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I picked up the Orange Box, mostly to play Portal, but I've played TF2 a bit here and there. In all my playing, I've never seen an item drop.

Am I just not looking properly? Do I have to run up and loot the corpse à la World of Warcraft?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

The item drop system gives you a random item after a certain amount of time.

Players are guaranteed to find items at regular intervals of 30 to 70 minutes, with an average interval of 50 minutes.

There is no cap on the amount of items that can be received per week, but instead a cap on the amount of playtime in which drops can occur

Each class also has items that are awarded based on completing achievements with that class in addition to being randomly found.

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You'll also get a notification after your next death that you received an item and it will bring up a large picture and description of it. –  user2974 Dec 29 '11 at 5:36
    
Do the winter items work the same way? –  McKay Dec 29 '11 at 5:40
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@McKay: If you mean the items for the achievement, no. Those drop as actual presents from dead players, and you need to collect 3 of them for the achievement. –  user2974 Dec 29 '11 at 6:13
    
@Powerlord Thanks. That was helpful too. –  McKay Dec 29 '11 at 7:38
    
Also, there's a weekly limit on the number of items you can get. –  Ullallulloo Dec 29 '11 at 16:04
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