Team Fortress 2 is easily the game I've sunk more hours into than any other during the last year, and happily so. Still, isn't a little weird that we've all spent the last week getting so excited about a cutscene and some stat changes for a half-year-old multiplayer shooter? We are geek, and we are legion.
It's hardly a rare occurrence for a PC gamer to look at the more rabid 360 owners' Halo fanboyism and scoff, but man, look how hard us lot have fallen for TF2. There's no other game we've posted more about on RPS, and six months on from its release, there's no sign of that slowing down. TF2's an extraordinary game, and the importance of it introducing so much character to its crazed gunmen cannot be overstated. But.. what are we getting out of the videos and updates this long after release?
Well, quite a lot. A sense of belonging to a like-minded community (and one whose gods are very much in on the joke) and an awful lot of entertainment. For existing TF2 players, the Meet videos and the unlocks expertly drag us back in, clearly. I'm currently on something like my fourth intense steeping in TF2, having ebbed and flowed over the months, and being lured back again by every major update.
It's easy, when giggling at the Meet the Sniper video (comfortably the funniest since Engineer, and arguably the most accomplished of the lot) to forget what it's really doing is getting across how awesome the game is. The video makes you want to be a sniper - it emphasises his sense of remote invincibility, his patience and calm amidst a hail of gunfire, the relative clumsiness of the other classes by comparison to him, and that there's a little of the Crocodile Dundee to him. His dad might doubt him, but we think he's cool as hell. We want to be that guy. I'll bet there were a few more Snipers than usual on the servers last night.
Still, I had previously been thinking "why are Valve still bothering to make these?" Surely most people who are likely to play TF2 are already playing TF2, making this an appreciated but (so I had at first presumed) non-lucrative pat on the head for fans - fans who've already paid for the game and don't cough up any subscription fee. Is this continued investment worth it for Valve? Yeah, I reckon. Actually, there a lot of people who aren't yet playing TF2 - Warcraft's 10m subscribers prove that. EA's plans for Battlefield Heroes prove that. Is every Digg reader, every Youtube visitor playing TF2? No, not by a long shot, but a shedload of them will stumble across Meet The Sniper's stunningly Pixarian production values and hopefully be intrigued enough to try the game.
Sniper's immediate effect may be to drag a load of lapsed players back, but more importantly it's the advance guard for the upcoming free weekend. Funny video + free demo = game purchase. This many months in, TF2 may be a noticeably more hardcore affair than it used to be, but the game's careful focus on a level playing field means it remains a relatively open door to a rank newcomer. It's still a world away from the sudden deaths of COD4, Quake Wars, UT3 et al. While it's very obviously not yesterday's news, it's not a new release anymore - but this could well be a game that's only just started to make money. It's a shame it's a 2Gb-odd download, as that's an immediate turn off for a curious newcomer.
What's beyond this slow influx of new people, I don't know. Valve's leisurely development pace means it won't just churn out a sequel next year, and were they to announce paid DLC there'd be uproar. Free updates are the likely future, then. Increasingly, the money we each spent on The Orange Box or TF2 is turning out to quite the bargain. It's $20 on its own, for crissakes. One of the finest multiplayer shooters ever made, and it's only a tenner.
Speaking of WoW (er, about seven paragraphs back), I'm acutely aware that TF2 plays the same role in my life as that did a year or two ago. The urge to immediately hit the servers every lunchtime and every 5.30pm is the same, as it the obsession with discovering new detail - those new achievements, the Sniper video... I can remember watching the Burning Crusade intro cinematic over and over when it was released ahead of the game, and poring over advance patchnotes, desperate to try out the new hotness they talked of.
TF2 is the MMO that isn't an MMO, another riposte to Spector's suggestion that short games are the future - quite clearly, a lot of gamers do want one, endless game, and this is all the proof we need that bashing goblins really isn't the be all and end all of that concept. Unlike most other multiplayer FPSes, TF2 is not static - that it's this gradually changing experience adds a lot of MMO appeal. As well as unlocks for the remaining classes, if we take the bobblehead in the Sniper video as the hint it's surely meant to be, we've probably got VIP escort maps to look forward to at some point. This one could run and run.
Chatting to a friend about how TF2 has neatly taken WoW's place in my life, he observed that it's an evolution of how people used to behave about D&D revisions or new races for Warhammer 40K. It's the same type of gent to a certain extent, and the same sort of mentality - absolute excitement about detail changes to ruleset-based escapism. The difference is that, while the celebrations used to consist of small gatherings at a mate's house or in the local Games Workshop store, now the internet allows this massive, global pile-on of enthusiasm. With today's news that apparently the Romans used 20-sided dice, it starts to seem like mankind moves in circles. All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again...