Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

The War LuZers

Making computer games is fraught with danger for me.  I'm a gamer myself.  As a result, everything I develop, test, and sell, keeps coming back to one simple question:  would I actually pay money for this?  I've scrapped several games or released final versions as freeware because I can't justify charging for the end results.

This was what had me so focused when I did Cloudburst a few years ago.  I wanted a game from my design folder that I could dev on a really rapid schedule.  But just making a simple shooter wasn't good enough, so I came up with the mechanics of the clouds colliding with each other to help clear the screen.  Players testing it were soon putting english on their shots to do as much as possible.  For a game that can be completed in less than ten minutes, it still provided a great challenge and oozed technique.  I was quite proud of the results.

Lots of others don't feel that way, though.  Look at EA, that will release buggy versions of their PC games and rely on DLC (and sometimes "gold" editions) to fix the problems.  If any indie studio pulled shit like that, they'd be out of work the next day.  Or some developers that simply don't care, like Data Designs.  They make crap, they don't pretend to be anything other than a shovelware factory, they get paid no matter what, and they keep doing it.

But every once in a while, someone pushes their luck a bit too far, and their hubris brings them down.  Case in point:  Hammerpoint Interactive.

Earlier this year, Dean "Rocket" Hall released a mod for ARMA 2 called DayZ, a zombie shooter, under his Bohemia Interactive banner.  DayZ was actually really good for a mod, with surprising depth and detail put into it.  Hammerpoint decided to rip off Hall's idea make their own standalone game instead of a mod that was strikingly similar to DayZ.  And so, through Valve's Steam store, they put up their game The War Z.

The game was put up as a final release.  It was nowhere close.  In fact, it wasn't until people paid and downloaded it that they were told it was a beta.  Among the problems, it promised "up to 100 people on multiplayer."  In reality, it capped out at 50.  It promised "maps" (notice the plural) of between 100 and 400 kilometers in size.  There was only one map, and it was just 100km.

GameSpy contacted Hammerpoint to find out what was going on.  The interview is a classic example of, "We got your money, so suck it."  If you don't feel like reading the whole thing (but you really should), Hammerpoint said that they didn't lie at all.  Up to 100 players?  Well, fifty is within that range, so they were technically telling the truth.  Maps between 100 and 400?  Well, the one they have up is within that range.  What about the plural?  That's coming in the next release.

Most galling is the question of why a beta was released and priced as a finished game.  According to Hammerpoint, ALL online games are betas.  Since there are constant revisions being made, constant content being added, no game is ever done.  So either they are all betas, or there is no such thing as a beta anymore, and they were right to sell it as a finished product.

You want your money back?  Hammerpoint said to take it up with Valve (Valve is notoriously stingy, you have a better chance of getting money for your unused Windows licenses than getting a refund from Valve).

People went on Valve's Steam forum and started bitching.  Hammerpoint tried to create new rules for people in the forum, such as no demands for refunds, or you were violating the TOS and could be banned (even though there is nothing in Valve's TOS that says that and, what's more, Hammerpoint has no right to modify the TOS anyway).  And when The War Z autoupdated, there was a revision to the license that said no one was eligible for a refund.

Valve finally heard what was going on and yanked The War Z from the store.  Remember what I said about how tough it is to get a refund from Valve?  Valve is refunding EVERYBODY that bought the game, whether they complained or not.  Thank you for stepping up.

It's one thing to try to deliver something and fail.  Had Hammerpoint just said they overpromised and underdelivered, but they are working on it and changed the store listing to say the game was a beta, most gamers would have grumbled but been accepting.  But this?  This is willful misrepresentation because they expectations they created are nothing like what they delivered, and then they said it was what they intended all along.

Whether or not that's false advertising, it definitely is "douchebag" territory.
Tags: art, cloudburst, computers, did not do the research, digital rights, don't say i didn't warn you, don't try this at home, haven't we suffered enough, i feel much better about myself, important life lessons, infernal gall, portents of doom, stupidity, technology is a beautiful thing, things that make you go hmm, this ought to be interesting, video games, wrong on every level, wtf
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