SOE's DayZ-ish zombie MMO, H1Z1, just launched on Steam Early Access. That means it is, on no uncertain terms, unfinished. However, even fans with that knowledge were surprised to discover a microtransaction airdrop that affects gameplay. They felt like they'd been misled.
The real money microtransaction, an airdrop players can buy and call in, has many players upset and worried. In a survival wasteland where resources — discarded scraps, precious bullets, makeshift weapons — are everything, there's a lot to be said for magical rain from the zombie-free heavens that can sometimes contain guns, ammo, and other equipment. At this point, very few of those words are positive. SOE is offering full, no-questions-asked refunds through Steam to make up for the fact that many players feel this is not what they signed up for.
Refunds - if you are upset about the airdrop P2W issue and want a refund email [email protected] and we will take care of you
— John Smedley (@j_smedley) January 16, 2015
Back when H1Z1 was first announced, SOE agreed that gameplay-changing microtransactions had no place in this sort of game. In a Reddit post explaining monetisation plans to players eight months ago, SOE president John Smedley was adamant that H1Z1 would only reward the Richie Riches of the world with appearance options:
"We will NOT be selling Guns, Ammo, Food, Water... i.e. That's kind of the whole game and it would suck in our opinion if we did that."
In fairness, things do change over the course of a game's development. They tend to change a lot. However, the "no buying guns 'n' stuff" refrain was repeated elsewhere in the lead up to release, most recently during an official stream, er, a few days ago.
Players, understandably, went ballistic when they saw streamers calling in airdrops a few short days later. In their eyes, it was basically the same thing as purchasing weapons and gear from a store, even if the process was more randomised and open to sabotage by other players.
SOE's Smedley, however, believes players were given adequate warning, that they weren't lured into purchasing H1Z1 under false pretences. He once again took to Reddit to offer up his side of the story:
"I'm going to weigh in here on this subject. We've been showing it clearly in all of the streams we have been doing. I made a point of personally doing it during last Friday's streams. We want them to be server events... so we make sure the whole server knows they're coming and I've personally been killed many times after I paid for them myself. So I fundamentally disagree with the argument. In terms of us not being honest about it — untrue to an extreme."
The bigger issue appears to be that SOE wasn't entirely clear on the feature's real money component. Concise, straightforward explanation is tough to find outside H1Z1's "What You Can Expect from Early Access" page, which was published yesterday.
Smedley also noted that airdrops aren't even an option until a server is at least one-fourth full, and their crisp, gunmetal-accented flavour brings the slavering undead your way in droves. Moreover, the plane moves slowly and loudly, so as to attract other players. In other words, if you want your reward, you've got to take a mighty big risk.
However, Smedley and co understand that their vision of a perfect paradise where paying players and non-paying players frolic through the zombie gardens together still needs some work. Here are their plans for the immediate future:
"We're going to be making some big changes to [airdrops] in the next day or so. 1) Dramatically widening the radius they come in — it's too small from what we're observing. 2) Making sure the chance for guns is a much lower chance so they are much more rare. 3) Upping the minimum number of people on a server to even allow air drops. It's set at 50 right now and we're going to at least double it. We are serious about these being server events and contested. 4) Making the plane fly even slower."
So significant changes are on the way, though some players are still fuming. On the upside, at least they can get a refund, as can players miffed by shaky servers and other launch issues. A word of warning, though: the refund offer is only good until Monday, so act fast.
It will be interesting to see where SOE takes this feature after the initial eruption of outrage. It's not exactly an auspicious start to a multiplayer sandbox's life (or un-life, as it were), but Early Access exists so developers can work out kinks before primetime. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. We'll see.