The Kid Who Created Team Fortress 2's Controversial Anti-Free-to-Play Mod

Posted by patrickklepek (3393 posts) -
Moving Team Fortress 2 free-to-play follows Valve enabling other F2P games on Steam.

When Valve turned Team Fortress 2 into a free-to-play experience, it opened the floodgates. It's not like Team Fortress 2 hasn't been ridiculously cheap in the past--once, it was just a few dollars on Steam--but the difference between any amount of money and free is a big one.

The people who have been playing Team Fortress 2 since its launch in 2007, however, are a dedicated bunch. You don't play a game for this many years without forming expectations about the people you play with.

As such, not everyone responded to the decision with open arms.

Asher Baker, known in the Steam community for his various Valve-related plugins and workarounds, created "Free2BeKicked (Anti-F2P)," a plugin that detects whether a player has a Team Fortress 2 premium account. Getting bumped to premium after downloading the game for free is simple; you only have to purchase an item from the in-game store. If you don't have one, you're kicked out.

It's worth remembering this is happening exclusively on private servers, not on Valve's, and anyone who purchased Team Fortress 2 in the past automatically became a premium member when the switch was pulled.

Baker and others in the community got the sense Team Fortress 2 was heading towards free-to-play before Valve ever announced it, as some backend changes rolled out. As this happened, then followed by the official announcement, there was chatter about a plugin to kick free-to-play users. Baker was first asked by a friend in the Team Fortress 2 trading community.

To provide a better sense of the mindset, Baker provided me with a transcript of an IRC dialogue between himself and "dvander," the founder of Alliedmodders, where Baker's plugin is hosted.

<dvander> personally i put it in the same category as banning high ping people which i hate
<dvander> but valve has created a problem
<dvander> a community needs a barrier to entry and it needs a way to heal itself if there is a misbehaving member
<dvander> if there is no barrier to entry - and no recourse against those people - it could be bad
<dvander> but its too early to tell
<asherkin> there are also a large number of tf2 servers aimed specifically at trading, the non-premium players can't start trades and therefore just end up in these servers taking up a slot and begging for items
<asherkin> (it's a trade server owner that originally asked me for the plugin)
<asherkin> and yeah, I also dislike high ping kickers, that silly cross-game vac ban detector, and even this one
<asherkin> but I figured it was better to do it myself properly before someone released something that did something silly like parse their backpack page to see how many slots they had etc.

Between some public requests for a plugin and other private conversations, Baker relented.

"Basically it just boils down to there being a demand for it," explained Baker over email recently, "yet there being very few developers who had the necessary background knowledge to do it without 'hacks.' I was in a unique position due to my work on Open Steamworks."

Team Fortress 2 quickly overtook Counter-Strike as the most popular game on Steam.

Open Steamworks, as Baker puts it, is "a series of scrounged, leaked and reverse engineered headers that allow the usage of the client-side portions of Valve's Steamworks API [application programming interface]." It allows people like Baker to create things that are not necessarily kosher.

According to Source Mod (and Baker), there are 16 servers running his mod. He can't be sure, since the ability to query servers running on Linux for their rulesets is broken at the moment, and from what he can tell, the majority of Team Fortress 2 servers are hosted on Linux machines.

To get a sense of how the community is hashing this out, read this rather contentious thread. Hostilities are definitely abound.

I've contacted Valve about whether the company's okay with Baker's mod, but haven't heard back. Baker expects it's not, though less because of what the plugin does, more that it's possible.

"I would doubt Valve are okay with [this] method," he said.

To explain how Baker's plugin works would get unnecessarily technical, but when asked whether Valve would have an easy way to get rid of it, Baker launched into a lengthy breakdown of how the plugin detects free-to-play users. In summary, it comes down to the way Steam authenticates.

"While Valve may wish to prevent the plugin from operating," he said, "it would only end up with a large amount of work and worse methods being used to the same effect. As long as there is demand a version of the plugin will exist, although probably not written by myself."

It wouldn't be surprising if Team Fortress 2 moving free-to-play is a signal for future Valve products.

