Monday, July 26, 2010

The Importance of Customer Support

Team Fortress 2 is now close to three years old and it still has tons of players. I got it out of the dust again to "play a few more rounds" only to notice that I've now put in another 20 hours. It's one of those games I reinstall every half year to play some more. And why did I get it out this time? Well, for the engineer update of course. Just like I got it out last time to enjoy the medic or the heavy update. Taking a look at those hilarious introductions is enough to make me want to play. In fact, those introductions together with Valves "introducing the..." videos are the funniest series I've seen on the net.  Since I haven't played the game in a year there's also a lot of new stuff to do. Extra achievements to get, extra items to get and a few new maps. Oh, and best of all you can now get hats! The continous stream of updates is enough to make old timers revisit the game from time to time.

Besides releasing free upgrades Valve has also just released out Alien Swarm, a top down co-op shooter where, you'll never guess, you go and kill as many aliens as you can. Best of all, this game is free! I've spent a few hours with it and I have to say that it's an good game. The game pitches four players against an endless swarm of enemies. Your medic heals, the commander gives out ammo, the engineer hacks terminals and the soldier does what he does best: blow up those aliens real good. You can get your feet wet in the single player mode but the multiplayer is where the real game is at. It's a bit short right now, you can finish a single campaign in about two hours. A game editor is released with the game however so it's only a matter of time until some great community maps are released.

Another company that keeps on releasing freebies after a games release is of course Blizzard. Starcraft got free maps and the games latest patch is from last year. Years later, Warcraft 3 even got a full RPG campaign released in multiple parts: a free-time project of one of their game designers and one hell of a fun campaign too. WoW is of course their champion. Between expansions you get a lot of nice extras. Dual specs, extra levelling content, seasonals, extra instances, it's only a small part of the stuff they keep releasing.

For WoW there's an obvious reason to keep giving out "free" content. Without enough content players will just stop playing. And it's not really free of course, you already pay a sum at the end of each month. But for one time payment games? I bought the Orange Box three years ago, they won't gain an extra cent by giving me extra maps and updates. So why do they release it? These games do have one thing in common: they're multiplayer games. If I start playing TF2 again and praise it to some friends one might be eager to join me and buy the game. Praising Alien Swarm will get friends to install steam, Valves online game selling shop where they might buy a few other games. Keeping Warcraft up to date will make sure that players have something to do until their next game is released.  And of course it's great for your company's reputation. Valve and Blizzards games are the only games I'll buy with my eyes closed. I know that they will create great games which will be supported for a long time to come. Other game companies could learn a thing or two from Valves and Blizzards support.

Meet the spy:

Meet the heavy: