I am 132 hours into Dota 2. During this time, I haven't spent a single cent on the game, but damned if it's not doing everything in its power to tempt me.
I don't know how much longer I can hold out. In fact, I think it's probably inevitable that I will end up spending money on what is otherwise a free-to-play game. I'll probably spend more money than I might have ended up spending on a full-priced $60 dollar game, given the sheer number of things you can buy in Dota 2.
As I play, it feels like a million tiny things come together to push me over the edge onto a bad compulsion. There's the fact that it wouldn't actually be so bad to throw some dollars at Valve, or the folks making content for the game, given that I'm spending so much time playing it. But there are other less noble reasons, too. It's hard not to notice, for example, that the main menu has the store button appearing before the "play" button:
The game also likes to constantly throw STUFF at you at the end of every match—pieces of costumes, items, that sort of thing. Ostensibly, this is a good thing: it means you get rewarded for playing the game. But, at least in my experience, there are so many things in Dota 2 that it seems rare to get something I actually want for a character I actually play.
Right now, receiving neat items for characters I don't play makes me wonder about all the great items the store must have for characters I do play. Why wait who-knows-how-many hours when I could spend a little cash to get what I want right now? I'll think, right before wanting to slap myself.
But it's that thought that leads me to the Dota 2 store.
I won't mince words: Fuck this place. Fuck this wondrous place full of goodies. I try not to visit the store very often, since I always end up looking at stuff that I know I don't need. Just looking through the store to get the screenshots in this post felt a little painful.
There are the hero sets—or, a few pieces of equipment which come together to form a specific costume. I'll look at characters I play, and my mind swings back and forth between why buying something is the best idea, or why it's the worst idea.
I'll look at Dragon Knight's hero sets, for example, and go...hmm, these costumes are kind of overwrought, aren't they?
Yet there I will be, contemplating wearing them. Pretending that I wouldn't immediately equip any of the items in these "overdone" sets if the game just gave them to me.
I'll zoom into sets like those on Earthshaker, and I'll think, yes, this is great! But I only want one specific part of this set—so why spend money on the full thing? But also: if I spend money on the full thing, I'll get the specific thing that I want. Conundrum! EDIT: I've been told you can buy stuff from the marketplace, but that's not really a solution to the issue, given that I'm trying *not* to spend money on Dota 2 right now!
I'll look at characters like Kunkka and go, wow, what an embarrassing, awful hat...but I want it:
I'll look at costumes for Skywrath Mage and think, it's the most badass thing ever, but that there's no way I could wear it without basically putting a target on my head:
I know how it goes. Developers like to tell you that cosmetic items only make superficial changes to a game, but no, that's not exactly true. Costumes carry social dynamics with them. I've played games where someone will target me or other folks for daring to wear something flashy—the thinking being, they wouldn't wear the item in question unless they were an asshole, right? So why not troll them? They deserve it anyway. Right?
It's especially bad if your character is sort of hated to begin with. Every game has a character like this—sometimes it's because the character is overused, or too powerful, or there's something about their design that just rubs people the wrong way. Think of them as the Dawn of the group. Nobody likes Dawn. Dawn very well might have done nothing wrong, but there's just something about her name, her very existence which makes you want to kill her. (I'm sorry, readers named Dawn.)
Sniper is definitely the Dawn of Dota 2. As much as I enjoy playing the character, and as much as I like some of his costumes, like this one:
I would never actually buy it. People already hate this character as it is, I don't want to make it worse on myself.
In any case, I'll inevitably end up at a character that seems to have nothing but great costumes, like Sven:
And I'll immediately have to close Dota 2 before I buy everything Sven-related.
Even characters I don't particularly want to play tempt me. Tidehunter, for example? I'm a shit Tidehunter. I've developed no connection to the character, either. But man if I don't want this hat anyway.
I'm almost thankful that the store doesn't seem to have anything for certain heroes I like, such as Zeus.
Then there're the couriers, the little critters that deliver items to you during matches.
These little guys are worse than the hero sets, because they're so damn precious. I don't typically end up playing as the character who buys the courier, but I'm definitely tempted to buy a special courier just to see it in-game.
I mean, look at this little dude. I don't even know what in the world he is, but I want it:
Auuuugh. Maybe it's more accurate to say I want a Pokemon-like game that revolves around Dota 2's adorable critters, but still.
It's sort of genius, too. The couriers, in combination with wards—which let you keep watch over areas of the map by lifting the fog of war—are cosmetic items which are well-designed and encourage you to play more strategically. I've played plenty of matches where people refused to buy the courier, but maybe they'd be more willing to spend a little in-game gold on the courier if they thought it was cute. Wards, meanwhile, are criminally underutilized. Same logic applies here though: if you have special ones, why not actually use them in battle? The fact you'll help out your entire team by doing so is the icing on the cake.
Not everything in the Dota 2 store calls out to me. I'm not really interested in announcers, or HUD stuff, for example. But there's enough in the store that I covet that I try my best to steer clear of it, lest I end up spending a regrettable amount of money on silly stuff.
This situation is absurd, I know. My problem is that the game is free—so there's like a $60 negative space in my wallet that is tempting me to fill it. It's...not really an actual "problem." And yet I'm proud of myself for staying strong for this long. I know this is a battle I'll end up losing, I know it's just a matter of time before I buy something in the game. But for now, screw you Dota 2. You haven't beaten me just yet.