And while you might expect that Baker is one of the many outraged at the influx of newcomers to the Team Fortress 2 userbase, it's not true. Baker's loyalty, as he puts it, "is to the server operators."

"I anticipated a negative response from the general player base and a positive response from the server operators," he said. "I hadn't anticipated it to be this strong either way, even including receiving death threats. [...] I don't really have a personal opinion about TF2 going free to play, it's brought in lots of new players, but I'm not sure it's worth the long-term cost. I think that once the droves of inexperienced players dies down, we're going to be left with a (slow) steady stream of new players (good), but primarily just cheaters and people evading server bans."

It's understandable there's issues within the community, as Team Fortress 2 was not free-to-play on day one. Were Valve to release a game with a free-to-play model on day one, the fervor would be less.

DOTA 2, anyone?

Staff
#1 Posted by patrickklepek (3393 posts) -
Moving Team Fortress 2 free-to-play follows Valve enabling other F2P games on Steam.

When Valve turned Team Fortress 2 into a free-to-play experience, it opened the floodgates. It's not like Team Fortress 2 hasn't been ridiculously cheap in the past--once, it was just a few dollars on Steam--but the difference between any amount of money and free is a big one.

The people who have been playing Team Fortress 2 since its launch in 2007, however, are a dedicated bunch. You don't play a game for this many years without forming expectations about the people you play with.

As such, not everyone responded to the decision with open arms.

Asher Baker, known in the Steam community for his various Valve-related plugins and workarounds, created "Free2BeKicked (Anti-F2P)," a plugin that detects whether a player has a Team Fortress 2 premium account. Getting bumped to premium after downloading the game for free is simple; you only have to purchase an item from the in-game store. If you don't have one, you're kicked out.

It's worth remembering this is happening exclusively on private servers, not on Valve's, and anyone who purchased Team Fortress 2 in the past automatically became a premium member when the switch was pulled.

Baker and others in the community got the sense Team Fortress 2 was heading towards free-to-play before Valve ever announced it, as some backend changes rolled out. As this happened, then followed by the official announcement, there was chatter about a plugin to kick free-to-play users. Baker was first asked by a friend in the Team Fortress 2 trading community.

To provide a better sense of the mindset, Baker provided me with a transcript of an IRC dialogue between himself and "dvander," the founder of Alliedmodders, where Baker's plugin is hosted.

<dvander> personally i put it in the same category as banning high ping people which i hate
<dvander> but valve has created a problem
<dvander> a community needs a barrier to entry and it needs a way to heal itself if there is a misbehaving member
<dvander> if there is no barrier to entry - and no recourse against those people - it could be bad
<dvander> but its too early to tell
<asherkin> there are also a large number of tf2 servers aimed specifically at trading, the non-premium players can't start trades and therefore just end up in these servers taking up a slot and begging for items
<asherkin> (it's a trade server owner that originally asked me for the plugin)
<asherkin> and yeah, I also dislike high ping kickers, that silly cross-game vac ban detector, and even this one
<asherkin> but I figured it was better to do it myself properly before someone released something that did something silly like parse their backpack page to see how many slots they had etc.

Between some public requests for a plugin and other private conversations, Baker relented.

"Basically it just boils down to there being a demand for it," explained Baker over email recently, "yet there being very few developers who had the necessary background knowledge to do it without 'hacks.' I was in a unique position due to my work on Open Steamworks."

Team Fortress 2 quickly overtook Counter-Strike as the most popular game on Steam.

Open Steamworks, as Baker puts it, is "a series of scrounged, leaked and reverse engineered headers that allow the usage of the client-side portions of Valve's Steamworks API [application programming interface]." It allows people like Baker to create things that are not necessarily kosher.

According to Source Mod (and Baker), there are 16 servers running his mod. He can't be sure, since the ability to query servers running on Linux for their rulesets is broken at the moment, and from what he can tell, the majority of Team Fortress 2 servers are hosted on Linux machines.

To get a sense of how the community is hashing this out, read this rather contentious thread. Hostilities are definitely abound.

