DayZ is a big success story - it was a mod for Arma 2, which was on the tail end of its success at the time. DayZ, with no advertising or promotion, went from 0 to 500,000 users in five months. Then it went from 500,000 to 1 million in another month, and it's been a top seller on Steam for one year. The game now has 2 million users, and a 10-year strategy. How did they get from there to here?
Project lead Dean Hall admits he doesn't precisely know. "The biggest thing I learned about going viral is there was no time to plan," he said at his talk at GDC China. "Everything kind of just happened."
"When I released DayZ I thought maybe 100 people would play it," Hall added. "I didn't even make a post about it, I just put it online and people started playing it."
Suffice it to say, Hall was not prepared for the game's success. "One of the big parts was growth management," said Hall. There was a problem with structure - by the time the game hit 20,000 users, hit CEO asked him to make a standalone product. A week later the game had 100,000 users, and the strategy had to change, in a short period of time.
"It's also really easy to get yourself into a PR nightmare," he said. "And there were many instances of that happening. One guy started making a single player version of my game and it caused a lot of headaches."
Culture was another big issue. For the last 12 months the culture of the project was just a few guys in a room developing, but now they're adding 20 or 30 staff and moving to a new office. Managing that growth in such a short time was incredibly difficult.
What's more, Hall wasn't quite prepared to figure out what he wanted out of the game's success. Lawyers spend a lot of time focusing on protecting from failure, but not capitalizing on success, he says. Nobody was prepared for the success of the final product, or who was going to own it, or how the wealth would be distributed.
But virality is an excellent problem to have, and you should capitalize on it once you're there, making yourself available on Twitter and Reddit and other social programs, because it only accelerates the process. "People want to feel part of it, they want to be a part of something that's going on," he says. "It's like reality TV."
Ultimately, legitimacy and a targeted development plan is the best thing for your game. When it all comes down to it, "know what you're making, and know what you're trying to do."