So, one of the topics that is frequently on my mind is difficulty. Where we fall on the spectrum, and if you’ll forgive the expression – “What we can get away with”.
Peter (Lead Designer) and I frequently spend a lot of time thinking about this, talking about this, hell even arguing about this. There will be times where I swing from one side to the other, the game developer side of me wants to make things as hard as they can be, the side of me that spent thousands upon thousands of hours playing and streaming DayZ Mod on twitch.tv is very aware of the border of playability. Fortunately we have a Lead Designer that is willing to do whatever he needs to do to survive when in DayZ, so he is *in tune* with struggling to survive. 🙂
DayZ suffers (at times) from a small amount of double personality. We’ve been known for a long time for being a punishing survival experience. Obviously that shifts from build to build during development, but the titles identity as a whole has always had that associated with it. That said, because of the uniqueness of the DayZ experience – be it from the stories you experience and pass on to others, or the tension that comes from the uncertainty of potentially losing it all over the smallest of choices, DayZ has carried a very large identity in the consumer market outside of the typical personality type that might enjoy something punishing in his/her survival. You can see it in the countless hours of Youtube videos, twitch streams, and reddit posts. DayZ has become (and potentially always was) something different to many different types of people.
So where does that leave us, the developers, with the base game experience? It can be daunting combing over user feedback and trying to take that into consideration when paired with the intended game design of DayZ. Let us not forget that happy consumers rarely feel compelled to get up and let their feelings be known (for the most part, there is always the exception to the rule) they are too busy playing the game, and experiencing their own stories. The vocal userbase is more often than not those that are unhappy, and with DayZ (aside from the time it takes to develop the title) you can frequently see the vocal masses pipe up when the title gets too difficult (see: 0.55).
This is where our strong commitment to game modification (modding) comes into play. The decision to “hand the keys to the kingdom” over to the DayZ community once the base game and engine are at a point of stability allows us to do our best to stay firm to what DayZ is, and do our best to keep it difficult without having to make those types of users feel ignored and neglected. A good portion of the userbase has expressed concern about this – citing the fractured userbase of DayZ Mod once the binaries (or hell even the old Hive.dll) made it out into the public ecosystem. Mods such as Lingor, Namalsk, Taviana, Epoch and many others certainly did split the userbase up. There is no denying that – but there is also something to be aware of, a lesson I’m sure many of my favorite game developers when I was younger had to learn (see titles such as Ultima Online, Shadowbane, Asheron’s Call, etc). You can’t force people to play the way you want them to. You can design the path to go the direction you want, and iterate upon it, and refine it time and time again – but given enough time, people (life, heh heh) WILL find a way (around it).
Not to mention the fact that the industry, and the ecosystem in this genre is already large, and only growing larger. If you don’t give people the option or the tools to play how they want to – they WILL find another experience that does. In the end, you have to get ahead of the bull – so to speak.
So that leaves us with a few key points.
– Keep the experience as punishing as you can while maintaining the core gameplay loop.
– Do your absolute best to ensure that the users are combating the environment, the antagonists, the struggle for survival – and NEVER the gatekeepers to those areas. (UI, Usability, etc)
– Provide the community with the tools they need to take the work we the developers have done, and craft it to their own style of experiences.
– Continue to iterate upon the base game past 1.0 – keep it fresh and compelling, like watering a beautiful house plant you do your best to keep the base game community thriving and interested.
I apologize if I’ve rambled – I like to sit down and type out my thoughts at times to let you all see a bit behind the curtain.