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The War Z Steam Scam

by Reinhard Rheeder-Kleist (Choc_Salties)  Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2012 11:50:54 AM

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Tuesday morning I fire up my office machine to see Steam offering The War Z on a launch special, along with the features, special pricing and all the bells and whistles that normally happen with a new game on Steam. Funny thing is, games of this calibre usually have announcements happening on Steam, to get the hype going and build anticipation. Nope, not with The War Z, there was just a, oh hey, here is The War Z in three flavours – one without a bundle of extra in-game currency (the one I bought) and two others include in-game cash at higher price-points.

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The features description of the game were in-line with what has been thrown around on the ‘net, but the sad truth of the matter is that this game was shipped with many of the promised features either missing, incomplete or just plain wrong. Features listed include huge maps, skills, 2 levels of difficulty, rentable servers and numbers of players being able to play on any server at a given time. Reddit has been going nuts about the various issues raised even after the Steam store page has been altered to more correctly reflect the current feature-set, but it doesn’t stop there.

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The guys over at Gamespy did an interview with The War Z’s executive producer Sergey Titov of Hammerpoint Interactive. When asked questions he simply defends that the company's actions are true to form and correct, while defending their stance on the initial listing of features, and simply continuing with the broad approach of “…difference between false claims and perception of the text”. Let's take a look at some of the interview questions:

GameSpy: The original text, which was up for a day, claimed "A huge persistent world: The War Z is an open world game. Each world has areas between 100 to 400 square kilometers." "Each world" implies multiple worlds. "Areas" is plural, again implying multiple areas. It currently delivers just one area that does not approach 200km in size, much less 400. And do you not see it as a problem for the store to claim that I can play on a 100-player server, yet when I buy it, I am limited to playing on a 50-player server?

Sergey Titov: Okay -- if text is saying "up to 100 players" -- yes, I may imagine situation when somebody will say "okay it HAVE TO BE 100." "Over 100 sq km" falls in "100 to 400" right? Okay my point is -- online games are living breathing GAME SERVICE. This is not a boxed product that you buy one time. It's evolving product that will have more and more features and content coming it. This is what The War Z is.

GameSpy: I understand that. It is now a common practice for a game to add more features in the future. However, that is not what happened here. What happened here is that Hammerpoint claimed, through Steam, that these features exist today.

Sergey Titov: I'm sure there'll be people who will look into small details and will say "no I was mislead," where in fact they imagined something to themselves without checking details first. I'm sure that Steam have it's refund policies that should handle those situations. “

For the most part, everyone knows how difficult it is to be able to get a refund from Steam for ANYTHING, and a great way for Titov to offload responsibility onto a third party. Many of the problems with this release could have simply been avoided by labelling the game as either an Alpha or Beta release, along with a disclaimer stating that many of the features in the game were incomplete, but Titov continues with stating, “Nope - there's no such thing as "fully released" for online game. As far as I'm concerned The War Z is in stage when we're ready to stop call it Beta. This is basic version - bones that we're going to add more and more "meat" - features and content in a coming months and hopefully years.”

From my perspective, this seems to have been a deliberate and very clever method of crowdfunding a game by releasing it on Steam with big promises on incoming features. People in the know are aware of the current lack of features since the game has been in a closed beta, but releasing the game in this fashion is simply, in my mind, wrong. There are plenty of good examples of how games can be released to the public despite them being incomplete or otherwise not yet ready. Great recent examples that come to mind are games such as Mechwarrior Mercenaries Online,Miner Wars 2081 and Natural Selection 2. Those games clearly stated from the outset that features were being worked on as well as making provisions for people to buy early to get access to the closed alpha or beta phases of development, as well as rewarding players with unique items or monikers indicating to the world that they were special by getting in early.

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Another interesting method of gaining revenue is by banning apparently legitimate players by leaving honeypots of items which under normal circumstances would be impossible to get to. The big problem with an approach like this is that without proper testing, even regular players can find these “hack” honeypots, which have been banned for their simple creativity and curiosity, not even by glitching. Lazygamer ran a second piece on this method for getting more sales; the first piece dealt with simply banning players for no reason after they had reached a threshold of time spent in-game.

DayZ is approaching its standalone release. The War Z has been “released” in an incomplete state, whichever way you look at this debacle. While they denied it back then, it still seems like this entire stunt is a way to try and capitalise on the sandbox zombie apocalypse survival horror genre so elegantly brought into the limelight be Dean “Rocket” Hall and his free mod that made waves months ago. There really are other ways of funding your development cycle if funds are a bit tight. These events basically say “fraud” to me.

Thanks to RPS, Gamespy, Gameranx, Lazygamer, Lola and my DayZ admin group for the alerts and sources!

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