AusGamers DayZ Dean Hall Developer Interview
Post by Naren @ 04:02pm 05/09/12 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to catch up with DayZ creator, Dean Hall, to talk to him about the mod community, the genesis of DayZ, Australian servers, free-to-play and much more. Read on for what he had to say...
AusGamers: So, DayZ is a stand alone game now, how did that happen? How did Bohemia decide to get involved with that?
Dean Hall: So Marek Spanel the [Bohemia] CEO, we were talking pretty early on when we realised that DayZ was starting to kick off. Originally it was basically going to be just they would get me to work on the mod instead of at the time I was working as a contractor on ArmA III. But then kind of the mod just kept growing and then we’d revise our plans and say, “Okay, maybe we need to make some DLC for ArmA III”. Then it kept growing, then we’re, like, “Okay, maybe we need to do some DLC for ArmA II”. So it kind of evolved like that and Bohemia were really the natural choice in terms of partners.
AusGamers: So has anything changed now that it’s a stand-alone game?
Dean: I think now that it’s stand-alone it’s a lot easier for me to focus cause I know that I have the resources I need. And the resources, the kind of... they (Bohemia) share the vision and direction that I have. So the vision and direction that I have for creativity is exactly the one that Marek has, he wants a small team, much like Minecraft. Very focused, very skilled members on the team to produce something that’s really community-oriented. So I guess to summarise, the big change for me is that it becomes a lot easier to do the things that I want.
AusGamers: So will ArmA III and any future titles continue to see mod capabilities based on your success?
Dean: Well modding is a huge part of Bohemia’s products so ArmA III, modding is going to be a massive part of that. DayZ, not so much initially because of the hacking and the fact that it’s a PvP title. We have to provide a fairly standardised experience, so at least initially, we won’t support modding in the central mode cause it’s more like an MMO, but we’d love to have some kind of sandbox mode that we can enable so that people can do that.
AusGamers: So mods and open games create environments which help drive sales, what do you think will happen with modding? Will there be much growth there from your perspective, especially given the reaction to DayZ?
Dean: Well I think, no matter what you do with games people are going to try and mod them and change them. I think it’s just naturally what gamers do. You know, when you play enough games you start thinking about it, and you start thinking about what you like and what you don’t. So I think that games like Minecraft and that reinforce people’s creativity. So people are probably more interested in it than ever before and they get involved in maybe modding with Minecraft and they want to do it with other games. So I think we’re going to see that grow, yeah. Like, gamers, particularly with consoles coming to the end of their life the current generation, people have turned a lot to the PC and they’re looking for that innovation and they’re finding it so the PC offers a really good vehicle to obviously mod games. So I think that at the moment at least there’s a big demand for that kind of content and maybe that’s one of the reasons DayZ’s been kind of successful.
AusGamers: Do you see much shift away from it, I mean, there’s kind of a gradual shift in the industry and there are some teams that are blocking it out completely, not to mention any names.
Dean: I know who you’re talking about. But I think big game development is big money, so there’s big risks involved. So they don’t want to take big risks and modding kind of represents a big risk for a lot of reasons. But I do kind of feel like some of the big development’s kind of backed itself into a corner, so the costs are huge. They’re like big budget movie level prices and there’s no real guarantees, then you’ve got this free-to-play thing over here which is causing issues, there’s no guarantees with that, either. So they’re kind of backed into this corner of producing the same stuff again and again because it’s the only way they can be kind of sure they’re going to get their return back. So I think this is kind of a symptom for that, they’re saying, “Okay, well modding’s a declining trend”, but it’s a declining trend for what they’re doing. That doesn’t mean that that’s what the industry’s going to keep doing. And that doesn’t mean that that’s where the real success is, you know. And I think Minecraft came in and just said, screw all that, this is the way that this is going to be successful. And we’re kind of trying to follow in the wake of that in saying “Okay, we think what Notch did was really smart and it was really good for the consumer. So we’re going to try and do what he did”.
AusGamers: Do you think it can be profitable, like, in terms of DLC and that sort of thing?
Dean: Well it’s been massively profitable for Bohemia. So DayZ came out with no development cost, with no marketing cost and made them, you know, nearly a million in sales, at a reasonable price-point. So that’s just pure profit. So I think so yeah. But I think… Rock Paper Shotgun, Jim there had a good article where he said, you know, it’s kind of like a lottery, you don’t know. Putting modding in your game isn’t necessarily going to make you a massive amount. But what he said was he can say with certainty that if you didn’t put modding in, if modding wasn’t available in ArmA II, then they never would have had this zombie breakout and made tens of millions of dollars. So I think it’s a good way to think about it, it’s not necessarily going to give you a break-out title but having it there, it really gives the potential for that to happen. And I guess if anyone understands that it’s Valve, you know, they understand that.
AusGamers: With having it as a stand alone game has anything changed with the servers? I guess a few points; Australia is renowned for having problems with servers and crappy Internet...
