Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-04-02 08:55:57
The War Z and Microtransactions
To those unfamiliar with The War Z (PC), it is an insipid game designed to prey on the fans of the popular ARMA 2 zombie apocalypse survival mod Day Z (PC). Pioneered by Dean Hall, Day Z has justifiably earned a strong following, and a stand-alone title bearing the same name based on its success is currently being worked on with the same creative behemoth at the forefront of its development.
The War Z is not affiliated with Day Z in any way, although its similar name has unfortunately resulted in many people believing that it is some sort of spiritual sequel to the influential mod. This is frustrating, as the game is a shameless rip-off of Day Z, copying many of its stylistic decisions and yet executing them so sloppily as to be offensive. The game itself is a bug-ridden mess, plagued by hackers, lacking a discernible purpose and, at the time of writing, being bereft of many of the features that were promised during its development cycle.
It is almost impossible to believe that in 2013 a game could be released that is fundamentally incomplete, and yet The War Z is a testament to poorly designed games everywhere that are swept up by consumers buying into hyperbole. On the site, The War Z looks decent: screenshots show ruined cities, swarms of characteristic zombies and lush, green environments feeding into dilapidated barns. It all gels nicely with the recent revival of zombies in popular culture, and the idea of an MMO where players have to survive in a post-apocalyptic world is enticing. Sadly, the screenshots are unrepresentative of the final product and, at the time of writing, many of the locations depicted are not featured within the retail product.
More unforgivable than the dishonest imagery, the offensive comments made by certain parts of the creative team behind the game (using the word 'faggot' to denounce people criticising the title) and the overall lack of quality consistent throughout, however, is the game's focus on microtransactions that borders on being ludicrous. A recent update to the game at the time of writing results in killed players needing to spend real money in order to respawn instantly (otherwise, several hours need to pass before gameplay can be resumed). Not only does a player have to purchase The War Z, but they have to pay real money for the privilege of being revived after being killed. Seeing as death is a common occurrence in the game, either due to zombies or hostile human players, this is a perplexing and criminal notion.
Equally perplexing is how The War Z makes players buy just about everything required to play the game. To purchase healing items, ammo and other vital supplies, players need to, again, spend real money. While some of these items can be found in-game, those that can be are difficult to come by, and many of the items held within the online shop cannot be acquired any other way. To kit a character out with a few vital pieces of equipment, such as binoculars and a few healing items, can start to run into the double figures, raising eyebrows from anyone who has taken the plunge into this disturbing world. At the height of this money-grabbing approach is the ridiculous consequence of death after purchase: after buying items with real money and being killed, the player looses each and every one of them should another player loot their corpse, which happens with an alarming frequency. In examples, players have been killed within two minutes of gameplay after spending $10 on items and have been left with nothing.
This cynical dynamic shows the rapacious nature of the game developer, Hammerpoint Interactive. They offer a clumsy, basic product that feels like an Alpha build, with much of the in-game content unavailable and coming at an undetermined later date, and then have the audacity to demand further payment from players for peripheral (and yet somehow vital) items that can be lost within moments. Microtransactions in video games are difficult to pull off without feeling like a scam, but it is unusual for a game to charge so much and offer so little in return. There is no incentive whatsoever to put money into a model that punishes players liberally, and I can only hope that players who do sink cash into the online shop only to lose everything after being looted will never do so again. To think that some people might actually continually toss money at these developers is a harrowing thought.
The War Z is a prime example of how not to make a game. It projects itself as a zombie MMO, deliberately targeting a market interested in the undead, but merely serves as a basic re-skin of a different, and similarly flawed product previously worked on by the development team called The War Inc. It then attempts to form its name as closely to Day Z as possible in order to steal some of that game's fanbase, who mistakenly believe it to be connected in some way. It is a thoroughly perverted way of making a video game, preying on unsuspecting players and lying about its build. Its sole intention is clearly to get players to sink cash into it, and there is no way to look at this game other than as being one of the greatest examples of daylight robbery in modern gaming.
In the modern gaming climate, with its focus on digital transactions, players are prepared to pay for bonus content, as long as the rewards can be justified. The War Z, however, fails to offer anything valuable in return for its excessive sales pitch, and it is utterly impossible not to feel ripped off as a result of their outrageous fees. Masochists alone will appreciate such a cynical approach to video game development.