For years, Payday 2's developers insisted the game wouldn't have microtransactions. That changed last week, and the community flipped out. The outrage got them to slightly change the way it works. But most importantly, the way they handled criticism — ignoring it — only stoked the flames.
As part of Payday 2's Crimefest event, developer Overkill Software introduced two safes that could only be unlocked with specials drills. These safes would randomly reward players with weapons featuring unique skins, stats, and skills. However, it wasn't possible to obtain drills by playing the game repeatedly and getting a lucky drop — Overkill wanted players to spend $US2.50 per drill. It'd be one thing if players were only paying for access to different looking weapons, but it was quickly revealed some of the paid weapon drops were superior to the weapons regular players had access to. In a sense, the game was introducing pay-to-win mechanics on top of a game people had already full price for.
Even if you're not into Payday 2, it's easy to get pissed off about that.
Bizarrely, Overkill let the anger fester for days. It's one thing to make a mistake, another to ignore it. The community was enraged, with nearly every topic of discussion on Steam, Reddit, and other places focused on why Overkill went down this path. Rather than foster a dialogue with fans, it told them to wait:
We've read a lot of your feedback. We're aware that there are those of you who are unhappy or concerned about the Black Market update. Once Crimefest and all its content is out we'll discuss this with you along with the other new features that were added. While we usually get back to you straight away when you have feedback, right now we're busy as hell making sure we finish all the content we prepared on time.
That happened on the fourth day of Crimefest, an event meant to last 10 days. On the sixth day of Crimefest, otherwise known as yesterday, the studio snuck an olive branch to the community through a set of patch notes for the game:
Added Drills to the Card Loot Drop reward table. Players can now be rewarded with Drills that can open Safes after successfully completing a heist
No explanation, no apology, but it did point out the change on Twitter:
— PAYDAY (@PAYDAYGame) October 20, 2015
Overkill hasn't responded to my requests for comment, either. I've asked twice, but so far, I've heard nothing. Onto the seventh day of Crimefest, I guess?
Having players who did pay for a drill getting screwed doesn't help matters:
Worse still, the patch doesn't really address the core problem. You can still buy better weapons, and it's unclear what the drop rate is for drills. If Overkill makes it low enough, players may never see them. This "fix" isn't as egregious, but it still sucks. It'd be one thing if Payday 2 was a free-to-play game that made these design choices upfront, but it's happening two years after the release date. The kinds of people who are still playing are your most hardcore fans.
The response from players has been, unsurprisingly, pretty mixed:
Even if Overkill completely drops these changes from Payday 2, it's poisoned the community. Built into the relationship between developer and player is trust. It's possible for both sides to break that trust, but in this case, it's on Overkill.
The biggest problem for Overkill is a GameSpot quote from Payday 2 lead designer David Goldfarb. Asked if the game would get microtransactions:
"No. No. God, I hope not. Never. No."
Goldfarb left Overkill to build an independent studio earlier this year, prompting him to poke fun at the tension with the fans a few days ago:
There appears to be some microtransaction drama.
— David Goldfarb (@locust9) October 15, 2015
He clarified, however, that microtransactions didn't prompt him to quit.
To clarify the other thing: I didn't leave because of microtransactions. It was simply time to go and do something new.
— David Goldfarb (@locust9) October 16, 2015
Players have reason to be cynical these days. Games have been released broken, taking nearly a year to become reliably playable. Kickstarter projects ask for money, then don't deliver. Some companies ask players to shell out $60 for a season pass that doesn't detail the content you're paying for. And even if you decide to gamble on one of those passes, it's possible all the content sucks.
To keep making new levels, weapons, heists, and other content to ensure Payday 2 stays fresh, Overkill has to, of course, keep making money. But there ways of talking to your community about such changes. This time, they got it wrong.