Welcome back to our countdown of the worst things to happen in gaming during 2012. Or, hello if you’re just joining us. And, in fact, it’s more my countdown than anything else, seeing as nobody else on the GameSparked staff is actually involved in these articles. Anyways, last time we examined in fine detail one of the worst ad campaigns in recent memory. Today; we are going to be taking a look at developers trying to pull a fast one, a chink in the armour of gaming gods and why insulting your audience when they have legitimate complaints is not a sound business move.
4] The War Z makes a mockery of Steam, its developers and everyone who bought it.
When you buy a product, there are certain things that you would expect, considering the fact that you put money down on it. You would expect it to work, you would expect it to be up to an acceptable standard of quality and you would expect it to contain everything that the description of said product said that it would contain. Now, with videogames, you can’t make a complaint about the second point, because quality is subjective and, nowadays, you can’t complain about the first point because developers will just promise to patch the problem “later”.
The third point, however? There you have grounds for complaint.
And that, thusly, is the story of The War Z, a zombie MMO for the PC which is not very good, has a couple of performance issues but, most importantly, went on sale on Steam listing features that it didn’t have yet. Gamers were being mis-sold a product and Valve, the people behind Steam, let it happen on their watch.
But, before we look at the wider consequences (and developer Hammerpoint Interactive’s response to the whole situation), let’s take a look at the features that gamers were being sold but didn’t actually turn up in the product that they paid $30 for. To begin with, there was absolutely no mention of the game being in Alpha/Beta stage without all of its features yet. Then it promises “private servers” in addition to the “dedicated public servers”. There aren’t any. The game promises a “hardcore” mode… that doesn’t exist. It promises “dozens of available skills” that you can spend your experience points on when, in fact, there’s not even one skill to purchase.
And then we get to the far more questionable features. According to the Steam listing, players can expect “A huge persistent world: The War Z is an open world game. Each world has areas between 100 to 400 square kilometres”. And, the game also boasts of having “Up to 100 players per game server”. The game has one world that is 72 square kilometres and has a max player cap on its servers of 50.
But don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at this image that circulated Reddit a few weeks back.
Naturally, the Internet got into a bit of an uproar over this whole thing, and understandably so. Now, if you were a developer in this situation, what would you do? Would you immediately start apologising profusely, amend the listings, offer a refund to anybody who doesn’t want to continue owning the game and go around trying to actually save your tattered reputation by seeming like you’re genuinely sorry? If you said yes to any of that previous list, then I am happy to inform you that you are not Sergey Titov, producer of The War Z, and, therefore, have a future in this industry!
The name Sergey Titov may be familiar to some of you. There’s a good reason for that; Titov is the programmer and producer responsible for the infamous classic Big Rigs: Over The Road Racing. And Titov brings that same knack for accepting blame and responsibility over controversial and unfinished games that he didn’t demonstrate at all with Big Rigs to The War Z.
Firstly, in a post on the Steam forums, he responded to criticisms about the game not containing advertised features by sticking his fingers in his ears and humming a tune to himself extremely loudly. “At the same time it was clear that there were a number of customers that felt that information about the game was presented in a way that could have allowed for multiple interpretations… We also want to extend our apologies to all players who misread information about game features.” Because it’s entirely possible to misread “no private servers” as “private servers”.
Nevertheless, Hammerpoint amended the listings, but that still didn’t stop the complaints. So, Titov held an interview with Gamespy to address calls for refunds and did so in a way that didn’t make him sound bitter in the slightest. “I’m sure there’ll be people who will look into small details and will say, ‘no I was misled,’ where in fact they imagined something to themselves without checking details first… I’m sure that Steam have its refund policies that should handle those situations.”
However, earlier on, Titov had been doing some digging of his own and he thought he’d gotten down to the source of this intense The War Z hate. Day Z fanboys jealous of his clearly superior product and he has survey statistics to back him up! According to a survey he put out there: 30% of The War Z players have played Day Z, 70% had never played Day Z and 5% had never heard of Day Z before playing The War Z. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 105%.
And as for those Day Z fanboys? Well, here’s Titov… “I really envy DayZ creators for having such loyal players, yet I don’t think we can do anything. Yes we’ve announced the game right before DayZ mod reached its prime and it started losing popularity after that. And yes, The War Z and DayZ themes are similar. Heck, both projects are using same reference to other products in their titles… So, if I’ll be a DayZ fanboy, I’ll be royally pissed off at The War Z. Especially since they won’t be able to do anything about it, all they can do is spread lies and false information about game. They just love to omit obvious facts and bend words.”
But in comes Valve to save the day, right? After all, they took the game down from the Steam service (it’s still listed there, but you can’t purchase it anymore), started offering refunds to disgruntled customers and are investigating claims that making negative comments towards The War Z on the Steam forum is getting people unjustly banned. Most every problem resolved in one fowl swoop, right? Great God Valve beat away injustice and saved us all, right?
Except not. Think about it for a minute. All of this happened on Valve’s service. Valve let this happen. They let this game go up on their stores with its misleading and flat-out lying advertising without actually checking first. So, even though they went about dealing with the issues at an extremely fast pace and to a high standard, the damage has already been done to Valve and now the questions start. “Just how hands on are they with their own service?” “Do they actually bother to check the games they are putting up?” “Since this has happened once, can it happen again?” You may not believe these questions, and positive responses to each may come out, but that niggling doubt is now forever in the back of your mind. It’s a chink in Valve’s previously impenetrable armour and it’s not going away for a long time.
So, in the end, The War Z managed to screw up everyone it touched. Hammerpoint Interactive’s reputation is in pieces and it’ll be some stroke of a miracle if they are able to get another game out of the door again, and pigs will fly if said game turns out to be any good. Sergey Titov has pretty much vilified himself to the gaming community once again. People, just genuine people who wanted to play a zombie MMO and didn’t know about any of this mess, have been duped out of money. And Valve’s Steam service has been shown not to be the infallible master of digital distribution that so many like to claim it as. If we’re lucky, this is a one-off anomaly that will never happen again, but it’s a damn depressing and disgraceful anomaly at that.
The fact that the game is also a pile of sh*t is just salt on the wound at this point.
Return to GameSparked tomorrow when the third Worst Thing to Happen In Gaming During 2012 will be revealed!