December 20, 2012
There hasn't been much in the way of news lately vis-a-vis The War Z--in fact, as far as I can tell, we haven't talked about this one since August--but its recent launch, or rather its sort-of launch, is making many take notice but for the wrong reasons.
Here's the salient: recently, The War Z actually went live on Steam, Valve's game buying platform that has plenty of good press to its credit. But the key point is that it didn't stay there long as it rapidly became apparent that this game was not all it was cracked up to be, and not in a metaphorical fashion, either, but rather in a "what was promised isn't here" way.
It took just 48 hours for The War Z to go from launch to forcible eviction by Valve itself, a rare move in its own right. First on the list of problems, a lack of notice that the game was an alpha build, though Hammerpoint Interactive, the company behind the game, had said as much elsewhere. That alone might be problematic for some, but it got worse; the Steam page said there were private servers available for up to 100 players simultaneously, and in both cases, this was reportedly untrue.
Hammerpoint later modified their descriptions on Steam, but by then, there were a whole load of angry gamers. Valve, naturally, promised refunds to anyone who wanted them, and Hammerpoint went on record in a few different directions, calling the game's release to Steam "a mistake" and "prematurely" issued, before announcing plans to assess the situation so as "to have satisfied and not angry customers".
That's the kind of thing that's commonly said one step ahead of the mob carrying pitchforks, torches, and effigies of you on fire. Yet at the same time, this story does an excellent job of showing the inherent value of customer service in gaming.
See, it was bad enough that Hammerpoint put out an unfinished copy of their game--an especially large problem in the face of how many gamers they had sign up for the beta--but it only got worse when, for some reason, they either didn't notice or didn't care that they didn't tell everybody it was pretty much unfinished. Things only get worse when you consider something I learned not too long ago, that the guy behind Hammerpoint is none other than Sergey Titov, a name you might recognize from the game "Big Rigs Over The Road", which reportedly is the only game to ever manage to get a zero out of five on X-Play, which is just a colossal feat.
Yet at the same time, based on a report to PC Gamer, The War Z was actually on top of the Steam rankings while it was available, and Titov accounts for 700,000 registered players, about 180,000 of which play the game every day.
While it was clear that Valve did the right thing in pulling this game, and Titov jumped the gun by a factor of plenty by the look of it, the early shots certainly do a good job of drawing interest. Titor, meanwhile, would do well to have a special deal waiting for those who come back when the game is fully ready as a way to establish proper customer service measures.
Still, this goes a long way to show the adverse consequences of releasing a game entirely too soon, and the importance of keeping the customers happy lest they stop being customers.