Along with the announcement of Dota 2’s store, Valve added a Workshop to the game, with a slew of community made items that are now pending for addition to Dota 2 itself. ‘Pending’ being the operative word there. Whether they get considered or not isn’t entirely up to Valve; they’ve made it so that the voting system, present on Workshop items both in Team Fortress 2 and Skyrim so far, is going to dictate what gets put in the game or not.
It’s a very smart diplomatic move from Valve, because it does a lot to assuage the worry that Dota 2 would turn into TF2, with comical items becoming par for the course, and all sorts of references to outside games coming in to muddy the waters. While it’s debatable whether it actually does TF2 any good at the moment, it was always a game that had tongue firmly planted in cheek, so whatever ‘tone’ there was didn’t need to change all that much to fit the new additions.
Dota 2, on the other hand, has a very distinct tone, and a completely different audience. Instead of popping into a game for ten minutes while you burn off the last of your lunchbreak or just disconnect from the world for a second, a game of Dota 2 requires upwards of an hour to complete, and you’re with the same ten people the whole way through. If someone has something as incongruous as Alpine Ursa (currently the most contentious item in the Workshop, although Blademother comes a close second), it’s going to grate more than most, especially when he’s gallumping around in lederhosen and that silly hat.
Valve have to monetise Dota 2, because they’re not a charity. And the cosmetic items seem like the smartest way to go, and at least so far, the shop is extremely in keeping with the current theme for each character, making them look distinctly different but maintaining visual congruity. There’s little to complain about, except to fret about a slippery slope opening the flood gates to Snipers with AK47s and Rikis with fedoras and leather gloves.
Which is exactly what this voting system is designed to prevent. In theory it’s sound, as it puts the power directly in the community’s hands, leaving the decision up to them what makes it into their game. But even here, there’s a tinge of paranoia, because while the people playing the game right now tend to be the Dota hardcore, once the game is officially made available to all by Valve, they’re going to have a lot more players than just those who have spent the last few years capping towers and farming creeps.
It’s the double edged blade that is Valve Software. They’re so good, and have been so consistently good, that huge amounts of people want to play every game that they release. However there’s a very good reason that so many people still consider Dota and Dota-likes to be some weird niche where everyone shouts at everyone and going into it without wearing the skin of a slaughtered Rhinoceros is pure lunacy. Dota 2 has an incredibly steep learning curve, and until you’ve climbed that cliff you’re going to do harm to your team. It’s just the nature of the game.
But if you’re going to get that many people coming in, getting enthusiastic about the game because of who made it rather than what it is, they’re not going to care about the tone, for the most part. They’re going to care if they can bring in something from their favourite game into this, and that’s what they’re going to upvote in the Workshop. It’s why so many games come with TF2 bonuses as preorder incentives, and why so much of the TF2 workshop is homages and references to other games.
If Dota 2 becomes as successful as Valve clearly wants it to be, then there’s a danger that mob rule isn’t going to be best for everyone.