I've contacted Valve about whether the company's okay with Baker's mod, but haven't heard back. Baker expects it's not, though less because of what the plugin does, more that it's possible.

"I would doubt Valve are okay with [this] method," he said.

To explain how Baker's plugin works would get unnecessarily technical, but when asked whether Valve would have an easy way to get rid of it, Baker launched into a lengthy breakdown of how the plugin detects free-to-play users. In summary, it comes down to the way Steam authenticates.

"While Valve may wish to prevent the plugin from operating," he said, "it would only end up with a large amount of work and worse methods being used to the same effect. As long as there is demand a version of the plugin will exist, although probably not written by myself."

It wouldn't be surprising if Team Fortress 2 moving free-to-play is a signal for future Valve products.

And while you might expect that Baker is one of the many outraged at the influx of newcomers to the Team Fortress 2 userbase, it's not true. Baker's loyalty, as he puts it, "is to the server operators."

"I anticipated a negative response from the general player base and a positive response from the server operators," he said. "I hadn't anticipated it to be this strong either way, even including receiving death threats. [...] I don't really have a personal opinion about TF2 going free to play, it's brought in lots of new players, but I'm not sure it's worth the long-term cost. I think that once the droves of inexperienced players dies down, we're going to be left with a (slow) steady stream of new players (good), but primarily just cheaters and people evading server bans."

It's understandable there's issues within the community, as Team Fortress 2 was not free-to-play on day one. Were Valve to release a game with a free-to-play model on day one, the fervor would be less.

DOTA 2, anyone?

Staff
#2 Posted by Hakkesshu (27 posts) -

Nice!

#3 Edited by sLiPdIsCo (49 posts) -

I've had no problems since it went F2P. I play 2-3 hours a day and haven't seen a hacker yet. Find a good server with admins that are regularly on and you should have a good time. Oh, and stay away from Jiggly's Funhouse.

#4 Posted by VoshiNova (1633 posts) -

Scoutin'

#5 Posted by Vitor (2809 posts) -

God-dammit Patrick I f*cking love your articles. It's nice having stuff that isn't just your average preview/review/ripped from press release info pretending to be news you get from so many other outlets.

#6 Posted by phrosnite (3518 posts) -

TF2 doesn't interest me. Bring on DOTA 2 but if you can't deny creeps and not lose money when you die like in the noobish LoL, DOTA 2 will be dead to me.

#7 Posted by handlas (2636 posts) -

....people take TF2 way too seriously apparently. I stopped playing before all the hat BS started up.

#8 Edited by MayorFeedback (674 posts) -

GB, you know I love you, but I really hate the new color and font of the text in quotes. It's so dark, so bold, and so hard to read. =(

Also, fuck this mod. Playing with new players is fun as hell, even if they don't always know what they're doing.

#9 Posted by ComradeLarko (26 posts) -

As someone who has played TF2 since 2007, I have absolutely no issue with it going free-to-play. Quite the contrary in fact. Renewed interest and fresh players have been a welcome sight.

#10 Posted by Thoseposers (773 posts) -

@handlas: you're such a hipster :P

#11 Posted by crazyleaves (636 posts) -

Nice article Patrick. Bought the game day one. I think Baker makes some good points at the end but, as a player that stuff doesn't really affect me. If someone is hacking I'll move to another server if there isn't a mod present. They can't all be assholes, can they? 

#12 Posted by eloj (488 posts) -

s/artificial/application/

#13 Posted by Bigrhyno (505 posts) -

@phrosnite said:

TF2 doesn't interest me. Bring on DOTA 2 but if you can't deny creeps and not lose money when you die like in the noobish LoL, DOTA 2 will be dead to me.

A couple of weeks a go, a guy leaked some details about the beta he is in. There's no way of confirming that his information was legitimate, but if it was, they are releasing two different game modes; one for the the former and one for the latter.

#14 Posted by Mayu_Zane (606 posts) -

TF2 player from southeast Asia here. Community's generally friendly with F2P folks long as they don't start trouble or keep begging for items. A lot of the newcomers seem to be Counter Strike players.

