Saturday, February 04, 2012

DOTA 2: Steam's killer App? Killer FREE App?

Steam, as a platform, benefits from having as many users as possible.  Every user is a potential game sale or series of sales.  Valve, the developers of Steam, have come up with many, many ways to get users to buy into the platform.  First, Steam is free to install.  Second, they have great sales.  And over the last year they have moved into the free 2 play realm bringing F2P MMOs to Steam and even releasing their own Team Fortress 2 as F2P. However, even with Team Fortress 2 being popular, I can't help but feel that Steam is missing a killer app that defines it.  Steam needs a completely free app that will drive a massive rush of new blood to it's shores.  The more I think about it, the more DOTA 2 is shaping up to be that killer app.

DOTA 2 is in beta and Valve has yet to announce it's planned business model.  Other popular MOBA games on the market, such as Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends, are free 2 play.  The developers of both make money off players paying to unlock access to champions/heroes and for other non-game affecting bonuses (such as alternate skins for avatars in LoL).  At the same time, each week, a small pool of champions/heroes is always available to play, meaning a player could play LoL or HoN completely free of charge.  Now the big question is whether Valve will follow suit. 

At first I felt that it would be crazy for Valve to not follow the successful model that LoL has laid down.  I didn't (and still don't) think DOTA 2 can be as successful as it can be if there is a front-end price tag attached.  DOTA 2 needs to be free 2 play.  However, the game play of DOTA 2 does not feel suited for the LoL model.  DOTA 2 shines by having all the heroes available for every player for every match.  DOTA 2 will not work with a rotating pool of free heroes each week.

So how does DOTA 2 go the free 2 play route?  Simple.  DOTA 2 will be just that: free 2 play.  I mean 100%, unobstructed free 2 play.  Outside of mailing Valve a wad of cash with a funny note for Gaben, there would be no way for player's to spend cash on the game.

Sound crazy?  Maybe, but I think Valve can justify the costs associated by the sheer volume of players it could bring onto Steam.  Each Steam user is a couple clicks away from becoming another statistic on Valve's already impressive sales charts.

There is more to it than just bringing new users to Steam.  Because not only would this move promote Steam,  but it would promote Steamworks -- Valve's game developer tool set -- which further ties games and gamers into the Steam platform.  Oh and Steamworks is 100% free for developers to use.  If DOTA 2 turns into a smashing, world-wide sensation (it clearly has the potential) with Steamworks doing all the heavy lifting, it will further propel Steamworks into the game development limelight.

The stage is set for Valve to shake things up with DOTA 2.  Does this mean a completely free 2 play DOTA 2?  I believe so.

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