Sony Online Entertainments new survival zombie apocalypse simulator started out in what would seem an appropriate manner: disaster after disaster occurring as the game officially released into Early Access on January 15th, 2015 to one problem after another. And besides the technical issues that plagued the games release, a fair amount of the community has responded with backlash with feeling mislead regarding elements of the game that they believe to be pay to win. While one can understand that developers are attempting to find anyway to finance their future products and endeavors, the facts stack against SOE’s favor in this particular case.
Let’s talk about the technical issues that plagued the game first, which can be summarized rather nicely with a website that simulates the experience. On the launch, many a player were met with a connection error and unable to login to the servers, as SOE rushed to figure out what the problem was. This unfortunately has become a common problem with games over the last several years that have significant online services, such as Diablo 3’s famous error 37 and Simcity’s disastrous launch. The problem was not fixed for a significant portion of time, but was eventually fixed by SOE so that those who purchased the $19.99 title could get into the Early Access.
But what followed was the community reacting in horror as several of the promises that were seemingly made started to fall apart in front of their eyes. Remember, H1Z1 is supposed to be a survivor experience, very similar to DayZ in terms of scavenging for whatever materials are necessary, and defending yourself from not only zombies, but the other players in the world. To defend yourself, one would need what would make the most sense to grab in that situation: A gun. Preferably with ammunition mind you, but having a weapon to defend yourself in any kind of situation would probably go a long way to helping the player survive. And that’s where the idea of airdrops, and the ability to buy them, starts to come into play.
Airdrops are purchasable in-game resources that brings the player a set of random resources to the map. Anyone can call in an airdrop, and anyone (not specifically the person who brought in the airdrop) can pick up the supplies that the airdrop brings. And that’s where the base of the problems lie. Based on the information supplied by the h1z1 subreddit thread, streamer awildwatermelonappears called in three airdrops during the course of the stream. The contents varied in each airdrop, but within each airdrop there was a weapon and ammo. So, what’s the problem?
Well, the problem comes from the communication that had been given to the community up to that point, indicating that such purchasable resources, in particular weapons and ammo, would not be the case. The community has put together a list of resources that indicate that even several days before the release of the game, there were indications that airdrops would not have such items in them. On an early access stream with one of the developers of the game, the following was said:
“There’s no way you can get ammo any other way. You can’t buy ammo. You can’t buy guns. You can’t get them out of a crate. There’s 0 way. You have to find them in the world.”
This sets up an interesting debate about what the phrase “find them in the world” comes down to. The problem this presents is a pay 2 win aspect of the game, where those with resources and power can continue to work off the power by buying airdrops and hording them, continuing to grab the most resources and keeping a lock down of any other player from getting it. Other players would have trouble fighting them even when attempting to call in airdrops of their own, as again, anyone can grab airdrops that are called into the map. That, and the fact that a game with a survival and zombie aspect being able to drop ammo and weapons on command doesn’t exactly go well for the narrative that the game is trying to go far. To some, it’s supposed to be an apocalypse, with scarce resources and struggling to survive, not just another Tuesday.
Now, John Smedley, the current President of Sony Online Entertainment, commented on the subreddit thread in questioning. He had cited that the team had been straight up on the status of the airdrops going into the release of the game. He pointed to a link regarding what to expect of the game, as listed here. But included in that response was some pointed statements by Mr. Smedley, indicating that those who have a problem with it shouldn’t buy the game.
“So if you think it’s P2W (pay 2 win) don’t buy it. Don’t play it. But I have to say wait until you’ve personally tried them before making the call. We included airdrops in both the $20 and the $40 versions just so you could see for yourselves.”
What Mr. Smedley forgets to address in this is the evidence that pointed against the statement on his website: like a PC gamer article in April of 2014 that indicated the following:
“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.”
Today, he has gone on record additionally saying that given the streams he saw, and the rate that the drops were going at, that he could see why people would believe the game had a pay to win nature to it.
Sadly, this has been seen by SOE before, and rather recently. Recent changes in their Planetside 2 game has also had significant backlash, as changes in drops rates of Implants in that game were met with anger from members of the community. Basically, Implants would enhance your character in game, and could give you significant in-game advantages over your competition. Mr. Smedley also responded to this controversy, as seen on a blog post here. There was also the massive shift in gameplay that was performed on Star Wars Galaxies, where the community responded with strong criticism of the change that invalidated thousands of hours of gameplay to get to the role of Jedi to expand the game to a more wide ranging audience.
While they are making changes to decrease the rate in which you get weapons and ammo in those airdrops and are indicating that there’s a no questions asked refunds policy (if you get it in by Monday, and have already purchased the game as of 10:30 AM Pacific on January 16th, 2015), the question will be whether H1Z1 can get over this initial hump of problems and create an experience similar to DayZ and bring fans the experience they’ve been asking for a while now. Only time will tell on that one.
We sent an email contacting SOE regarding an official statement regarding the airdrops, but we have not received one at the time of publishing this article.