#15 Posted by sabin1001 (9 posts) -

Doesn't API stand for Application Programming Interface?

#16 Posted by Sammo21 (3199 posts) -

I've played TF2 since it was in beta...I don't care if there are F2P people running around as it only bolsters my stats lol. If anyone needs help with Tf2 or something, just give me a shout.

#17 Posted by amomjc (977 posts) -

@phrosnite said:

TF2 doesn't interest me. Bring on DOTA 2 but if you can't deny creeps and not lose money when you die like in the noobish LoL, DOTA 2 will be dead to me.

I am not berating you, I just have a question. What about Creep Denying and lose of $ really made DOTA great?

#18 Posted by Joru (311 posts) -
@drhans said:

GB, you know I love you, but I really hate the new color and font of the text in quotes. It's so dark, so bold, and so hard to read. =(

Yeah, that text needs to be changed. 
As for the mod, it doesn't really matter - new players definitely don't want to be playing with the kind of people who would use this stuff for their server.
#19 Posted by MrMazz (905 posts) -

I dont play TF2 more of a COD BF guy myself but this was pretty interesting good shit patrick

#20 Posted by MayorFeedback (674 posts) -

@Joru said:

As for the mod, it doesn't really matter - new players definitely don't want to be playing with the kind of people who would use this stuff for their server.

Good point.

#21 Posted by phrosnite (3518 posts) -
@csoup said:

@phrosnite said:

TF2 doesn't interest me. Bring on DOTA 2 but if you can't deny creeps and not lose money when you die like in the noobish LoL, DOTA 2 will be dead to me.

I am not berating you, I just have a question. What about Creep Denying and lose of $ really made DOTA great?

It's an essential part of the game. The way things are headed I won't be suprised if DOTA 2 is free to play and has the BS from LoL. Then count me out.
#22 Posted by Strege (9 posts) -

This reminds me of msleeper's controversial Honeypot plugin, which would ban someone from a server if they had visited an "achievement server", where one could farm achievements with the aid of the map's features and other players, which was set up to be a Honeypot server. However, the plugin is more broad in this case, and its creator seems more agreeable to most than msleeper.

#23 Posted by buckybit (1455 posts) -

again a Klepek-"exclusive", as in 'real' reporting. +1

*slow-clap*

#24 Posted by Jeffk38uk (714 posts) -

My issue with it is that you treat all new players as potential griefers, traders or other undesirables simply because they are playing with a free account, ignoring that such practices occur with existing players anyway. It just seems like discrimination simply because you don't want to deal with it more specifically. 
 
Still, I can see why it was asked for, but I doubt it will stick around. After all, many complained when Valve fixed the idling issue.

#25 Posted by Ooame (165 posts) -

@csoup said:

@phrosnite said:

TF2 doesn't interest me. Bring on DOTA 2 but if you can't deny creeps and not lose money when you die like in the noobish LoL, DOTA 2 will be dead to me.

I am not berating you, I just have a question. What about Creep Denying and lose of $ really made DOTA great?

The creep denying adds another layer of skill to the lane phase of the game and the losing money when you die adds an actual risk to dying other than just the spawn timer. It doesn't necessarily make the game better though.

#26 Posted by Monk (181 posts) -

I've played TF2 since the beginning and free to play has brought only one "hacker" to the server I frequent. I am happy to have more players playing. Servers are fuller.

#27 Posted by Brendan (7666 posts) -

Who sends death threats about video games? Oh right, people do. *sigh

#28 Posted by TekZero (2659 posts) -

Interesting, but TF2 doesn't run on my computer anyway, so I have no official comment. 

#29 Edited by Vorbis (2749 posts) -

Don't really have issue with the the mod, not that many servers are using it and he has a point, the mod could of been a lot worse.

Also how cheap are you if you don't already own TF2 or can't afford a $1 item off the store to go premium and bypass the mod totally.

#30 Posted by sirdesmond (1234 posts) -

@buckybit said:

again a Klepek-"exclusive", as in 'real' reporting. +1

*slow-clap*

This is why I followed his articles over here from G4. He always makes a point to actually go out of his way to contact and talk to the people he is writing about. It's nice to have the occasional, true journalist round these parts (the internet).

