Yesterday, Valve began offering their class-based multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2 for free after four years of offering it as a paid product. At the time, Valve promised that free players would receive “exactly the same” gaming experience, with the exception of a few technical limitations on free accounts related to the game’s item system. However, in less than a day, a user-made server plugin has been created to restrict free players from joining servers altogether.
The mod, when installed by a server owner, automatically kicks anyone playing the free version of Team Fortress 2. The only way to play on servers with this plugin installed is to own a premium copy of Team Fortress 2. Players who paid for the full version of the game have premium access, as well as those who have spent money on items at the in-game store.
While it is a bit disappointing that Valve won’t be able to deliver on their promise that free players will have the same access that paid players do, it is in some ways a relief to server owners and community managers that this server plugin is available. After all, permanently banning cheaters or griefers doesn’t do much good when they can come back right away with a free account, and limiting the playing field to those players who have paid money into the system makes it harder for banned users to return with “alt” accounts.
It is of course important to note that this is a user-made plugin and entirely optional for server owners. Although some operators are bound to install and run this plugin to keep away free players, it is likely that the vast majority of servers will run without it, meaning that even if they are barred from a few servers, free players will still have no shortage of free servers to turn to. And even if server owners do overwhelmingly choose to bar free players from joining, free players will still be able to play on Valve’s official Team Fortress 2 servers.
The creator of the plugin also says that he had considered adding an option to only allow players who had bought the full version of Team Fortress 2 to play, meaning that rather than simply purchasing a 50 cent item from the in-game store, players would actually have to pay $10 for a full copy of Team Fortress 2 in order to access servers with the plugin, at the discretion of the server owner. He decided against implementing this “feature,” as this would prevent new players from joining due to the fact that paid copies of Team Fortress 2 are no longer available through Steam, but the fact remains that it would be technically possible for someone to create a plugin with this feature.