Dean: Yep, same with New Zealand: the bandwidth costs are very expensive. So what we’re going to do initially which will have a big affect is with the mod we’re going to open the servers right up, open the game right up. So with the mod, if servers want to run closed servers they can. So that’s going to really help the Australians because in people paying for those servers, can restrict it to only the people who have donated for it. So I think that will make a big difference, it also helps dealing with hackers cause you can have closed communities and that.
We’re also going to open the mod up so that if people want to add islands to it, like, someone’s added that Linger Island, they can do that. The mod itself will probably lock, the game will lock down initially to deal with the hacking and so we can get it working properly. The architecture of the way the game’s going to work is changing quite rapidly, so we’re not too sure exactly how that will be. We’ve got a lot of optimisation we can do with it to make it act more like an MMO, so it will reduce some of the bandwidth requirements. ArmA never thought it would have to handle what DayZ throws at it, so it kind of goes overboard and sends way more updates than it needs to and stuff like that. So we can optimise that and I think that will make life a lot better for server hosters, but it’s still too early to say exactly how that architecture’s going to work.
AusGamers: Yeah, so would you see it increasing the size of the map and vehicles, it’s been mentioned in the past vehicles not being on all servers is that something?
Dean: I guess we’re kind of giving the mod to the community and saying to the community [they] can do with it what they want and experiment and that. And that frees me and the development team up to focus on the game. And with that, the architecture will completely change. The end result might look and feel similar to the consumer, but behind the scenes it will be totally different. It will be much more streamlined towards you know, a professional game MMO, how it runs in terms of it’s architecture. So we’ll still have game servers much like they are now but it will be much easier for them to be run. We’re looking at doing Linux builds and stuff like that, so it can cut some of the costs down optimising how the bandwidth usage goes. Having the central server professionally hosted with a large IT company with global presence, so I think those will really help with the stand-alone game. But there’s a limited amount we can do with the mod without trampling on ArmA’s toes.
AusGamers: Is there any way you’d release data in the form of actual numbers or, like, a graph of what happened with sales when DayZ was released?
Dean: Well I think part of the problem is most of the sales are through Steam and I’m pretty sure there’s commercial agreements in terms of the results. There is some Steam sales numbers that you can see and it just went crazy. I mean we talked to Steam before and they said it’s crazy so... and they do a lot of volumes, so for it to have an affect on them it’s been huge. We know from an ArmA side that it was just unprecedented. It got to the point of being ridiculous. We got five hundred thousand new users in a month at one point. So in one month we shipped five hundred thousand units. So that’s just ridiculous, it just doesn’t happen, for a niche shooter simulator.
AusGamers: Walking around [Gamescom] the last couple of days there’s a lot of free-to-play stuff, you mentioned it earlier. What’s your perspective on free-to-play and where it’s going?
Dean: Well I made the mistake of mentioning free-to-play, and everybody instantly thought that DayZ was going to be free-to-play.
AusGamers: I’m talking about other interviews I’ve seen where you bring it up. And me personally, I’ve seen a lot of free-to-play stuff come up, I mean what’s the motive there really?
Dean: I think it’s cause people are making a lot of money, but everybody’s going free-to-play in the industry. But I think ultimately the consumer wins out and I don’t think free-to-play is a big win for the consumer. There’s definitely some exceptions. It’s one pricing model but it’s not the be all and end all of pricing models and so there’s a lot of people saying we’re only going to produce free-to-play titles, we’re only going to do that. Why box yourself in with that? I can’t say that DayZ will never have a free-to-play incantation. I think if DayZ didn’t then someone else would probably make a survival themed free-to-play. But it’s a different type of game and I think to go free-to-play you need a very solid design. DayZ doesn’t have that yet, it’s not ready for someone to talk about that, you don’t want to be changing and screwing around with stuff all the time. DayZ is in experiment mode and the best example of an experiment mode model is Minecraft. So we looked at the industry leader there and said we think those guys got it right, we’re going to follow in their footsteps and hopefully innovate it along the way.
AusGamers: Would you say there’s not an ideal pricing structure for the one product, it kind of varies depending on what the product is?
Dean: And the region as well, you look at Asia: they’re heavily focused on free-to-play market.
AusGamers: Which is driven by in-game purchases... is that what happens there?
Dean: Yeah, so they’re very heavily focused on it and I think as well a lot of them tend to play in LANs, like, LAN cafés and stuff like that. So they’re not really buying the game, you know, it gets bought once and hundreds of people play it. So you kind of have to go down that free-to-play [path].
AusGamers: Different accessibility kind of thing?
Dean: I think you just have to be agile about your approach to it. But I think what I liked about Minecraft was you can just be really honest you know? Notch was just really honest with people about the approach that was taken. The price was low because it didn’t need to be (high), and I really like that. With DayZ we just want lots of people to play it. If lot’s of people play it, it doesn’t matter if we’ve got a low price cause we’re still going to make a lot of money. And that makes the game better, so we price it low, it means it’s harder to compete. So really it’s just sensible business all round and I think. It means a good result for the consumer.