#31 Posted by buft (3300 posts) -

just play on the valve servers and the problem is averted. 

#32 Posted by drevilbones (89 posts) -

Man, great article Patrick! As a middle-of-the-road, on-again-off-again player of TF2, I am all about the influx of new players that are worse than me. :-D I've played more TF2 in the last week and a half than I have in the last two years combined, and I'm having a blast.

That said, I am also all for the openness of the PC platform. Valve gives away the server software free. There are TONS of servers up at any given time. A vocal minority of server admins running mods like this isn't going to even make a dent in the community. As I type this, there are over 200 TF2 servers running. I don't think anybody, premium account or not, will have trouble finding a game.

#33 Posted by McGriddle550 (285 posts) -

If only Patrick was a talented journalist :P

#34 Posted by Hailinel (23677 posts) -

So Asher Baker is a douche enabler, then.

Online
#35 Edited by Sinful (211 posts) -

another elitist player thinking he/she is too good than anyone else in a game..nothing else to see here.

#36 Posted by Bumpton (438 posts) -
@McGriddle550 said:
If only Patrick was a talented journalist :P

lolwut.
#37 Posted by WinterSnowblind (7613 posts) -

People act like jerks in games all the time, F2P or not.

This mod can only possibly hurt the community.. Bringing in newcomers should be a good thing, you shouldn't be driving them away with pitchforks. I definitely don't want to be anywhere near the game if this is the way most players act.. and I've played a lot of Halo.

#38 Posted by D_W (1109 posts) -

Klepek is credit to team!

But this is a really interesting article. I think server hosts should have the right to make their server non-F2P if they so choose. When it comes to trading servers however, I think Valve should make some sort of in house mass trading area. Even if it is just an in game chat room. Having a developer sanctioned mass trading post that exists when your in game but not connected to a server would be a good idea for all parties.

#39 Posted by Shuborno (938 posts) -

Good article.

The mod makes perfect sense for trading servers. If you can't trade, why be on the server?

#40 Posted by Oscar__Explosion (2178 posts) -

All this free to play stuff only means that I can play Spy and backstab the hell out of everyone because none of the new players know how to spy check.

#41 Posted by viktual (1 posts) -
@handlas said:
....people take TF2 way too seriously apparently. I stopped playing before all the hat BS started up.
I would say so, an unusual hat just sold for $1500 USD yesterday, yes, $1500.
#42 Posted by gla55jAw (2685 posts) -

People take vidyagamez too seriously.

#43 Posted by Simplexity (1382 posts) -

Meh people make to big a deal out of this, there are like 1 billion servers out there, a couple of them kick free to play players, I think we can all live with that.

#44 Posted by tourgen (4426 posts) -

kind of a bummer people have to be like that.  why not just handle it case-by-case?  I don't see the need to ban all new players.

#45 Posted by cornwalliz (214 posts) -

Since it went Free to play, all game have I've played have been awesome and fun, F2P players really enjoy it even when they're are getting massacred, so I have no problem going F2P

#46 Posted by sins_of_mosin (1556 posts) -

It's private servers, so what?  People take a mole hill as a mountain these days.
#47 Posted by HydraHam (1338 posts) -

Get rid of the stupid hats and stat based weapons and i will re-install TF2, till then that game is dead to me, valve ruined it.

#48 Posted by zaglis (909 posts) -
@Styl3s said:

Get rid of the stupid hats and stat based weapons and i will re-install TF2, till then that game is dead to me, valve ruined it.

Nobody cares. Everyone else is having fun playing with the new weapons and map(s).
#49 Posted by Duffman (208 posts) -

I was a bit put off at the idea of such a mod, but after reading the guy's justification for it, I completely understand.  And I'm one of the F2P guys.

#50 Posted by lordofultima (6204 posts) -

The PC community contradicts itself. We want games, oh no player base, becomes F2P, now they're elitist and try to segregate themselves. What on earth kind of logic is that?

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