Dean Hall to leave Bohemia and step down as leader of DayZ

He explains why.

Dean Hall intends to leave developer Bohemia and step down as leader of his hit video game DayZ by the end of the year, Eurogamer can exclusively reveal. The game he created will be left in the hands of the team he leads today.

He will start his own studio in his home country of New Zealand, where he'll keep trying to create that elusive, perfect multiplayer game.

Dean Hall told me this without any fanfare while we were in Bohemia's motion capture studio outside of Prague, Czech Republic. I sat him down the next day for an explanation.

"I am a grenade," he began, this time sat in the DayZ office in central Prague. "I have a specific use. I'm really good at risk-taking and making other people take risks, I've always been good at that in my life. Like you say, maybe I've got the gift of the gab, so I can talk, I can explain something, I can talk people up to the ledge and get them to jump off it.

"That's what I did with DayZ; I've done it twice now [once with the mod, again with the standalone] - two new code teams have separately done it.

"But eventually, that's the bad person to have. Eventually, you don't want the guy telling you to go over the top and get through. So at some point I'll be a disaster for the project, at least in a leadership role.

"Originally I wasn't going to do this year"

Dean Hall

"And also, I never intended to be here," he added, referencing his original plan to stay months - as a break from the New Zealand army - not years (two and counting). DayZ swept him off his feet.

"And it's kind of like cooking in someone else's kitchen: I don't want to be constantly telling Bohemia that this is how I do it and this is the way we do it."

Much can change in a year, of course. Is Hall's mind set? "Oh, it's set. Definitely," he nodded. But he won't leave DayZ in the lurch - won't leave at a crucial time. "I would extend my involvement here as long as Bohemia wanted - needed - me," he stressed. In other words, there's flexibility.

"Originally I wasn't going to do this year, but it would be stupid not to, and it would be unfair to the community. I have to be on the project as long as it's important to. Whether that role is as the leader, whether that role is in a more creative sense... But at a certain point there will be diminishing returns.

"The thing is, if I'm involved in the project, I'll be fighting anybody on the project to make sure it's good, so for the rest of the year, I'm there. And I don't just sit around; it doesn't matter if I'm the cleaner or the leader or whatever, I will be making sure - I will be in Marek's [Spanel, CEO] office yelling at him. I'm notorious for it."

He realises, too, that he'll never walk away completely from DayZ. "I'll be always involved," he said. "I would be surprised, and Bohemia would as well - I remember talking about this with Marek... I'll always be involved with it; there's no way to escape it."

"I saw what happened with Notch. That's why it's better to just address the elephant in the room."

The news will be a blow to the DayZ community, which this morning Hall said numbers more than 1.5 million people, although not all are necessarily active. It's a community he goes to great lengths to be a part of. Few other developers are so accessible, so transparent, so involved.

"Yes, I can see people being freaked out about it," he said, "and I saw what happened with Notch." Markus "Notch" Persson abruptly stepped down from being lead developer of Minecraft in order to take a break. "That's why it's better to just address the elephant in the room. It's also fairer for Bohemia as well, rather than for me to just turn around one day and say 'see ya'. This isn't my home. And also it's a bit different with Notch: he set up his own studio - this isn't my studio.

"I can't - and nor should I - turn around and say and say 'this is how we do it'. I don't even know how their country works, their labour laws or anything. And, you know, I miss home."

So he'll go home - home to New Zealand, to a studio of his own. Setting it up is a process that will take "years", so he'll - his people will - "start it cooking" now.

"I guess most people would have not said anything," he shrugged, "but I want to avoid a Notch-like situation so that everybody knows that one day - publishers as well - I'm going to come knocking. But it's not going to be under traditional terms, it's going to be different."

Bohemia told me that it was aware of Hall's plans and this "did not come as a surprise". "Under the guidance of Dean, DayZ's development will continue to move full-steam ahead, and we're expecting to make a lot of progress this year - and in the year(s) after that of course," a spokesperson said.

Hall has three new game ideas written already, he told me, plus another two that need more work.

"A lot of them have similar DNA [to DayZ]," he said, because he's "fascinated" by multiplayer games and because he's "very interested" in survival games.

"I feel like DayZ is a fundamentally flawed concept," he went on, "and I've always recognised that. It's not the perfect game; it's not the multiplayer experience, and it never can be, [with] the absolute spark that I want in it."

The perfect multiplayer experience: "I want to chase that."

Title image by Lola Landekic.

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