For almost as long as there have been item drops in Team Fortress 2, there have been ways to game the system. Valve has made it obvious that they are not OK with certain methods, and have gone as far as to punish those who have bent the rules too far. In one particular situation, they even rewarded players who did not cheat. Let’s take a look at the history and current methods of getting the most out of the TF2 drop system each week.
The TF2 drop system
Trading aside, the easiest way for a player to build their TF2 item collection is the drop system. The current drop system awards players between five and twelve weapons, a hat or two—if they are lucky—and one to four crates in a one week period. These items, as a whole, are commonly referred to as drops. While playing TF2, items randomly drop into player’s backpacks on approximately an hourly basis. Each hour of play time earns a chance. An algorithm amounting to a complicated roll of the dice decides if the player gets a weapon, and if they do, which weapon they get. If the player is very lucky, they will be awarded a random hat. Crates come on an almost guaranteed basis because they are designed to tempt players into buying keys (but that’s a whole different article). The observed maximum amount of weapons a player can receive in a week is twelve. Basically, if a player plays twelve hours of TF2 a week, they will get the most out of the drop system. Before we get into the different ways to achieve this, let’s look at what not to do.
Third Party Programs Are Evil
Around May of 2009, when the drop system was fresh and new to TF2, some programmers figured out that they could write programs to connect to the Steam Community and make it look like players were playing TF2. They were able to unlock many items this way by just running the custom program. The Internet being what it is, the information was posted on public forums and quite a few players participated in hosting, distributing and running these third party idling programs. Valve caught wind of this and was not happy about it. On September 2nd, 2009, Valve released an update that took all items acquired via third party programs out of player’s backpacks and gave an in-game halo hat, called the Cheater’s Lament, to players who had not used the programs. This was a loud and clear message that Valve would be the only ones gaming their systems. Many players, including the creators of the more popular third party idle programs, rallied behind Valve’s stance and put out messages on forums along with the web pages that used to host the programs advising everyone that third party programs were a no-no. Others acted like five year olds and created server-side mods that changed the look of the Cheater’s Lament to put less-than-cordial words above the player’s heads instead of the halo.
Now that we know what not to do, let’s take a look at the options available to play by the rules and still get the good stuff.
This is the simple route. Put in the time to play twelve hours of TF2 per week (the Icrontic server is a great place to start), and that should do it. Each time a player gets a drop, they receive a notification and it is placed in their backpack the next time they die. This is the method that Valve had in mind when designing the drop system, and is the basis of all other methods.
As an alternative to actually playing the game, clever map makers have created idling maps. These maps use environmental damage to hurt and eventually kill players automatically. Each time a player dies they respawn to go through the process again. This is done so the player does not idle timeout and get disconnected from the server. This method allows players to start up TF2, jump on an idling server and walk away. The downside to this method is that the player is not in control of the server and could get disconnected for any number of reasons. If this happens shortly after connecting, the player does not become aware of it until they check back later, losing any time after disconnection. If a player has the computer power to both host a server and connect, they can get around the issue by doing so, but their computer is most likely unusable during this time.
In some players’ eyes Text Idling is the best of both worlds: staying within the TF2 software and being able to reliably ‘set it and forget it’ to collect drops. There are settings within TF2 itself that allow players to run the game without visuals or sound. These options exist so that servers can run without having to launch the game interface, and from Valve’s point of view this looks like the player is connected to a LAN game. It’s as easy as creating a batch file and running it while logged in to Steam. The batch file launches the TF2 program file in text mode (within a command box), creates a local server and connects the player to it all while using fewer computing resources than running the game itself. The player doesn’t die in-game to receive the drops directly into their backpack, but receives them all in one glut the next time they log in. Some people see this as the perfect solution to squeeze those extra items out of the drop system when they don’t have the time to put in each week, while others see this as cheating. The practice of text idling has been going on for quite a while and Valve has not released any updates in attempt to stop it nor have they made any official statements against it.
Taking It To The Extreme
For some, twelve items a week with a slim chance at a hat is not enough. Let’s skip the in-between talk and go straight to how some players get hundreds of items each week. They use multiple accounts. With each added account, the extreme idlers get twelve items per week, per account. It only takes an email address, a few minutes, and a 49 cent purchase in the Mann Co. store to create a new premium account, allowing the extreme idlers to create upwards of twenty or more accounts with minimal investment. Even though Steam is designed to only allow one account at a time to be logged in on a computer, there are programs that virtualize Windows and use multiple installations of Steam to run multiple accounts all at once as if it was multiple computers. An average gaming computer may be able to run four to six accounts at a time. You can see how, with the combination of this along with multiple physical computers, one can create a rather intricate operation resulting in the aforementioned hundreds of items each week. As with text idling, feelings on this practice are split. These extreme idlers would argue that they paid for the accounts and they are not doing anything anyone else couldn’t do with the investment of time, money and effort. There isn’t anything in the Steam Subscriber Agreement specifically against someone opening multiple accounts, so it’s hard to come up with an argument against that.
How To Text Idle
If you want to text idle, the following is a step-by-step guide to doing so. First let’s go through creating your text idle shortcut:
- Highlight the following code with your mouse. Right click on the highlighted text and on the resulting menu click on Copy.
C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steam.exe" -applaunch 440 -nosound -novid -textmode +sv_password "ThisIsAPassword" +map cp_badlands
- Open Notepad and paste that text into the edit window.
- If your version of Windows is not 64-bit, delete the space and (x86) after Program Files out of the path.
- Click on the File menu. On the resulting menu click on Save As.
- In the Save As box that comes up you will see *.txt highlighted in the File Name box near the bottom. Simply start typing idle.bat and it will overwrite what was there.
- In most cases Desktop will be selected for the location to save. Use the side bar to select where you want to save this file. Keep in mind this is the file you will need to run to text idle so put it somewhere easy to find such as the Desktop.
- Click Save.
Whenever you want to text idle:
- Make sure you are logged into Steam and simply run the idle.bat file you created by double-clicking on it. Note that some systems are set up to run files with a single click—be careful not to run the file twice as this will cause errors.
- A command window will flash up on the screen and then you will see the typical “Preparing to launch Team Fortress 2” screen but instead of the game launching you should get another command window that will come up. It will go through some technical jargon and there will be some errors that go by, but wait it out. It should eventually come to the point where it says Username connected (Username being your current Steam Profile Name)
- Eat cake, walk away, or anything else because that is all you have to do. Let this run for however many hours a week you want to text idle.
- When you are done idling, use the X in the top right of the window to close your text idling session.
- Launch TF2 as normal to receive your drops.
As a whole, we at Icrontic are not going to tell you one way or the other if you should text idle or not. The fact of the matter is that no one knows if Valve is OK with all this or if they are against it and simply have not done anything about it yet. This is just an option in a game that can be used to supplement your playing time and get a few extra drops a week. Those who choose to take it further by running multiple accounts do so at their own risk. It really boils down to what your opinion on it is and we would love to hear your opinions in the comments below. We will however openly encourage those of you who want to play TF2 for twelve hours a week (or any amount of time!) with our TF2 Community Forum and inviting you to play on the IC TF2 Server available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.