VALVe and SaaS – part 1

Since VALVe has been working on TF2, and maybe more, the company views its gaming software industry as something different then they used to. They no longer provide software, but services whereas the service you purchase should be maintained, usable and where the provider should listen to its community (customers). That’s the concept behind the “Software as a Service” philosophy. Although I do appreciate the major updates that came out for TF2, I’m really questioning VALVe’s SaaS approach. Is it truely a new way of thinking and providing goods or just a marketing buzzword for the more computer-savvy users?

First of all, as previously stated, I do appreciate the achievements updates they have provided since TF2 came out. They give new challenges to the gamers and attract new customers (they do free TF2 weekends whenever a major updates is released). But what kind of community does it create? I remember when “A Heavy Update” came out. There were up to 6 heavies per team because people were trying to get the new unlockables. That kind of behavior is expected but unpleasant. The game becomes too easy if you know how to exploit the heavy’s weaknesses, or too hard if you’re a new comer (especially if you’re new to online gaming) be. You have to learn the game’s concepts all at once to really enjoy the experience and two days is pretty short. But hey, it’s free, right?

The same phenomenon has been observed when the pyro update came out. But worse. Why? Because the backburner, the unlockable that replaces the flamethrower, gave +50 health its owner. That’s 225 hp in total which is more than the soldier has, except that the soldier moves way slower. VALVe acknowledged that and fixed it after the heavy’s update. It took them more than 8 weeks to fix what the most active and good players in the community were saying since the release. So for 2 months, the pyro was overpowered and probably cost VALVe customers.

Don’t get me wrong, I know how hard and complicated making simple and balanced game mechanics is. It probably costs a lot to VALVe in terms of work force and money. That’s probably why the next major update has been pushed. But the lack of updates on a regular basis affects the game and its community. I know what I’m talking about as I haven’t posted something on this blog for 4 months. I don’t think the TF2 community is strong and mature enough to survive all this in the long term. I bet that if we take a look at the numbers, most people that bought the game early aren’t playing TF2 that much except when new updates are out.

This was the first article I write about VALVe’s SaaS approach. I don’t think it’s worse than any other business model and I’m just trying to pinpoint the bumps and dents to see ameliorations so both VALVe and its customers can benefit.