Newell: Team Fortress 2 sees 20 per cent free to paid conversion

Valve co-founder on "an exciting but also a very troubling time"

Valve co-founder Gabe Newell has shared some surprising statistics about free to play title Team Fortress 2, revealing that its conversion of people playing for free to those spending real money is way above the average.

"When we talk to partners who do free-to-play, a lot of people see about a 2 to 3 percent conversion rate of the people in their audience who actually buy something," Newell said at a recent WTIA TechNW panel.

"With Team Fortress 2, which looks more like Arkham Asylum in terms of the user profile and the content, we see about a 20 to 30 percent conversion rate of people who are playing those games who buy something."

In the online multiplayer game, players can purchase special equipment and apparel for their characters via microtransactions. Newell suggested that the type of content might be responsibile, but admitted they still had a lot to learn.

"We don't understand what's going on. All we know is we're going to keep running these experiments to try and understand better what it is that our customers are telling us."

"And there are clearly things that we don't understand because a simple analysis of these statistics implies very contradictory yet reproducible results. So clearly there are things that we don't understand, and we're trying to develop theories for them."

The outspoken developer admitted it was "an exciting time but also a very troubling time."

Valve recently announced that Team Fortress 2 community members had made $2 million by creating and selling virtual items via Team Fortress 2's Mann Co. Store.

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Latest comments (12)

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 10 years ago
Has it occurred to Gabe that Team Fortress 2 is kinda stale by now?
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Frankie Kang Producer / Consultant, First Post LLC10 years ago
At a 20% conversion rate i'll take 'stale' anytime
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 10 years ago
Give us some numbers Gabe? :)
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Show all comments (12)
Daniel Vardy Studying HND IT, De Montfort University10 years ago
I wouldn't call TF2 stale, there is always some new content coming from Valve. With the community being able to make extra content, TF2 will be around for a very long time. 20-30% conversion rates are something to be proud of.
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Graham Simpson Tea boy, Collins Stewart10 years ago
Counter Strike is even more stale but still in the top 5 games played on Steam. I have no idea who plays that game and why.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 10 years ago
What I meant by numbers was that the conversion rate by itself doesnt mean anything to me if the average spend by customers isnt known. I dont know if they spend 0.1 of 10 on average. Even if the player numbers have risen with the F2P model, how does the average spend correlate to the previous business model of needing to pay for the actual game. Gabe any comment? :))
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Kieran MacGough Studying Computer Games Design & Programming, Staffordshire University10 years ago
@Graham - I still play CS:S because it is a great game. Much like great music artists, (Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Metallica), they have been around for so long because they are good at what they do. CS:S does shooters as they should be!

On-topic - I'd like to see other games, such as LoL and how they are doing. I, personally, have spent more on in-game items than I probably would have been prepared to pay for the game in the first place. Games that are released as F2P games with in-game stores seem to be more of a "try-before-you-buy" thing to me. If I like the game, I will give the developers the money for it, while being able to show other people that I care for the Devs.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 10 years ago
Warning: this comment is partially a parody. Maybe.

Graham, the majority of CS players are paranoid survivalist types who are training REALLY HARD for the day when America (or whatever country they're in) is invaded by nasty terrorists and they're the last line of defense. Or, the first line in cases of those areas where you have most or all of the police out of work because of budget cuts. Granted, you probably wouldn't want to be rescued by anyone spending way too many hours playing Counter-Strike, CoD, BF3 or any other FPS but in a pinch, you'll probably be happy you were. Just don't get in the "rescue van" afterward...

And yeah, I wonder about what people pay for this and ANY ftp/micro tranaction-based game and how the hell people who work hard on these titles make a real profit. It's not just Gabe that needs to answer some Q's, so let's not lay everything on Valve's doorstep. The model may work NOW, but I think it's diminishing returns at the end with people paying less for more, USED to it and potentially unwilling to pay a premium for any content at some point down the road. Thus the need for online "premium" services where folks try to generate a lot of money in a shorter time from the hardcore fanatics who want to get content a few days earlier than those that can't afford it.

Of course, I'm nuts, so what do I know?
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Dave Stansfield Reviewer/Comedian 10 years ago
I'd love to see the data that they're looking at.
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Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext10 years ago
Tim had the right answer, even if he didnt realize it.

TS2 is 'stale' it is an older game with a relatively stable player base. It is not a new game, where there is a huge influx of players, that may or may not stick.

F2P traditionally has (at least) 90% of the playerbase playing for free (no payment of any kind). However, as a game matures, and the influx of new players drops off, the % increases (for active 30 day accounts) as more of the long term players have made a payment, and there are less short term players.

F2P most often offers time savings for money. i.e. you can do it faster/easier if you pay. This appeals to the long term player, and less to the short term player. Over the lifespan of a game, the balance changes, and so does the ratio of paying to free players.

TF2 is a well established game, with a majority of its playerbase already convinced that they will be staying, and playing. They are more willing to invest a little money in the game. This is why they have a higher conversion %.
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Thomas Eidson Senior System Designer, Heatwave Interactive, Inc.10 years ago
While Team Fortress 2 is an established game, most of the items sold for it have very meaningful game mechanics associated with them. It is also one of the best multiplayer FPS's ever made (92 metacritic).

This is in contrast with many free to play games, which have poor game mechanics, poor art style, and very few meaningful items.
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Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven10 years ago
I am usually against paying for a free game (I think devs should figure out other ways to monetize from non paying members, such as ingame ads).
I looked for the cheapest item in the TF2 store (about 0.39 i think) to get upgraded to a paid member.
I guess many more have done this as a paid member has more benefits(i think non paying members can't trade items ingame, and other things)
It's cheaper than buying a drink so I think it's obvious they have a higher conversion rate.
But still 20-30% is still a nice number.
Go Valve!
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