There's also the fact that a lot of people who pay for the alpha builds don't completely understand the nature of game development, and misinterpret what the point of an alpha build is: "The best example there has to be Prison Architect [from Introversion]. They actually had to price their product such as to discourage people from buying it!"
(Don't worry, we'll be jumping back to Project Zomboid later on when we speak to the development team, while more in-depth discussion regarding Prison Architect is coming up later this week as part of a different article.)
And there was an added problem for Hall too, due to the nature of his development cycle. Since Hall built the DayZ mod first, this gave outside parties oodles of time to notice the surge of popularity for open-world zombie survival games, and attempt to recreate that setting before Hall could even get his own operations up and running.
We're talking, of course, about The War Z, which was brutally panned by critics and gamers, and has since had its name changed. I asked Hall if, in hindsight, he would have done anything differently with regards to his alpha approach.
"How many words is the article?" he answers. "I could write a book on things I would do differently. But realistically, I think what matters most now are the things I think we did right."
"One of those was opting to develop what best met the vision, no matter what that meant for timeframes and community reaction," he continues. "We felt that the game engine needed to be radically changed in order to deliver the right experience. That meant enduring tough times."
The most important things he'd do differently if he could go back essentially revolve around "more planning before leaping in, no matter how tempting it is just to get started coding."
"I also think my messaging was confusing at times," he admits. "In hindsight I could have been much clearer and more professional in my public image. But perhaps that's part of the charm."
Despite all this, Hall isn't worried about clones, and has no qualms about the alpha funding method. "I like to think we're trying to compete based on being an innovator, not just the innovation we've already done," he notes. "While someone is developing ideas based on what we did last year, we like to think we're developing new things."
Dean Hall's advice for studios thinking about going for alpha funding:
Plan for three different scenarios: big success, success, and failure. If you have a big hit and you aren't ready, it's very hard for your project not to get speed wobbles.
Carefully examine your pricing structure. Consider your audience, what consumer behavior you want, and then finally how people will perceive that. People's perception is really important here and blowback is easy to get.
Make the design fun. People can handle bugs, missing content, and all manner of other things. But if the heart of the game isn't there, and you find yourself constantly having to explain away "in the full version you'll be able to do x..." when watching someone play it then people won't get the game. Kerbal Space Program was excellent because when I played it, I thought "why has someone not made this before?" I could instantly see what they were trying to do, despite the fact it crashed within five minutes of me loading it.
Get the base foundation right. If you want to do multiplayer, you're really going to have to do it at the start. Multiplayer in a patch? It's unlikely and you'll just end up upsetting the fanbase.