Posted on January 16, 2015, Ron Whitaker H1Z1 Hits Early Access, Community Uproar Leads to Refund Offer
Sony Online Entertainment’s zombie survival MMO H1Z1 hit Steam Early Access yesterday, and it’s already taking criticism from an unlikely source – its own community.
At issue are H1Z1′s airdrops – crates that players can purchase from the store for real cash. As has been seen on some streams in the last 24 hours, purchasing an airdrop results in a plane dropping a box near you that contains randomly generated loot. For an example of what a crate might contain, here’s a screenshot from Twitch user Awildwatermelon (click the image to see the full size version):
As you can see, the crate contains a backpack, a waist pack, and among other things, an AR-15 rifle and 90 rounds of ammunition. Seems fairly standard, except for ojne small thing: players believe that SOE said that they would not sell guns or ammo in H1Z1. Now that they appear to be doing just that, many early adopters feel that they’ve been misled, and that the game is headed down a road that will make it more pay-to-win than free-to-play.
This perception is what has caused the uproar in the community. If you want to know why, you have to go back a few months, to April 21, 2014. That day, SOE President John Smedley posted this on the H1Z1 subreddit in reference to H1Z1′s monetization:
“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.”
A little further down the road, SOE decided that they wanted to try a new dynamic: Airdrops. Airdrops first popped up about eight months ago in a post by Smedley on the game’s subreddit. At the time, Smedley said that they were looking into the idea. “We will allow players to purchase Air Drops of care packages like food, water,” he wrote. “It goes to a random location and is obvious to everyone in the area. Think of it like buying surprises for people in the game that if you’re lucky you can try and get yourselves.”
Also mentioned in the SOE Live coverage, according to VG247, is this tidbit: “Airdrops will provide survivors with ammunition, food, water, weapons and other supplies.” That’s one of the first mentions of weapons in airdrops that I could find.
Strangely, there’s a YouTube video (embedded below) that was posted on H1Z1′s official channel this past Monday, Jan. 12. It features streaming personality NGTZombies playing the game as Senior Game Designer Adam Clegg looks on and provides commentary. If you skip to the 40:40 mark, you’ll hear Clegg plainly state,
“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 zero way. You have to find them in the world.”
Now, there are two different types of “boxes” in H1Z1. “Crates” are found in the worlds, and players can buy keys from the store to open them. Airdrops are the boxes mentioned above. While it’s interesting that Clegg says “You can’t get them from a crate,” he does go on to say that players “have to find them (guns) in the world,” which still seems like they won’t be selling guns. Furthermore, our very own James Heaney interviewed Senior Game Designer Jimmy Whisenhunt and Producer Steve George at SOE Live this year, and Whisenhunt clearly states at the end of the interview, “Hey Reddit, we’re not selling guns.” You can see that 7:40 in the video below.
It appears that there was, at the very least, some confusion among the folks at SOE about whether or not they were going to be selling guns. Therefore, it’s no surprise that there was confusion among gamers as the game hit Early Access yesterday. As the comments piled in on Reddit and other sites, gamers began cry that the game was pay-to-win, and to clamor for refunds. SOE’s Smedley took to Twitter to deny the pay-to-win claims, saying,
anyone that wants to "complain" about H1Z1 being P2W shouldn't buy it. In fact I encourage you not to. Let's not let facts get in the way.
— John Smedley (@j_smedley) January 15, 2015
That’s not the greatest PR statement in the world, obviously, especially when people have been buying the game from Steam, which is notoriously difficult to get refunds from. Luckily, Smedley also set up a system for those who want to get a refund on their H1Z1 purchase to do so.
Refunds – if you are upset about the airdrop P2W issue and want a refund email email@example.com and we will take care of you
— John Smedley (@j_smedley) January 16, 2015
He also said that the company is working with Steam to allow self-refunds over the weekend, but that’s not in place just yet.
The situation with H1Z1 is a confusing one. The deeper we dig into it, the more muddled the picture becomes. What’s obvious is that SOE didn’t do a great job of making clear their plans for airdrops, as evidenced by the number of people who are up in arms about them. But there’s also an opportunity here, if SOE decides to seize it.
This sort of issue is exactly what Early Access was designed to correct. Early Access, by definition, is about involving players in the development process, and giving real-time feedback to developers. If this issue had popped up after the regular launch of a retail title, it would have been an even bigger mess than it is now. As it stands, SOE has a chance to adjust airdrops to be more acceptable to players. Smedley said on Reddit today SOE would be making “adjustments to the airdrops that are appropriate. So yes, we believe in the feature.” He also said that he didn’t disagree with the cries of pay-to-win after seeing the videos. “We also agree it needs work so it’s not P2W because I saw the same streams you guys did last night and without these changes I think it’s fair to call it P2W.”
It seems that SOE’s intention is to have the airdrops become server events. They’ve already said that they don’t allow airdrops to occur unless the server is at least 25 percent populated, and they’re planning to increase that number after today. SOE will also be increasing the radius for the airdrops to land in, Smedley said. The hope is to make every airdrop contested, and SOE is going to be working toward that goal.
So, it sound like the Early Access system might just be working. If nothing else, it’s a great example of how problems with messaging can cause bigger headaches down the road. However, if it works out and players are satisfied with the response, it could be a great success story for the Early Access concept. We’ll just have to see how SOE’s changes pan out.