s always a lot of online buzz when Blizzard releases a new cinematic (and to be fair, they are exceptionally well made), they tend to fall into obscurity fairly quickly.

It’s also no secret that Overwatch is slowly (but surely) losing a good chunk of its player base, even with the huge marketing push that Blizzard created, along with the highly competitive Overwatch League.

Team Fortress 2 started dying out because it simply got too old and outdated, but even nowadays, it’s still knocking on Steam Top 5 on a daily basis when it comes to most played games.

For a game that’s over ten years old, that’s a seismic achievement and a testament to its quality.

Crafting and Items

It wasn’t just about the gameplay or the peculiar characters. You had things to do in the game and reasons to play. You would get random item drops through playing which you could then craft into metal (of varying rarity and usefulness) and then create new items.

You had hats and badges, and you could style a class to your liking. These items would either completely change the way you could play or would simply look nice, like a Turkish fez or a bandana, an eye patch, or a parrot on your shoulder. The funny thing is you couldn’t even see these cosmetic changes unless you were taunting or watching from a different point-of-view, but you still felt special, and that made all the difference.

Team Fortress 2 did a lot of things right before they became mainstream: crafting, taunts (emotes in Fortnite, basically), special in-game events, fantastic short films, online content, cosmetic items, etc.

Jump in and Play

Even though it’s pretty darn modern in its presentation, Team Fortress 2 is still an old-school game. It’s one of those games where you just sit down and play, much like Counter-Strike before it. There’s no fancy client, no overblown menus and never-ending list of options. You find a server — and any server will often do the trick — find a map you like, choose a class, and just start shooting things left and right.

Team Fortress 2 Gameplay

The same can be said for the gameplay as well. Are you constantly getting shut down by the opposing Sniper? Not a problem! Change to a Spy and make his life miserable — or take the manlier approach and out-snipe him if you have the skill.

You could always have fun in Team Fortress 2, even if you were paired up with less skilled players. I certainly never cared if I won the round or not, mainly because I had fun regardless, and I’m far from a casual player.

Furthermore, Team Fortress 2 is one of those games that you can play for ten minutes or for ten hours straight. Sometimes I don’t have twenty, thirty, or forty minutes to play a game of League, Dota, or even Overwatch. Sometimes I just need a quick fix. This last sentence can be misinterpreted, but you get the point.

For those who did want to make their wins (or losses) matter, there was a Competitive Mode as well. While it didn’t come until years after the game’s initial release, it was still a highly welcomed addition.

Something for everyone, as they say.

Hardcore Fanbase

To the ones who still play Team Fortress 2, there’s just no alternative. I empathize with that, mainly because I haven’t played a game like it since 2009. When I first saw Overwatch, a part of me thought that I would love it just as much, but I was wrong.

Obviously, personal preference plays a key role, but I know I’m not a minority. Overwatch has many maps — each of them vast and beautiful — many idiosyncratic heroes and classes, memorable lines, abilities, and so on. But all of them fade from memory rather quickly. On the other hand, multiple distinct aspects of Team Fortress 2, many of which are written above, still reside in my consciousness.

At the time of this writing, Team Fortress 2 has over forty-five thousand concurrent players, with the number peaking at sixty-six thousand. When talking about Team Fortress 2’s longevity, it’s impossible not to mention its hardcore player base. They’re still playing a ten-year-old game because there isn’t anything like it out there in the world. They still haven’t found a replacement, and it probably isn’t for lack of trying.

Team Fortress 2 stands strong, even in 2019. Valve still releases smaller updates from time to time, and they infuse a bit of life into the community, although the hype dies down relatively quickly.

The explanation to Team Fortress 2’s longevity isn’t simple, but rather multi-layered and incredibly nuanced. Many games tried to replicate the formula, but not a single one succeeded — at least not fully. There will always be a considerable number of players that will remain loyal to one of the best and most unique first-person shooters in history.


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