I do wonder if developers ever refer to online communities. I'm playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate right now, and if you go to Wikia, there's crazy, crazy amounts of info. The monsters in that game are huge, and they have multiple damage zones on their bodies, and someone has made an image where they take the monster into parts and they rate the weakness of each damage zone. Of course the people at Capcom know those numbers -- but having that resource at your fingertips... Even other games' designers could refer to it.
DH: I think that the players end up knowing the game better than the designer, particular in multiplayer. I'm a bit of a single player chauvinist, so I really focus on multiplayer. There are a couple of single player games I play, but they're quite limited, and they're quite specific in their style. So for me, I think that in multiplayer the players end up knowing the game better than the designer, and that's certainly the case with DayZ.
I don't like to talk about "community management" -- we're more about "community engagement." I know that sounds kind of business-speaky, but it's really about how you approach the community. We don't go there and give them informational PR.
Okay, literally, at the moment, we're looking at new control schemes. We say, "We've got this control scheme, and this control scheme, and this control scheme." They discuss it. We then read the discussion. It's not a vote, but it helps. They have an argument amongst a bunch of them, and we study the argument, and it makes us go, "Okay, well. Balancing these things, we're going to do this."
How do you get people into the alpha? Is this a Minecraft scenario?
DH: So what we're doing at the moment is, we gave free keys as a gift to the forum moderators, the Reddit moderators, people who helped out with DayZ development, and stuff like that. I guess there's about 30-100 people involved with that.
From here, once we've finished our server/client architecture -- because we're moving it an MMO model -- we're reviewing the situation of that in June, and then we do an alpha, just like Minecraft. People pay X amount of dollars and they get early, cheap access to it, and then once it's beta, price goes up, maybe, say, $10, and once it goes retail, the price goes up $10.
So the keys you've already distributed, when do they join the alpha?
DH: They're already in. They're already playing it. It's good... We're only running one server. We are doing content updates all the time. The Steam model is really working well for us. Valve approached us and they said, "What do you guys want, to make things easier?" and we said, "Well, we want delta patching." Luckily they were just about to bring that out. That's where, instead of downloading the whole file when it updates, it just downloads the part [that has changed.]
And it's already built into our build process. So the artists, they download the game via Steam, and our internal development process uses Steam to patch their stuff. So when people join the alpha, we have a little dropdown box, which is two builds -- this is once we go paying -- you can choose the stable, or the experimental. The experimental one is literally what is on the developer's desktop. And so people will be able to choose which one they want to play on. If they want to see what the developers were working on today, they can choose the experimental build.
We don't necessarily know how it's going to go. A lot of this is an experiment. But I think it's a cool experiment, and we're lucky that we can do that, because of the success of DayZ and the sales of Arma 2, it's kind of given us carte blanche to experiment. And we're going to make a lot of mistakes, and we do, but I think that's good. It's good for the title and it's good for us to do.
Are you worried about making mistakes and spending the credit you've earned with the userbase?
DH: I think my aim is to really focus on being as transparent as possible. That transparency is the most important thing. I think as long as we're transparent, and I mean completely transparent -- it's not the kind of thing you can do a little bit. It's like cheating on your wife. Once we're not transparent once, no one will ever trust us again. So we're fully transparent.
I think that because we're honest about our mistakes, people are pretty forgiving. Because we've made plenty. There's always someone who goes on about it. Like the release date, for example. We've changed the release date DayZ was going to be dramatically, which means the release date just sailed on by.
So that was obviously a big disappointment for a lot of people. But we were honest about: we made a mistake in our planning. Our initial planning was just a release date [for] like a very simplified re-release of the mod, basically, just as a standalone. But we realized halfway through that that we actually wanted to make a proper game out of it.