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Comments on Dean Hall's Planned Departure from DayZ

Was his decision to announce a potentially early departure a wise one?

As of Monday, Dean Hall announced that he will be stepping down as lead developer on the title DayZ sometime this year.

I have to admit, this all concerned me at first. The creator of the game plans to leave the project at an indeterminable date sometime in the year? Well, surely he's guaranteed that a reliable team is there to take the reins. And there certainly is.

Bohemia Interactive are a competent ally in developing this game. They also used a similar engine to develop Arma II and Arma III. That's okay then. But still I somehow feel a bit deceived. I can't help re-reading the comments that he made in his interview. He seemed to make off the cuff remarks that antagonised me. His story didn't seem straight, and his announcement seemed somewhat convoluted.

Hall v. Perssons

Perhaps I have taken his words somewhat cynically, and over analysed his statements. But something just doesn't feel right about his remarks. There isn't a solid direction in his reasoning for departure. Now I will accept that, if he leaves at the end of the year around the time of a beta release, that there is not too major an issue. But even still, how often is it that the original maker of a video game abandons the project prior to a final release?

He compares his situation to that of Markus Perssons's (the founder of Minecraft), who left the game as lead developer shortly after its release. He reasons that he would rather be honest about the reality that he intends to leave, as opposed to it coming as a shock closer to the finalising of the game. But even if he left at the very end of 2014, it is unlikely that DayZ will have even made it to the early Beta phase. I think it's an unfair comparison.

Viewpoint

After feeling concerned, I became very angered by this announcement, although I feel I misinterpreted it. I was under the impression that he was leaving the project full-time as of that announcement, but that does not appear to be the case.

However,  just by making this announcement he has denounced his credibility in the role of progressing the game. One comment that irked me was that he felt "like DayZ is a fundamentally flawed concept... 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." He's conceded to the notion that this game cannot be what he wants it to be. It's like he has given up before even resigning. It seems out of character for the Dean Hall that I have followed from the late mod era up until now. He typically seems full of enthusiasm for this project. Now that he's hit a hurdle of doubt in his mind, it's game over.

I recently did an article on the state of Early Access, and its flaws and potential advantages. As it is an unprecedented concept, and cannot really be compared to any other entertainment mediums, it has a very unpredictable future. I mentioned the potential for game makers to turn a profit and ditch the project before completion; but Dean "Rocket" Hall was the LAST person I would expect to abandon an early access project prematurely. It did not even come into question in my mind. The unpredictability of Early Access on the effects of developers' human psyche has truly shone through in this case.

I can't help but question the genuineness of his reasoning.

He seems to view himself as a negative impact upon DayZ's future : "I am a grenade. 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 [the interviewer, Robert Purchese], 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. 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."

He even hinted at this a month prior in an interview with Edge, stating that "there’ll be a time when my full-on involvement is finished, and I think a lot of the fans will agree with that. It’s dangerous, because I like to push for a lot of things that could become bad for the project." It's almost like he has devised a self-fulfilling prophecy that doubts his own competence in regards to completing the title. Perhaps he fears failure?

Someone whose "plan" is so diffused, and bordering on non-nonsensical, rings alarm bells for me. One moment he is saying he's dangerous for the project, then is saying that he'll be there for as long as necessary: "I'll always be involved with it; there's no way to escape it." If he contradicts himself like this in interviews, then what is he saying that actually makes sense?

 He seems to be desperately attempting to reason his distancing to the audience--the DayZ community--in a very vague and obscure manner. He wants to make sure that they know his role in developing the game further could be detrimental. But he has no proof of this. The statement, at least to me, makes little sense.

He started this game from the ground up, but he could ruin the game. That does not correlate in my mind to say the least. Is he not using his "gift of the gab" to talk the DayZ community off of a ledge; sweet-talking them into a false sense of security to the clifftop? It comes across as a pseudo self-loathing initiative taken to alleviate flak off of him from fans and the community.

