The Future of DayZ

Creator Dean Hall on what's next for his extraordinary ArmA 2 mod.

It's a telling sign of just how stagnant the current console gen's Autumn years have got that one of the most exciting and talked-about games in the month's leading up to E3 2012 is a PC mod.

DayZ, a DIY riff on Bohemia's PC shooter Arma 2, has built a huge following with its rich emergent gameplay that dumps players in the midst of a hugely hostile undead wasteland and leaves them to fend for themselves.

It's proved so popular that it has fired Bohemia's three-year-old game to the top of the Steam charts, and now constitutes around 20 per cent of its total lifetime sales. Considering it's only been live for a few weeks, that's a remarkable achievement.

However, as noted in our DayZ feature earlier this month, there are big problems with the game - it's only in alpha and is both hugely unstable and very difficult to install.

With that in mind, we sat down with creator Dean Hall - a New Zealand-born Bohemia contractor and former soldier - to find out how he plans to move the project forward and whether he's considering a full release some time down the road.

First up is patch 1.61 that should make the game a little easier to use. Beyond that though, Hall has more ambitious plans.

"I can't speak from Bohemia on that but I think it's the perfect engine," he replies when asked if he hopes to make it into a full retail title.

"Obviously there are subtleties and real problems with it at the minute but I think if we pull them out, polish it, tidy it up and go to the community and ask them if it's something they're interested in [then that could happen]."

However, should that be the case it will likely neither be a traditional boxed release nor a free-to-play effort.

"Maybe a Minecraft type model. I think it has very strong potential there," he muses.

"I think community involvement is very important. We can't just do a traditional studio model with this because without the players there is no DayZ experience.

"People have to be behind that which is why I'm talking a lot on the forums about how we want to fund it, what the price point should be and all that. We can't go for a pay-to-win model or a buy-hats model. That's not going to work. I think we have to follow Minecraft."

Hall also offered a few details on how he plans to flesh out the gameplay beyond its rather primitive foundations.

"I think the group dynamic is really important - that's going to give more incentive for people not to just kill everyone else on sight. That's a very important thing to tease out, and that also gives some longevity to playing," he explains.

"Right now, once you've survived those first few days it can get a little bit boring. Maybe you could have more choices - you could be a lone wolf and go off and build a cabin somewhere, or maybe there's a large group of you and you want to take over a city and you end up fighting with other groups over resources. You know, elements that provide more of a meta game. Expanding that is really important.

"The more short term stuff, which I've already started with, is the environmental stuff so you actually feel connected to the environment. How rain effects your character and stuff like that."

If all goes to plan, the game should be in a much more accessible state by "August or September".

"We should have something that's a lot better packaged by then. I think it's very important to get that sorted soon so we don't turn people away."

While he's dedicated to growing DayZ, Hall also acknowledges that bringing more players in and ironing out its various quirks might only serve to diminish the mod's cult luster.

"Half the time I am scared to death about it," he admits.

"But it would be hypocritical of me to say 'oh, we're backing off a little bit'. This was supposed to be a step into the unknown for me. Mods allow you to do much riskier things. People ask why isn't this being made into a full game but there are a lot of risks involved. For a studio to create it from scratch is a really risky proposition. You can anger players really quite easily with the mechanics. It is scary but that's what we should be doing as developers - taking these risks and doing crazy stuff."

Although DayZ has already racked up around 170,000 unique users and provided Bohemia with roughly 100,000 new ArmA 2 sales, Hall is yet to make a penny from his efforts.

"No, I haven't but obviously if I was negotiating something [for a full game release] there'd be something there for me to be looked after," he reveals.

"But I'm still pretty young. For me the big benefit out of it is hopefully being able to make a little imprint on the industry and maybe carve out a new niche. That's good for me personally. There's time to cash in on it later."

He added that a number of major publishers have approached with job offers, but he's so far turned them all down.

"I've had a lot of approaches with a lot of money offered - really quite a lot of money - in the last three weeks. I used to be a producer so I know how much it costs to make a game, and they wanted to throw a lot of money at me. But they weren't offering much creative control," he says.

"I'd like to be known for working on quality games that stay true to what they are."

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