Most of us have built up a reflex that makes us distrust anything that combines the phrases “make money” and “playing games.” Profit and play can't coexist, and any program that says it can is a scam. A damn scam.
DayZ Bounty is such a program, but its founders promise that it isn't a scam. After launching a website earlier this week, I talked to the creators to get a sense of their intentions and learn more about how they plan to implement such an unusual idea.
Despite all appearances, DayZ Bounty's creators say profit isn't their purpose. “We're not trying to make money. It's hard to explain that,” says Jake Stewart, creative development lead on the project. Instead, Stewart and his colleagues James Ortiz and Andrew Defee see DayZ Bounty as a kind of club or community where members have a monetary stake in the game.
“I consider it like playing skins in golf,” says Stewart. “Almost like a VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] or a Rotary club, where everyone has a say. Everyone has input. Everybody understands where everybody's at and where all the money is going. We can vote on things. The community can take a vote on it and we go from there. That's kind of what we're getting at—having a huge involvement with everybody. If you pay your five dollars, you're part of what we're doing.”
The idea for the project emerged from a DayZ group that Ortiz and Stewart played in. “We started a kind of hero clan, ' Super Hero Medic Squad .' All we did was try and help people.” says Stewart. “One night, we got drunk and started messing around, and I was like, 'Screw it. I'm bored. I'm tired of helping people. I'm going rogue.' We all started killing each other.”
Then, they started placing bets.
"I'll give you five dollars if you can take me out," he continues. "And all of a sudden, I thought: this is a fun way to play. This'd be great if we had a whole community of people that were doing the same type of thing. James [Ortiz] and I had talked about maybe getting it together. I started messing around with the map editing and things like that, and he started working on the server end of things. I'd done map editing and other things in Oblivion and a lot of the older Elder Scrolls games.”
“We figured that if people had a value on their life... there'd be something to fear besides the zombies,” Ortiz says. DayZ Bounty was born.
The next step was deciding on a financing plan. Funding for payout, Ortiz and Stewart decided, would come from members themselves. DayZ Bounty players will buy into “packages” of $5, $10, $15 or $20 to get a number of playable lives on DayZ Bounty servers, along with basic gear. Killing zombies, survivors, bandits, and the bandit with the most kills—called “the outlaw”—will earn you money. Each of these targets will have a different value. “We haven't gone through alpha yet, and that's when we're going to start doing all the mock money before we set prices,” says Ortiz. “We're basically trying to keep all the money in-game, where there's no overflow of cash, but we're not spending money to do it as well,” says Stewart, who resides in Virginia.
In order to verify kills, users will have to run an additional mod atop DayZ. “We have a program that registers all kinds of kills. Headshots, all that stuff,” says Ortiz, who lives in Tennessee. “It's the same way all that is registered within the game already, but we have a program that records it all. The player ID, their name, who they killed, what they killed, when they killed it.” Players will receive payment through PayPal.
For the program's test period, DayZ Bounty will begin testing these kill values with mock money:
With money on the line, though, exploitation is a natural concern. DayZ's fun continues to be undermined by hacking, so much so that the standalone version of the game is adopting a new client-server architecture to alleviate it. With money on the line, Stewart acknowledges that “there are going to be those people who exploit it,” but hopes that additional security measures—ones unspecified by DayZ Bounty during my interview to avoid tipping off hackers—will make exploitation more difficult. They've also added a spectating tool, and intend to “have somebody on 24/7 to be spectating the game, almost like a referee in a sense.” Before release, however, they're inviting hackers to break it. “Right now, with alpha and beta, we want people to come in there and exploit the system. We want people to go in there and exploit the hell out of the system so we can tweak the rules enough to where it's even. That's what the next two months is all about,” says Ortiz.
More fundamentally, though, it's unclear to me if Arma 2's terms of service or other laws prohibit the act charging players for such a program, or even if DayZ Bounty constitutes gambling. Ortiz says they're still waiting to receive Bohemia's blessing. “We've thrown it out to them. We have not heard anything back. There are [existing DayZ] servers that do charge memberships and stuff like that to play there. In the long run, that's kind of the same thing we're doing. We're just giving it more of a game-like feel. And you get a chance to get your membership fee back, so there is no financial gain that we're trying to make here.”
DayZ Bounty will also be played on a reworked version of Chernarus, intended to rebalance the game for more competitive play. Andrew Defee, who's helming marketing and web development on the project, says that the map changes are intended “push people a bit more towards PvP, instead of 'zombie farming.'”
“Balance is really important to us," says Defee. "While we've upped the amount of loot, we've dropped the spawn chances of various high-level weapons. I've played with our alpha players a good bit so far, and have yet to even see anyone with a sniper rifle, for example. We want players to be able to get at least partially geared more quickly, so they can do a bit more within the game, but we certainly aren't trying to turn DayZ into Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty.”
Ultimately, Ortiz, Stewart, and Defee all express an interest in keeping DayZ Bounty small enough to manage, and small enough where players feel invested in a shared competitive experience. “It comes down to community. We want them to speak up if things are going on in the game that they see. They can speak up and say, 'Hey, I saw this guy teleporting around.' 'I saw this guy camping on a spawn point and killing people.' We're trying to be as open with them as they are with us. We want it to be one big happy family.”