I find it hard to deny that the community has been somewhat duped. Especially if he leaves, let's say, by Autumn. By being (admittedly commendably) honest in order to avoid an unpredictable surprise when he announces stepping down, he has made the entire future of DayZ seem more unpredictable. He has talked of missing home for being another reason for his departure. He's also openly discussed his plans for leaving the BI studio in Prague, and starting a new one in his home country of New Zealand.

But shouldn't he stick this project out first, and perhaps take a break by going back home for several weeks in the meantime? I can't say he doesn't deserve that. But talks of numerous projects before finishing the most important one (the one that his community has now invested millions into) worries me, and makes me wonder if he won't do this again for his next concept.

Community Involvement

What also upset me were his comments in regards to the Early Access community itself. In his recent interview with Edge, he said that "...the massive amount of people playing DayZ isn’t so much for me about having a huge QA team. This is something that frustrates me sometimes where people will say that it’s terrible that we’re making people pay to be QA (Quality Assurance). We have our own testers, and we have a good idea of the bugs in the game. Obviously some slip through and that’s where the community is very useful, but we’d be getting that feedback from our small testing team eventually anyway." Although he commends the community in the same interview, stating that "...the community steers a lot of our approach. I really enjoy engaging with them;" I feel that denouncing their efforts in say bug reports, for example, is somewhat condescending--even if he is right.

The Alpha's disclaimer states:

"Please do not purchase it [DayZUnless you want to actively support development of the game."

Now I understand that to hear voices amongst a million in regard to complaints is nigh on impossible. But everybody is not actually 'actively' supporting in such a manner. Most are impatient gamers wishing to play, such as myself. So to disregard the genuinely active side of the community, as a bitter retort to Early Access cynics, is a real shame.

With this disclaimer, the DayZ team wins either way. Impatient fans cannot complain about faults within the extremely buggy alpha, but also, die-hard fans are falsely made to feel special in regards to their contribution towards the final output. Although I was part of the former portion of purchasers, I have still intermittently scoured the forums, and the community has been helpful in aiding me combat bug issues; ways to counter existing bugs, that the development team most likely wouldn't have time to address to average players like myself. He mentions the community, but admits that the development team would probably still sort all of the community's issues regardless. I feel by saying this that he's almost negating the importance of the voice of the community.

Conclusion

Maybe I am being unfair regarding Hall's decision. Maybe, as a paying customer, I've taken it too personally. Maybe I should blame myself for investing in an unfinished game (most likely). But how this will truly affect the final product is unknown.

Regardless, I think it was a bad decision to make such an announcement at this time. The game is very  far from finished, at least in terms of features. The mod, aside from having residential houses players can actually enter, still has far more items/weapons at hand and the ability to utilise cars and helicopters. None of these essential features are beyond development in the standalone edition, and now the lead developer wants out.

I have to say, this has seriously dented my faith in the future of Early Access, and I don't intend to make any future investments related to this concept.

I do not want to denote that perhaps the rather large cash-flow has played a part in this decision, but perhaps it has consciously or otherwise had Hall change his outlook on his future. I really don't think he will let DayZ wither and die, but maybe the intense work ethic on this one project has subsided now that he feels he has successfully achieved his goal of releasing a popular title.

I cannot speak on his behalf so I will not, because it would seem to cheap to do so in regards to the idea that he's "sold out" or become complacent--because I really don't think that is the case. If anything, the money has made him see opportunity in creating newer and better projects in the future. I just wish that he'd acknowledge the gravity of this decision, and support his fan base for the long haul. I think a majority of the community would really like him to see out his work up until the end.

Interview quotes from here:

  • http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-02-24-dean-hall-to-leave-bohemia-and-step-down-as-leader-of-dayz
  • http://www.edge-online.com/features/dean-rocket-hall-on-whats-next-for-dayz-the-early-access-game-thats-sold-a-million/

Images from here:

  • https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/3706677526/6dcffff6117c23a60656dafafd20d204.jpeg
  • http://static.bafta.org/images/width470/markus-persson-16881.jpg
  • http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/fiscal-cliff-financial-cartoon-optionsclick-blogart.jpg
  • http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/dams/images/cartoon.jpg
Published Feb. 27th 2014

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