How The War Z controversy could have been avoided

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This week has been filled with emerging stories regarding The War Z. When this game was released on Steam, it quickly rose to the top of the sales charts. And why wouldn’t it? People love anything with zombies in it these days. The developer of The War Z, Hammerpoint Interactive, most certainly enjoyed watching all the money roll in from eager fans looking to have a good time. But now, the gravy train has stopped. Why? Because Hammerpoint made three crucial missteps when it comes to dealing with customers. 1) Hammerpoint got greedy. 2) Hammerpoint was dishonest. 3) Hammerpoint treated customers like idiots. 

The Lies and Greed

Here’s the thing. The reason why players are bashing The War Z is not because the game is unfinished. It has been proven time and time again that unfinished games can still make a lot of money and gain a very loyal fanbase. Look at Minecraft. Look at Don’t Starve. The difference between those games and The War Z is that Mojang and Klei Entertainment were up front with the status of their games. It was clearly stated that Minecraft was an alpha build and Don’t Starve is a beta build. When you tell players this, they understand they’re not getting a finished product and are willing to deal with the bugs they encounter. In reality, there’s a sense of pride in being a part of an on-going development process that they can help shape based on their feedback. This is how a loyal community is built. This is how developers can retain players who will spread the word about a game to all their friends.

Hammerpoint didn’t do this with The War Z, and it was a crucial mistake. GameSpy has a screengrab of the original Steam description on The War Z along with an eye opening interview with The War Z executive producer Sergey Titov that you should definitely read. Here is the description in question. Notice how it never states how The War Z is anything less than a complete game.

Despite how the general public may portray us, gamers are not dumb and childish. The investigative work of a single gaming community can rival that of major news outlets. That’s exactly what happened with The War Z. Hammerpoint was called out for not initially supporting 100 players on each server (it started out with a 50 player cap), only supporting a single 100 kilometer map when the description mentions “areas between 100 to 400 square kilometers,” and outright lying about in-game transactions. For any developer reading this, please take this next sentence to heart. Gamers HATE it when they pay for a game that also has constant in-game transactions. This is especially true if you fail to disclose it. Not only does The War Z include in-game purchases, it also reportedly requires a player to wait around four hours to respawn when they die. From what I understand, the only way around this is to either create a new character or pay 50 gold ($0.40) to respawn immediately. Considering the incredibly buggy nature of this game as reported by players, it’s simply not fair to charge them anything more than what they paid. The War Z apparently has a big hacker problem that results in far more player on player deaths than zombie deaths.

If Hammerpoint had just said the game is in alpha or beta, the rage wouldn’t be there.

The Insults

Customers are not idiots and they’re not an annoyance. They pay the developer’s salaries which in turn pays their bills. It’s incredibly arrogant and frankly stupid to get on the bad side of the people who can determine whether or not you can pay rent next month. But that’s exactly what Hammerpoint did. Mr. Titov issued a non-apology on The War Z forums yesterday. For the most part, the statement was fine. It was one sentence that exposed his true feelings on the matter.

“We also want to extend our apologies to all players who misread infromation [sic] about game features.”

No one misread the game features. The players are not illiterate, they can read just fine. The fact is that Hammerpoint lied, or to a lesser extent, mislead players with its Steam description of The War Z. This is what he should have said.

“After reading through numerous forum posts from our players regarding The War Z, we realize that our description of the game on Steam was interpreted differently than we intended. It was never our intention to mislead anyone about The War Z. We truly apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused and will be immediately changing our description based on the feedback we received. We hope you will continue to support us and help us make The War Z the best game it can possibly be.”

See? That’s no so hard, and I’m not even in PR.

The bottom line is this developers: Own up to your mistakes even if you think you did nothing wrong. You can mutter under your breath all you want, but never passive aggressively attack or insult your paying customers. If you do, players will revolt and leave you with nothing. The War Z is not on Steam anymore, and many players are getting refunds. With all the negative press this game has received, it’s likely it will never reach the levels of success it was on track to obtain.

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