A week ago, with little fanfare, Valve added the Alpine Ursa set to the Dota 2 store. It came amid a whole wave of items for Ursa, giving him iron armour, bone armour, leather armour. Turning him from the bare/bear chested warrior into something more out to keep himself alive, but nonetheless in keeping with his general aesthetic, and his lore. Alpine Ursa, on the other hand, threw him in a pair of lederhosen and tossed a hat with a feather in it on his head.
Yesterday, with the latest patch to the game, Valve quietly removed Alpine Ursa from the shop, leaving all the other sets for the hero untouched. It wasn’t because it was a silly comedy set, as such. There are silly items in the game already, like pretty much anything Tidehunter wears. There’s no official Valve statement about the item, but it’s safe to assume that the public reception to the items, throughout the most vocal of Dota 2’s fans, was less than stellar.
There’s two sides to this story. They’re linked, but should be dealt with separately. On the one hand you have the items themselves; I highlighted them a way back when the Workshop first came into play. It’s not so much that they’re silly, but because they’re incongruous. They don’t fit with the style of the game, but more importantly they don’t fit with Ursa’s lore. It’s easy to roll your eyes at such an argument, but when you’ve got an entire community making aesthetic content for a game, it’s handy to have a few quality controls.
The other, and far, far more important thing is that these items were sitting at ratings of two and three stars, on their Workshop pages. These were after thousands of ratings, showing, at the very least, that opinion on them was conflicted. When the Workshop first came into play, Valve put up an FAQ for it, found on their Spoils of War page.
“Q. If fans are creating content via Steam Workshop, how will you ensure it fits the theme of a hero/game?
A. We’re acutely aware of the community’s concerns about remaining true to the theme of the game, so much so that we think the community should be directly involved in the process of choosing what goes into it. The Steam workshop allows you to submit your votes and thoughts on contributed items before we make any decision to put them into the game, so jump in and help us stay on the right track. We think the community at large is actually really good at making these kinds of decisions.”
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Ignoring the items themselves for a moment, this is a dangerous precedent to be setting from Valve. To put items on the store that have such a comparatively low rating (there are currently 246 items in the Workshop with five star ratings, for some perspective) makes it seem that the community input is secondary to what Valve want to add to the game, and while that’s fine from a developer point of view, they’ve explicitly stated that this wouldn’t be the case.
Except, luckily, it’s not as simple as that. As shown by the tireless Cyborgmatt, these items were actually added to the game as far back as the 30th of May, and while we can’t grab the ratings of the items from then, they were definitely sitting a lot higher at that point. They’ve been sitting in Dota 2’s backend for all that time, and it’s only now that they were added to the store.
And then promptly removed. Which makes it seem like it was a scheduled or automated thing, and once Valve realised quite how much they’d fallen out of favour in the last three months, they quickly took them out of the loop. Which, if anything, is even more encouraging.
It’s easy to forget that Dota 2 is still in beta. Easier still to let it pass you by that Valve might not actually have all the answers, this early in the game. That they’re still figuring things out, and are going to make the odd slipup. The addition of Alpine Ursa to the shop was a mistake, certainly, but it was one they corrected quickly and quietly, without having to make a big deal out of it.
It does, however, highlight the need for the community to be active, especially when it comes to the ratings of items. Making it known that something is great, or something is not, is the only way that Dota 2 is going to be the way that the community wants Dota 2 to be. It’s brilliant that Valve are willing to let us dictate what we want added, and what we don’t, but if we don’t exercise that right, they won’t be able to take advantage of it.
How else are we going to have more sea-creatures to cover Tidehunter with, after all? I’m not going to be happy until he’s a walking aquarium.