AusGamers: Is it true you came up with the idea in the jungle in Brunei?
Dean: Yeah I did, that’s right.
AusGamers: Were there zombies?
Dean: Not so much the zombies but the survival side of it. Zombies just provide a really convenient antagonist, something people understand. Body horror, which increases tension and all that kind of stuff.
AusGamers: Can you go into the details of sort of what survival stuff made you come to that point?
Dean: So I was working. Originally I was in the air force when I was younger and I did a scholarship through university. So I did my time with the air force and then quit. I ended up after a few jobs working in the videogame industry in New Zealand, a company called Sidhe Interactive, you know, they made Rugby League. I worked as a producer on console titles and I had a really shitty project working with an Australian developer. We were doing a side project for them, they have since gone bust, which I wasn’t sad about at all. And after that project I quit in the industry disgusted with it and joined the army -- reenlisted in the army, advanced age -- and they sent me off to Singapore.
While I was in Singapore working with the Singaporeans they do a survival training in Brunei and so they took us to Brunei. It was a real challenge basically cause the culture was different, the food was different and everything. And I ended up getting really bad intestinal problems and had to have surgery and stuff. But managed to pass the course and I guess I found it a really interesting method of training cause the training was focused on providing you the thought processes and the emotional responses to the situation. And I really wanted to see how videogames could explore a focus on emotions and thought process rather than mechanics.
DayZ is all about layered tension. If you look at any element of DayZ it’s kind of boring, it’s kind of simple but because it all gets layered together with these background tensions a lot more of the game is happening in the player’s mind rather than on the screen. You’re not experiencing… you’re not watching the experience on the screen which is often how I feel when I play a linear storyline. Instead you’re having to balance, like, 30 things in your head at once and you’re kind of scared. And because it feels authentic it almost mimics real life. You start worrying about whether your character is eating or not. And because it’s a persistent world, you worry about your character because you know that character will be alive next time, so it kind of tweaks something in your brain.
AusGamers: Awesome well thanks so much for all that, and great meeting you and going through it all.
Dean: I like to give special priority to New Zealand and Australia obviously, and actually New Zealand and Australia are very big titles for Bohemia, part of it’s a bad thing, New Zealand and Australia pays so much for games. I figured this out when I went to Singapore. The Singapore and New Zealand dollar is almost exactly the same, it costs fifty bucks for a released title in Singapore, it costs a hundred and ten in New Zealand. It harks back from the days of distribution.
The one thing that concerns me with Australia is the rating system.
AusGamers: We should be getting past that now, it’s pretty primitive.
Dean: It’s frustrating because, you know, like, we want to deal with some adult themes in DayZ. It’s apocalypse, you know, suicide, drugs... these things become important considerations in a post-apocalyptic scenario. We want to touch on those but you have to be very careful.
AusGamers: I mean, the consensus of those going against the R18+ rating is that all these games are for kids, you know? When you look at the people who play, generally it’s between 24 and 34 or something?
Dean: And we’re getting a lot of girl gamers actually in DayZ. I think it’s cool, they’re saying “we like these hardcore games we don’t want these girlie, “like, whatever” games, these stereotype games”. They’re becoming a serious force in themselves. We found that out from our Facebook page. The second biggest group of “Likes” comes from females aged 24 to 30 or something. The biggest is males 24 to 30. And then females 24 to 30 are beating the younger males, so it’s kind of amazing.
AusGamers: If you’re able to develop a game like that, what’s the point of isolating [it] by having some rating just in Australia, you know? And that’s what it does essentially.
Dean: What we were kind of wanting to do was actually go unrated because we’re an online-only title. If you don’t go retail, because the only reason you need to rate is if you’re going retail distribution.
AusGamers: So being a stand-alone game hasn’t changed anything there has it?
Dean: (Shakes head) but if we wanted to have any kind of retail presence or any marketing at all we would have to rate it. But even if we went unrated we would produce a parent’s guide, you know. I just think that’s common responsibility.
AusGamers: Well I mean that’s what it comes down to.
Dean: We would say to the parents, these are the themes: it’s an online-only game so you can hear people swearing and doing awful, terrible things, saying racist things and that - it’s going to happen. Parents should play it with their kids if they’re going to do it.
AusGamers: Well ultimately for kids it becomes the parent’s choice as well because it’s not like all parents will mind if someone…
Dean: We hear a lot of parents playing DayZ with their kids, and that’s cool. I think that’s really great. We interviewed a father telling us he accidentally shot his son, cause his son didn’t have a compass they were doing some kind of barn, storming it together and he came from the wrong side and he shot him. It’s kind of terrible, it’s really bad.
AusGamers: It’s that you can do that, the possibilities...
AusGamers: Well thanks again.