Payday 2 developer Overkill Software has been eerily silent about the game's controversial microtransactions, a move that's had the community upset for more than a week. Yesterday, Overkill finally spoke out. They apologised for bungling communication, but the microtransactions are here to stay.
If you haven't been following this story, here's the quick version: Payday 2's developers once declared the game would never get microtranscations. Then, it did! For $US2.50, players could buy drills to potentially unlock specially skinned weapons that could also have better stats than standard weapon drops. Though Payday 2 is not a competitive game -- it's players vs. AI -- it felt unfair, especially juxtaposed against the comments made by the developers. After much criticism, the drills were introduced as an item that could randomly drop for players, but this was many days after the developers pretended nothing was going on.
When Payday 2's 10-day Crimefest promotion came to an end, the developer held an AMA on the game's subreddit, a source of fandom that has not been kind to Overkill's recent decisions. It's not a surprise that players immediately started grilling the developer on the microtransactions question. To Overkill's credit, they didn't avoid it, and decided to address the issue head-on.
Overkill producer Almir Listo has been working on Payday 2 for years. He was part of the braintrust that publicly declared the game would never include microtransactions, a quote that's been used to hammer Overkill for days now.
"To make sure there was no confusion, we said what we did [at the time] to make things absolutely clear," said Listo. "If you asked me then, there would be no way we would have added a system like we just did."
But more than two years after the release of Payday 2, that's changed.
Listo first pointed blame at various media outlets -- Kotaku was not specifically named -- for "uninformed, clickbait articles about things that matter a lot to a lot of people, instead of doing some serious legwork to get their facts straight."
(So far as I know, our pieces on this story have been considered accurate. Please let me know if that's not true.)
A huge reason we've written several stories about this ongoing controversy is because Payday 2 fans have reached out to Kotaku, time and time again, asking for answers. When I'd look at the Payday 2 subreddit, I saw anger and confusion. When I'd load the Steam forums, I saw that same anger and confusion. A big reason people were upset was Overkill's lack of communication. I tried to help. Instead of holding this AMA immediately, they waited 10 days to open up.
Listo revealed how the Overkill team has grown in size since the game's release in 2013 -- it's tripled from 25 to 75 developers.
"As our ambition for Payday 2 post-launch has grown, we've hired more people to help us make it happen," he said.
Listo pointed out Overkill's desire to keep supporting Payday 2, while having to earn enough money to actually pull that off. Six months ago, the game's price was permanently reduced in an attempt to spur sales, but it didn't work out.
"We didn't see the result we anticipated," he said, "and have had to think of other ways to make sure we can continue creating content in the pace we want in order to keep Payday 2 fresh and exciting."
An interesting wrinkle: Overkill signed a contract with publisher 505 Games to keep supporting Payday 2 through 2017. Listo claims Overkill wanted to deliver more than what the contract required, explaining the dramatic increase in team size. But to pay those people, they turned their eyes towards microtransactions.
It'd be one thing if Overkill came to the community and plainly explained the situation before Crimefest kicked off, breaking down their rationalization for going back on a previous promise. That's the exact opposite of what happened.
"The reason why we didn't want to discuss this was that it wasn't fully launched until after Crimefest," said Listo. "Not in our wildest dreams could we anticipate the type of reaction that the update received during the first few days."
Salary considerations aside, Listo doesn't think the criticism is warranted:
There are several arguments as to why we think stat boosts are OK to have in PAYDAY 2, and here are three; - The game is balanced around the vanilla experience, that is, the game without any DLC. When we add any new difficulties, enemies, features, heists or otherwise, we balance this in relation to the base game. - PAYDAY 2 is a player-versus-environment game. You and your three friends play together against the AI; you lose together and you win together. Any advantage your friends have will only benefit the success of the group. - Making sure that the boosts are balanced in such a way that it doesn't impare [sic] on the player's experience. This is an ongoing effort on our side.
While it's true Payday 2 isn't player-vs-player, Listo's explanation conveniently sidesteps why folks were upset in the first place: the changes came out of nowhere and weren't justified to the community. Potentially upsetting the balance of the game was part of it, but that ignores what was really driving this.
Despite "a lot of fury, anger and disappointment," the microtransactions aren't going away. According to Listo, they're working.
"From an economical standpoint however, completely based on statistics, we can already see that the Black Market update is working as we intended," said Listo. "Going forward, we hope we can convince the parts of the community that resist this change that this was the right decision to do to ensure the stability of Overkill as an independent developer and the future growth of Payday 2."
In other words, people are buying the drills, and Overkill has bills to pay.
The reaction to Listo's comments, at least in the AMA, have been disastrous. The AMA itself didn't even receive a single upvote:
0 upvotes, 2534 comments? Not a great sign.
The most popular thread right now is a moderator resigning over all this.
Based on the recent developments and Almir's stubbornness, I've decided it's best that I distance myself from everything. And this sucks! Payday was one of my favourite series and I was one of the people who preordered the first game. But I can't support how Overkill is playing every one of the people who have already spent hundreds each towards the series only to be told that we don't know what's best for us.
To Listo's credit, he stuck around and answered a ton of questions, despite just about everyone pushing back on his explanations.
It's not looking good over on Steam, either.
Elsewhere, fans have launched a parody website called The Road to Greedfest, an attempt to both send a message to and rally fans behind certain objectives.
First up? Stop playing Payday 2 and get it under 10,000 concurrent players. Next, tank the Metacritic userscore. After that, apply the same tactics to the game's review score on Steam. The "challenges" after that haven't been revealed.
We'll have to wait and see how this ultimately impacts Payday 2 going forward. Even if some of the most hardcore leave, will the microtransactions make up for it? Right now, that's what Overkill is gambling. According to them, it's working.