Way back when the very first International Dota 2 tournament was going on, there were some grumblings of a Valve-produced documentary film being made about the subject. That very documentary, Free to Play, now has a release date: March 19th, 2014 on Steam. If that sounds weird to you, let me explain why it is, in fact, pretty cool.
First off, if you're in the San Francisco area, you should definitely look in to getting a ticket for the preimiere of the film on March 18th. $25 gets you access to the film, as well as a post-screening Q&A session with the filmmakers and "special guests." But there's not a lot out of place with the whole "special premiere event, followed by a digital release" plan, filmmakers have been doing this for a little while now. What is strange is that the the digital distribution platform of choice is Steam.
On the one hand, a documentary about Dota 2 and The International tournament makes sense on Steam. On the other hand, Steam is for games. At least, to a lot of people, it is. Steam has been slowly expanding what types of media it deals with, though it's been going rather slow. First it introduced software sales, and then it offered Indie Game: The Movie (again, a rather apt addition), and lately Steam has been advertising it's Steam Music features.
Still, we're talking about movies, so let's focus on that. Up until now, Indie Game: The Movie has been the only film available on Steam, and they've done some slightly interesting stuff with it, most notably the Special Edition DLC, which I was actually pretty impressed with. Those who just want to watch the movie can just buy that, film nerds (like myself) can get the special features as well if so desired.
What Valve is doing with the release of Free to Play is even more interesting, though, in my opinion. You see, on the same day the film comes out, three new Dota 2 sets will be released, as well as a new HUD, a new courier, and new wards, all centered around the documentary and the three players featured most prominently (in addition 25% of the proceeds from sales of these items go directly to these players).
I love cross-promotional stuff like this, and I really like the way that Valve is thinking outside of the box. Sure, Free to Play is just a small, free film, but if we could see this same kind of idea utilized for bigger films, think of how cool it could be. Rather than a crappy video-game tie-in for promotion of the newest Marvel film, you could get Marvel Heroes items, or Avengers-themed hats in Team Fortress 2.
I also wouldn't mind seeing some more films showing up on Steam. Honestly, opening Steam is the first thing I do when I turn on my computer anyway, I think it would be great to have all my movies, games, and software easily accessible in one place. Besides, the current options for digital films leave quite a bit to be desired, and if Steam could do for movie distribution what they've done for game distribution, I would totally be on board.
That's a silly thought. There's no signs as of right now that Valve is actually heading into the film distribution business any time soon, but it's still a cool idea, nonetheless. Either way, I think the idea of more outside-of-the-box tie-ins and promotions is a cool idea, and I can't wait to see more of it.