Apparently 2014 really was the Year of the Promo. While at the time, it seemed to be just another step in the logical progression of Genuine cosmetics flooding our fair shooter as developers everywhere ticked another box in their marketing checklists to get people to play the latest game from <insert company here>, it appears that 2015 is not following in those footsteps and the flood of promos that assailed TF2’s filesize for the last few years has completely dried up.
Not counting competitive TF2 tournament medals, the last Genuine-quality promotional items added to TF2 as a cross-franchise publicity perk were the results of the TF Tomb Contest 2014, where a collection of community-created items were chosen by Valve and Square Enix to promote the upcoming Laura Croft and the Temple of Osiris. This was on December 3 2014, and you’ll notice this wasn’t even a normal promo release; they got the community to make the items for them. The same day the Binding of Isaac: Rebirth promo came out, which was a more traditional Genuine-quality item release, but that doesn’t change that it’s been over six months since any new promos have entered Team Fortress 2.
The implications are rather disheartening. We’d all pretty much taken for granted that the glory days of TF2 are past, with huge updates full of new weapons far less common, and even bugfixes are rare and usually consist mostly of “fixed a rare crash caused by something tiny and technical that players never see”. But promo items were immune to the chronicled and accepted early-year drought, to the point that people often asked Valve to stop bloody adding more of the things. I guess they got their wish.
This trend has unfortunate implications beyond just TF2’s players and developers. It’s showing that TF2 doesn’t hold the market value it once did even in the eyes of the entire PC gaming industry. Just like how every new movie used to make logo-stamped plastic lunchboxes and floppy disk-era games always came bundled with feelies, the complete abandonment of a once-common marketing gimmick can (and often is) lightning fast. Promotional campaigns are designed to spread the word as far as possible with whatever press budget allotted, and it’s rare for a company to stick their neck out for old-timey customs unless it’s a calculated gambit to hearken to the fans of an older era (or if the product in question is itself quite old, like Postal 2‘s recent expansion pack.) But I don’t think TF2 promos are dated enough a concept yet to score any points with the vintage crowd.
Of course, as previously mentioned, not everyone may see their absence as a bad thing. No new cosmetics means the file size isn’t getting larger and TF2 can settle into its retirement years comfortably without being constantly poked and prodded with new injections. Alternately, perhaps the dearth of promos is less permanent and has just joined most other content releases as “end of the year exclusives”. And with June finally upon us, the early-year drought usually ends right around now, so it’s possible I spoke too soon. I wouldn’t be disappointed if TF2 proved me wrong.