Infestation: Survivor Stories (formerly "The War Z")

The War Z interview: Sergey Titov responds to backlash, sale removal from Steam

Evan Lahti at

On Monday, zombie survival shooter-MMO The War Z became available on Steam as a "Foundation Release." The same day, complaints began to arise that the game's page in the Steam store misrepresented and exaggerated its content by mentioning features that weren't yet integrated. This morning, Valve took the game off sale, admitting that a mistake was made in "prematurely" making The War Z available for purchase. Valve has extended an invitation to refund purchases through Steam Support, an exception to Valve's usually-rigid refund rules. Those who bought the game through Steam are still able to play it, and The War Z remains for sale on its website.

Following these events, I contacted executive producer Sergey Titov via email to ask about The War Z's troubled release on Steam, if he agrees with Valve's decision to take the game off sale, and what he expects the game's immediate future to be.

Sergey's comments are presented unedited and as they were provided to us from The War Z PR.

PCG: As of this morning, The War Z is no longer purchasable on Steam. Was this a surprise to you, or has Valve been in communication with you after release?

Sergey Titov: No surprise, Valve contacted us to let us know their concerns based on some of the info circulating in the press and we completely understand their need to sort things out and make certain we are communicating correctly to their audience before we relaunch with them. They have an obligation first and foremost to their customers and we recognize that.

Do you agree with Valve’s decision to temporarily unpublish the game from Steam?

Titov: Yes, we think this is the best way to serve their customers and we respect their decision. As you know we’ve been publicly available since October 15. Over that time I think we (the developers) got used to and took it for granted that players knew what state the game was in and how it was a constantly evolving project, with new features being added on and ongoing basis. Clearly the release on Steam introduced the game to players who never followed War Z and we made the mistake of not communicating effectively to the Steam community. Also, during our pre-holiday crunch time with development extending late into the night, there was a major disconnect between our development team and marketing team that resulted in some of the "coming soon" features being listed as current features on the Steam sales page. Namely the following:

1. Servers being able to support up to 100 players—This is actually true, but at the moment we launched the servers were capped at 50 as a result of an in-game survey we had conducted. That information had not been communicated properly to our marketing team that was handling the Steam integration. Currently the servers support both 100 players and 50 players.

2. Map Size—We have always stated that our maps would range from 100—400km squared and that we would launch with one map "Colorado," and then follow up with additional maps in the first quarter of 2013. Nothing has changed, however I believe the wording on the Steam page could have been interpreted as there currently being more than one game world available.

3. Server Rental/Strongholds and Skill Tree—Again, this was not communicated correctly to the marketing team and once it was realized it was corrected.

We recognized the above quickly and made the update to the Steam page within the first day of going on sale, however we completely understand that players were upset and felt that we mislead them. We absolutely take responsibility for these inconsistencies. Ultimately, despite all the controversy that has surrounded The War Z - even since the early Alpha launch, we have cultivated a large and loyal player base that is very active in the game and we want to make sure that new players coming into the game now will be satisfied and feel that they are getting a great game experience.

When will The War Z be purchasable on Steam again? When you do relaunch the game, how will The War Z be different?

Titov: We are working currently with Steam to ensure that they are comfortable that all of our communication is accurate—which it currently is. As for differences—this will be the same WarZ game as available on our own website. For Steam version—our goal right now is to clear up all support requests and refund requests for Steam users.

From our very first hours of being available on Steam and right up until sales were disabled, The War Z was the number one top grossing game title on Steam. We really feel that this is not only a testament to the game's popularity, but also largely due to our loyal and vocal community. We are looking forward to getting things sorted out and being available again soon.

The War Z is still purchasable and playable through thewarz.com, correct? Will the game continue to be playable through your launcher?

Titov: Both the Steam purchased and standalone versions are available to players without any restrictions. That is, anyone who purchased the game through Steam can obviously continue to play it through Steam.

A comparison of The War Z's Steam store description page at launch, and today.

It’s since been updated, but why did the game’s initial description on Steam not reflect the content of the game? Who’s responsible for that error?

Titov: Ultimately, it's our responsibility and no fault of Steam at all. The description on Steam was basically reflecting a list of all the features that either our engine is capable of ( like number of players per server—which can be much higher than 100 for example) as well as our immediate development tasks. The big problem was with some internal communication. As a result of this mistake, our company board reviewed the situation today and we will be making some changes in our structure and with some of our key team members.

The current version of the game changed the amount of time players wait to respawn individual characters from one hour to four hours. You also introduced a paid method for instant respawning. These are significant changes to make as the game appeared on Steam—how would you defend these design and business model decisions?

Titov: Actually this was part of the original design we did for Normal and Hardcore modes. In Normal mode you die and you have a cooldown period before you can play using the same character again. Our original plan was to have this cooldown period be 24-48 hours, but we’ve lowered it to 1 hour during alpha and beta periods. We conducted a large group survey and asked players what they feel cooldown time should be—starting with 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Most users said that it should be 4 hours—40% out of over 80,000 respondents.

As for ability to revive your character using micro transactions—okay once again that was a convenience feature that we planned from the start. So neither of those features were actually tied to the Steam release itself.

From the alpha version of The War Z.

What does your roadmap look like for features in The War Z—what do you expect to add to the game in the next three months?

Titov:

Dec 2012-early January:

  • Leaderboards
  • Improvements in Clan system

January 2013:

  • Server rentals, introduction of Stroghold maps to public.We’re going to basically introduce whole new meta gameplay for War Z, which we hope will change the game dramatically for those who are looking for a more engaging PVE type of experience.
  • More “barricade” types and new “building blocks” items that will allow you to customize your Stronghold experience.

February-April:

  • More stronghold maps
  • More characters
  • More items, weapons, content updates
  • Skill Trees

For the time it was available, The War Z was at the top of Steam’s top sellers list. How many copies did you sell?

Titov: We can’t really comment on this yet, however the game performance on Steam exceeded our expectations. Overall this is a very good thing for us—even with all the bumps, The War Z proved to be a very attractive game for players. Good thing is that our daily performance indicators—number of concurrent users, number of daily players are growing—despite all the negative press recently. I can tell you that as of today we have close to 700,000 registred players, with close to 180,000 players playing the game daily.

The Steam release was labeled as a "Foundation Release." Why did you make the decision to call it that, rather than a continuation of the beta, or full release?

Titov: Basically as all buildings have foundations, every online game has what you can say is a critical set of features. We feel that we’ve reached this stage. As we move forward—we’ll be adding new features to the game to expand on that foundation. The War Z is a game that we will never call "final" because we will continue to develop and add new features based on community feedback.

How would you evaluate the quality of The War Z right now?

It’s definitely a very fun game, though it lacks the polish of titles like COD, Far Cry, PlanetSide 2, etc.—but it’s very solid, stable and fun game. And we’re working non stop with frequent updates to make it even better. From the feedback we've received from the vast majority of our players, they like the game and feel that it is a good value. I think as we continue to add features that sentiment will grow and we will continue to attract more and more players to The War Z.

How do you intend to win back the trust of players who feel misled by the way the game was initially represented on Steam?

Titov: Well—we really hope that those players will understand that we weren't looking to intentionally mislead anyone. I personally hope that they will give the game another look and find that it actually is worth the purchase—or maybe talk to some of the people playing the game that are really enjoying it.

We are already talking internally about some things we can do to reward those that have been loyal to us and also to help mend the relationship with new players. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do this interview and hopefully explain the facts (without being defensive) and have the community understand that we don't take this lightly.