Disclaimer: It should be noted that these are my personal musings and reflections, and do not reflect the official stance on design for any project I am associated with, nor the official position of my employer.

Years ago I had a gaming experience that has stuck with me to this day. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that said experience informs my decisions on an almost daily basis today, and probably accounts for at least half of the reasoning behind leaving Redmond and coming out to Prague.

Ultima Online

I know I talk about Ultima Online fairly often, so I’ll have to ask you to bear with me a little longer as I talk about it some more. While you could probably attribute a lot of the design decisions made early on to Ultima Online to a general lack of industry knowledge on how the then bleeding edge MMORPG space (Meridian 59 was just about the only other thing out there – unless you count The Realm of which I do not), I tend to look at a lot of them as bold and counter to the more commonly accepted norms of AAA design doctrine these days.

Meridian 59

While leading designers such as Will Wright, and standard large publisher practices from houses such as Microsoft Game Studios have pushed for the softer experience, the lower bar to entry, quicker reward for player action, and general “hook” to a title to be sooner, easier to achieve – and in general advocate for lowering the frustration factor of a title – I personally can’t help but feel like that whole philosophy is motivated by one thing – and one thing only. The almighty dollar.

The Realm

DayZ for me was my opportunity to thumb my nose at the given norm – toss away the types of best practices that I so frequently saw pushed in platform feature meetings, and conference calls with 1PP developers early on in my career. I viewed it as my chance to stand apart from the typical executive and publisher pushed design changes and show the industry as a whole that putting the player in situations where they could risk a complete loss of progress – a total reset – was still a viable design.
Don’t get me wrong, I still feel this way. I seriously doubt anything will ever change that. However, I always have that concern in the back of my head – that DayZ will become a victim of its own success. The scale of dollars in tends to proportionately scale the amount of executive and publisher attention up. As we approach our beta milestone, and then eventual release from Early Access – will the single best selling title for Bohemia (to the best of my knowledge) be put under more pressure to lower the investment time for player progression? Will my team be pushed to make the title more accessible? And should I be standing my ground on this issue – especially considering any hypothetical executive or publisher pressure would be coming purely from overwhelming consumer pressure that the title is too hard?


As an Early Access title that was not crowd funded, do I owe my focus to the original design intent of DayZ as the brutally harsh anti-game, or to the evolving demands of the growing consumer audience? My moral compass leans heavily towards keeping DayZ brutal, protecting the integrity of that heart pounding experience while trying to temper the demands of the lighter or more casual experience consumer with full and rich support for modifying what that experience is on both the server, and game modification level.
I suppose time will tell if I was foolishly optimistic, or if there is still room for the unforgiving experience in the AAA persistent multiplayer space.

Written by Hicks

This article has 6 comments

  1. Devin Spikowski

    Do you have player statistics that indicate whether it is more common for a player that loses hours of progress to keep playing (or come back), or quit all-together? Or is it more common for players to quit while retaining their hours of progress, due to boredom or lack of remaining goals?

    As a subscriber of r/DayZ for the last 2.5 years, my gut says that most stories of players quitting are not due to dying after achieving progress, but rather having nothing left to do once they’ve achieved that progress.

    Reacting negatively to loss is not the same as reacting negatively to the game itself. It can look like that on the surface, but what you’ve actually achieved is making a player care more about their experience in a game than most games ever come close to. This is one of the major things that sets DayZ apart and it would be a mistake to think making the title more accessible in this way would be an improvement; I believe it would be a great harm.

    • Hicks

      Given the high brand awareness – MANY more users try the title and hit the wall early, walk away and never come back. However, that really isn’t the data that should be focused on. It is natural for a title like DayZ.

  2. Bas

    To dilute Dayz now would be (in my eyes atleast) a big FU to the community that helped make Dayz into what it is today.

    Dayz needs to be the unforgiving, complex and brutal experience that other BI titels were in the past. And be the polar opposite of the homogenised, instant gratification, coverbased shooters aimed at the CoD demographic that the rest of the AAA industry is focused on.

    The marked is flooded with these easy acces games while the demographic that wants more complex or just different games like Dayz, Star Citizen or the IL-2 series get ignored because executives and producers think there is no money to be made there. But the succes of Dayz and Star Citizen, as well as the succes of the PC indy scene proof that is not the case.

    The beauty of Dayz is ofcourse that you dont need to give into this pressure. Specialy not from the vocal minority who dont actuerly know anything about good game design and will complain just as hard regardless of any changes you make. Because once modding is introduced they can and will make the game as simple as they want. Which in turn will translate into more revenue for BI.

    This leaves you open to stick to your moral compass and keep Dayz the unforgiving experience BI invisioned it to be.

    If you give into the pressures of the people who arent actuerly interested in making art or telling a story but just care about the almightly dollar. You are contributing to the inevitable collapse of the AAA gaming industry for lack of innovation and diversity.

    While i understand money is vital to keep everybody employed and keep the studio in business. Diluting the game to appeal to the largest possible audience is just a easy answer to a complex question.

    I feel none of this is new information though so ill leave it at this.

    • Hicks

      Its important to understand that I was just pontificating. One of the primary reasons why DayZ went to Bohemia, and why I sold the Survivor GameZ to BI was that Bohemia has never been, and will probably never be a company that bows to money over design – however, coming from a major publisher the possibility has been eating at the back of my mind.

  3. nicholas

    Hicks i would say with all my heart this is the best game to date. i love it i think its great you get so many great story’s from it as appose to other games where the story’s are not “hey remember that ace clutch defuse i got last night crazy” more like amazing story’s that take up 30 minutes. if this was some easy game no one would care for them. i honestly think and you should raise the bar and push the players even harder. the more work you put into keep them alive the more you care about them and the feeling you get when you die with them go’s up its that emotional connection that makes it awesome. i know you take alot of abuse from the community but don’t fold and never pay out keep development going stay on course and every little thing is gonna be alright. remember “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

  4. Rich

    i love DayZ i have done since the day i first saw it being played to the countless hours i spend in my spare time playing it. i ask you stick to your guns with it and make it the way you want it. This is the only game i have played where i can be in places like NWAF and my heart rate is going up the longer i stay in there. it’s things like that that make DayZ the game it is. please don’t change it

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