While there are rumours flying around about Valve's DOTA 2 project being the first in-house game to embrace the free-to-play model recently made possible on Steam, there seems to be (scant) evidence that another title could be beat it to the accolade: Team Fortress 2.
Which would make perfect sense. The game, rapidly approaching four years old, currently only costs £7, and is frequently dropped down to much less, and even free. Valve has sold over 480 billion copies, and it's reasonable to argue that the game's time as a sold product is nearing its end. But of course there's also hats. Because everyone in the world except for me has gone insane, buying aesthetic content for games has become a big business, and even the players are getting rich from this nonsense in TF2. YOU CAN'T EVEN SEE YOUR CHARACTER WEARING THEM. Ahem.
Now some evidence I don't begin to understand seems to suggest that Valve could be considering relaunching the game with a free-to-play model. One of those clever/mad sorts who trawls through the registries of Steam has spotted a new entry titled, "Valve TestApp440 - Test 1" (along with a low violence equivalent). They then thought to check out which number 440 applies to in Steamland, and it just happens to be TF2. (DOTA 2 is 490.)
Under the "Subscriptions" section of whatever the heck that window is are the billing options. And what's checked for Mysterious-o-App 440? It's "No Cost".
Clearly this is all wild speculation at this point. But it's a move that would make excellent business sense. With everyone on the planet who's likely to buy it already owning it, and extremely successful in-game revenue model, why not try to capture the remaining potential audience who just aren't prepared to fork out for it? Somehow even these people will probably be prepared to pay for hats.
Of course, there's plenty of other ways for TF2 to make money. With unequalled post-release support, TF2 has seen extraordinary volumes of free updates. Just bewildering towers of new content, with never a penny charged. It wouldn't be unreasonable at this point to start attaching a small fee to any further content that gets put in (although I don't doubt for a picosecond that plenty of entitled types will find it unreasonable enough to make death threats). There are so many ways to make money from TF2 without charging an initial fee, I think not adopting a F2P model at this point would be madness.
Thanks to oldage9 for the tip, and NeoGaf's Drkirby for the effort.