Usually, nothing is worse than playing a game that comes out into the world with random bugs, rough-hewn ideas and a lack of polish. But those same things have arguably made DayZ a chart-topping success story — more than a million copies sold in a month — ever since its standalone alpha version hit Steam a month ago.
Part of the fascination with DayZ over the last two years has been in watching the game learn how to walk. Dean Hall's creation started as a mod to ultra-realistic military shooter Arma II and eventually became its own self-contained release. Like the Walking Dead comic books and games before it — which themselves follow in a long lineage — DayZ re-works typical zombie genre conventions by drawing tension from humans' interactions with each other, not the ravenous undead. The most interesting things in the game revolve around how players treat other players.
But the other big reason that DayZ's found such a zealous userbase is because people want to be inside the house as it's being built. Hall recently told MCV that players know what they're getting into:
Being very open with the release helped a great deal. We were as honest as we could be with people about the state of the Alpha so that people could make their own minds up. Our customers are smart, so they are going to figure out the state of the game quickly
Even at this early stage, you can see players on the official DayZ forums asking for some features to be fast-tracked and for others to be fixed or tweaked. There's a drive to know that — maybe, just maybe — one's feedback will influence part of the final release.
The minimalist take on zombie apocalypse survival spurs some of the behaviour in question, which people record and share and talk about. That in turn gets more curious people to pick DayZ up, forming a nice little loop that pulls more people into its world's-end scenario. The developers have said that beta probably won't happen until the end of 2014 but it's a safe bet that folks will keep showing up to experience the game whether it's finished or not.