Way back in May of 2009, Valve introduced Team Fortress players to the Sniper vs. Spy Update, which at the time was TF2′s most ambitious game update yet – providing both the Sniper and Spy classes with three significant new weapons each, as well as several new maps, alongside a brand new gamemode. But this update brought us something else, something which would leave a lasting impact not only on TF2 itself, but on all of Valve’s future work, as a whole… hats.
Yes, the Sniper vs. Spy Update was when TF2 got its 9 first rare cosmetic headgear items – one for each playable class. Since then, Valve (alongside numerous item designers from the Team Fortress community) have added 259 more hats to TF2- and so, by now, most people have forgotten about those 9 original hats… which makes it all the more interesting that Valve has actually decided to permanently retire them from the game’s item circuit.
According to a recent post by “Saxton Hale“, on the official TF2 blog, an incident at the Mann Co. hat warehouses involving a lot of spoiled condiments and live raccoons have resulted in the utter annihilation of the stocks and stores of 9 varieties of Mann Co. hats:
- The Batter’s Helmet
- The Soldier’s Stash
- The Pyro’s Beanie
- The Demoman’s Fro
- The Football Helmet
- The Mining Light
- The Prussian Pickelhaube
- The Trophy Belt
- And, last but not least: the Fancy Fedora.
There was also something about raccoon rabies being transmissible through hats, but I stopped reading once I realized they might also be transmissible through blog posts. But let’s set humorous in-universe set-ups aside for a moment – Team Fortress’ first 9 hats will be permanently “retired” in just 2 days, on the 24th of January. Here’s the brief item retirement FAQ, included with the same blog post:
Q: What is happening to this set of nine hats in two weeks?
A: These items will no longer be sold in the store, randomly dropped, unboxed as unusuals, or acquired through crafting.
Q: What happens to copies of these items that are already in my backpack?
A: All existing copies of the items will remain unaffected.
Q: What about older crates that have these items as a potential drop?
A: Crates that contain these items will still have a chance at unboxing them in normal quality only.
Q: How will I now acquire these items?
A: These items are still useable in trading.
Q: Will these items ever come out of retirement?
A: No. Once an item is retired it will stay that way.
Q: Will more items be retired in the future?
A: Advance notice will be given if any other items will be retired.
And there you have it! It’s definitely a very intriguing move for Valve, and I do believe it may serve as some sort of radical new experiment in in-game economics for them. Think of it this way: with these 9 hats so close to retirement, a large number of players will be interested in acquiring them – through Steam trading, as well as from the official Mann Co. Store (and it’ll be even more interesting to see how the situation changes after these hats have been discontinued, and how demand will change in the near future). And since Steam tracks and logs all that activity, that means Valve is going to get a huge amount of really useful data.
Not only will Valve be getting raw, incredibly valuable feedback on how their own customers perceive the values of in-game digital items through limited time offers; but they’ll also be making quite a few monies purely from Mann Co. Store sales of these 9 hats. It’s a really great way of performing such an experiment, for sure – and it’s being done on hats that aren’t really that important, valuable, or shiny anymore, which is good (again, they’re nearly 4 years old by this point).
Besides, there may be an overabundance of cosmetics within the TF2 item circuit (it can be very hard to get what you want through drops or crafting), and Valve may be approaching a point where this could start having negative repercussions on the way that in-game economy works. Item retirements are certainly an interesting way of clearing out some of the older inventory, while also attempting to provide that older inventory with newfound value and significance.
In any case, I’m definitely interested in seeing what Valve does after this. Personally, I’m open to further item retirements, just as long as they’re handled reasonably, limited to older items, and occur infrequently – there shouldn’t be a point where the number of items being retired from the game is greater than the number of items being introduced into the game.
But it’s certainly a great time to get involved in this vast in-game economy, with the in-beta Steam Community Market starting to really take off (just earlier this month, Valve introduced Genuine-quality items and Festive items to the Market; and they also removed uncraftability limitations on all in-game items bought from the Mann Co. Store, a few months ago). And I’m sure Valve has much more in store for us in 2013!