It doesn't take a lot for me to get obsessed. I'd managed to pull away from Team Fortress 2, but then Valve introduced the Strange category of weapons, stat-tracking guns and melee weapons that report how many kills each has, and I got into it all over again. I'm almost embarrassed by how easy it was to hook me back into the mainframe. Worryingly Valve have just added a new category of unlocks to augment the Strange weapons counting abilities: Strange Parts.
Only found in crates, Strange Parts will help you study specific aspects of your performance in battle by letting you customize your favorite Strange weapon. Now you're free to track the number of enemies you gib, projectiles you reflect, heads you've shot, and more.
They've also dropped three new hats into the game, and that number is a more descriptive than you realise: there are only three in the entire game, and to get one you'll most likely need to spend a significant amount of money.
Each hat has a significant stat attached, and each day one will be presented to the previous day's winner of the most duels, buyer of the most map stamps, or giver of the most gifts. All of these have an element of shopping attached to them: duels, map stamps and gift-wrap are all purchased in the TF2 store (although I've had a server drop duals into my backpack). You get the hat for a day before it switches to the next winner.
So, in a game where there's masses of competitive elements based on player skill, Valve instead reward people spending the most money. You'll need to win the duels, obviously, but bulk purchasing map stamps to get a unique hat for a day rewards those with a willingness to spend more money. It makes spending a competitive act. In addition Strange Parts will only be found in crates. So I have to pay to see the stats I'm generating. Actually with the dice-roll, I have to pay to generate the opportunity to possibly get one. While it was already the case with the Strange weapons, I'd hoped it was just something they explored. It looks like it's here to stay.
In both cases you're only ever paying for the opportunity. I'd have less problem if the rewards were tangible, and clearly stated, but the trend for asking for money from the users without any guarantee of getting what you hope for in return seems to be taking hold in Badwater. The hats and the hat nots. I know it's free to play, and I know there's a business at the heart of all this, but there's an innate greed at the centre of this update that seems unlike Valve. There are plenty of things they could track and reward: the most kills, furthest demo jump, the most kill screens taken of someone. None would cost the players a penny, and they'd be rewarding what the game is about. Now I'm not so sure what's most important to them.