Last week, famous hat-collection game Team Fortress 2 suffered from an influx of Unusual hats. These particular cosmetics drop rarely in TF2’s loot boxes, and are equipped with particle effects, making your Scout or Pyro or whoever look especially fancy. They’re also big-ticket items in the Steam trading economy. Or, they were, until a glitch meant they were guaranteed to appear in certain loot boxes, creating a glut, pushing the price down, and generally causing havoc in the markets. Valve responded last night, apologising for the bug and outlining how they’re going to attempt to minimise the economic effect.
Alice O broke down the issue when it first cropped up. In essence, these pictures of hats have become much more through the Steam Community Market, where they can be traded with others in exchange for store credit. Unsanctioned external websites will also cut that middle man and just let you earn real cash money. For many it’s a lark that might add a bit of spending money to their wallets. But others do this for their main income, making for a real, if easily destabilised, career. (As a video game freelancer, my glass house does not necessarily stand up to stone-throwing on this one.)
Once they woke up to the news (it all started in the middle of the US night), Valve suspended “trading, unboxing, and marketing” for TF2 while they attempted to get to the bottom of the issue. About a day later, they stated that “all Unusuals from the bugged crates have been marked as non-tradable for the time being.”
Most of ‘em will stay that way permanently, says the latest blog post, posted to the Team Fortress website and called “Update on The Crate Depression of 2019.”
“Over the past week, we have been discussing ways to address this situation with the goal of minimizing the impact on the TF2 community as a whole, while preserving the experience of customers who had simply opened a crate, made a trade, or purchased from the market on the 25th, unaware that a bug produced their item.
During our investigation we discovered that a small number of accounts acquired these hats and a smaller portion of those accounts acquired an exceedingly large number of them. Based on this, we've decided that if you currently own one of these Unusual hats, the first one added to your account will be made tradable. Any other Unusual you have received due to the bug will remain permanently trade locked. If you decide that you would rather not have these trade-locked hats on your account, you may instead elect a full refund on any number of them.”
Refunds will be for whatever you spent on the hat or its crate, be it from the Community Market or in-game store.
The bug was fixed the morning after it began, but that does still represent quite a number of sparkly hats added to the game and its wider ecosystem. “The number of Unusual items being made tradable represents about one month of the regular Unusual drop rate,” say Valve, and that's only the first one from each account that nabbed one.
They also note that if you panicked and deleted your Unusuals, thinking something was awry and you’d better not participate, you’ll get them back and be able to trade one and keep or refund the others like anyone else.
All of this will become available in about a week, Valve estimate, and they'll update once they know an exact date.
"We apologize for the inconvenience of this incident, and we’ve added safeguards to prevent incidents like this in the future," they conclude.
There’s likely to be more snazzy headwear in the game going forward, as people outfit themselves with the un-tradable crate rewards, lest we forget that’s what these hats are supposedly for in the first place. How the market will react to a month’s worth of Unusuals becoming available in one fell swoop is a minefield of speculation, but it is clear that it’ll remain its own game for those invested in trading first, and a mechanism for players to actually get neat cosmetics a distant second.