Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why Valve's CounterStrike:GO Isn't Ready for Free-To-Play Gaming

Counter-Strike : Global Offensive - Why Valve's Competitive FPS is Growing so Quickly, and the One Reason it Should Not Go F2P Yet

The reason Counter-Strike is one of the longest lasting, most popular games on the planet is because it emphasizes something many modern game developers seem to not understand - money spent should have absolutely no influence on in-game performance. The second the developer starts to add perks that improve gameplay to customers who pay more, it breaks the game, frustrates players, and the community chokes itself out.

I'm not on a anti-capitalist rant here, I'm suggesting that don't mess with in-game mechanics to make a quick buck, and your game will have the opportunity to make more in the long run and create a real competitive pool with a giant fanbase.

So, instead of doing the aforementioned to make big $s, what does Valve do? The explanation is in this VGCats comic strip. Go read that and come on back, I'll be waiting.

...You're back? Cool.

It's no surprise that two of the most successful F2P games on the planet, Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2, are Valve products. I wrote an article about this a while back on another site:

While the systems are slightly different, because TF2 items can have different properties that affect the game and CS items are purely cosmetic, the idea remains the same: make a good product with items/drops that don't break the balance of multiplayer gameplay, and loyal players will shell out money to customize their character. Also, cut your players a little portion of the profits in the form of items and store credit regardless of whether they pay or not. They're all paying with their time, making your game more profitable and enjoyable through a larger pool of players, don't forget that.

A Little Backstory:

 I was one of the earliest adopters of Steam, back when it was taken with as much enthusiasm as EA's horrid Origin platform, just to play games like Day of Defeat and Team Fortress, but the main reason was to play Counter-Strike, originally a mod for the first Half-Life. Not to sound like a hipster douche, but I played CS before version 1.0... back then, the only map we really played was de_dust, and we LIKED it that way! (whippersnapper.)

Took several years off, played Source almost exclusively for fy_iceworld and GunGame maps (currently known as Arms Race), stopped again due for personal reasons (you're getting fragged by a sight-challenged person, did I mention that?), and jumped into Global Offensive a little over a month ago. I've had to relearn a lot of stuff, and at the time of this article being published, am sitting at Gold Nova II.

Current CS:GO competitive ranks.
Gold Nova I is the equivalent of having a Karate Black Belt (eg: congrats, you just mastered basic mechanics!)

So, what is the main difference between CS:Global Offensive and the past two iterations?

It's not graphics (although, check picture below, the new graphics are pretty), it's not the improved capabilities of weapons that aren't the M4, AK, AWP, and DEagle, it's certainly not the core gameplay mechanics, it's the addition of the competitive match making system.

Ex-1.6 Pro and current GO player SiderMan1 with an excellent review:

I can give some good advice here--I think.

I was a professional CS 1.6 player...stopped playing for a very long time because of a change in the game type I / my friends were interested in and the complete dislike for CS:Source.

CS:GO takes the element most admired by higher caliber players, the scrimming 5v5 format, and brings it to the forefront. In the beta, there are a couple of mods that are fun for a late night drunken play (arms race, as example) but the core / match ranked games are really entertaining to play.

Having it be in a 5v5 format all games creates a lot more tense situations. First team to 16 wins (both sides) win the match and that team gets more points for the match making.

The game plays a lot more like 1.6 than I thought it would. Grenades are thrown like source and some of the guns behave awkwardly but those are things you can get used too.

I've docked 50+ hours on the Beta and am looking forward to the public release and constant tweaks from Valve to make it better.

I would say for this price, if you have interest in CS at all---buy it.

So now, with the integrated competitive system in place, the ability to stream and monetize gameplay becoming easier, and international competition with big-name sponsors becoming a regular occurrence, Counter-Strike is again poised to take the lead in competitive FPS gaming.

So, with so many players joining, and the marketplace grows ever larger, why doesn't Valve make CS Free-to-Play like TF2 and DOTA2?

My theory? The drastic effect cheating has on Counter-Strike over the other games.

Think Aimbots and Wallhacks is a tiny problem? Read this:

Take it from some folks more experienced than I on the subject in this Reddit /r/GlobalOffensive thread:

In a top down RTS game like DOTA, where the core mechanics have more to do using basic algebra and statistics to micromanage actions that your avatar plays out, cheating may only present a small advantage, like a casino adding an extra 0 on the roulette table. On the other hand, cheating drastically breaks FPS gameplay mechanics that are more based upon reaction time and accuracy, like bringing a grenade to a water balloon fight.

This is what cheating in CS looks like:

The current system to keep hackers at bay is a combination of Valve's VAC (Valve Anti Cheat), which took some flak recently for sending a user's DNS cache to Valve's servers for monitoring (turned out to be misleading, but was big enough for Gabe Newell himself to come down and explain things), and something called "Overwatch," which is a system where real players who are deemed experienced enough volunteer their time and review footage of players suspected of cheating.

Here is a pretty solid overview on how to spot cheaters in Counter-Strike:

So, the system seems to be made to auto-detect when it can, but for the newest wave of cheats, they must trust the opinion of people who both report an individual and the Overwatchers who make the call. Now, given statistical generalizations of human behavior like the 80/20 rule and the like, it should be expected that the number of people who care enough to report and volunteer their time watching replays would not be the majority of the players. This means that opening the floodgates to cheaters by making CS F2P would overburden the in-game "justice system,"as well as increase the chances of false positives harming innocent players.

So, to maintain the community, some kind of barrier to entry must be preserved in order to create an opportunity cost for the troll who wants to ruin other people's good times, and keeping a non-zero price is a good start.

In a picture you may have seen earlier, Valve's F2P model revolves around a few core principles:

- Avoid Pay to Win in PvP
- Avoid inventing an unnecessary virtual currency
- Let people have fun without paying
- People are more comfortable buying items than we thought
- It's worth it to cut your community in on the deal

Basically, the impact of hackers flooding the pool would be big enough to break the third rule down - it wouldn't even be "Let people have fun," just "let's just try to keep our real players from getting frustrated and rage quitting."

Will CS ever go fully F2P? 

Maybe when Valve's Anti-Cheat System is darn near flawless and can compensate for false-positives with precision. Who knows.

Anyway, that's all I really have to say on the subject, thanks for reading.

Are you a CS player? I just might be willing to trade you a clan logo for keys. 


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