We recently met up with Project Zomboid developers, The Indie Stone, to discuss their many adventures trying to turn the indie sandbox survival sim into a commercial success. Yesterday we learned how help from Steam, Desura and FilePlanet saved the developers from exhaustion and pirates. Today we examine the serious problems the team faced finding a way to sell the game legally in the first place.
The problem was that Project Zomboid was technically an unfinished product, which made it difficult to sell using traditional retail methods. Their solution? To sell "the world's worst games."
"We know how to make games, but we're not born businessmen," explains developer Chris Simpson. "We didn't pay close attention to terms and conditions in PayPal or Google checkout. So obviously we got hit with PayPal limiting our account and we were flapping about that for a few days."
"I think Notch has the same problem where, if lots of people buy the game then we get hit by a bus PayPal would end up liable for giving their money back. So as frustrating as it was, and God bless 'em a lot of people came to our defence and called out the companies for being evil, but I guess they were only protecting their own interests against someone who was a complete unknown."
After a stressful period trying to find a way to meet the terms of Google checkhout and PayPal, The Indie Stone had a eureka moment.
Developer Andy Hodgetts explains the solution. "The problem was selling a product that didn't currently exist, so we thought okay we'll sell products that do exist and the Project Zomboid license will just be a freebie that you get. So we dug out these appalling games that we once did. Chris wrote a Rock Paper Scissors console application…"
The team put three games on sale, ranging in price from £5 to £15, letting buyers decide how much they wanted to support Project Zomboid's development. As part of the joke, the more expensive the option, the worse the game on sale.
"We tried to put in as much irony and satire as possible into it," says Chris. "We tried to make it quite a funny and eye catching thing. Obviously the idea was that on that page there is not indication that you are buying Project Zomboid, but the problem then came from all forum posts around the internet and the angry emails we'd get where people thought it was a disgrace that we were selling this console based rock paper scissors game for £15."
When they started receiving a few complaints, Chris and Andy tried to make it clearer on the sales pages that the real product was Project Zomboid.
"We were making it progressively less subtle, less subtle, less subtle until we were saying it in black and white at the top. And at that point it seemed pointless, because the exact loophole we were trying to make had been undone by us having to explain it so much. Don't get us wrong, a lot of people got it."
In the end, their efforts succeeded. The Indie Stone are keeping a nest egg that will support them as they continue to develop the game. "The more people that buy it now, the more time we're securing and it makes it more and more certain that we will get to these points in the future," says Andy "No-one needs to worry about the game running out of money in four months time."
We've got more of the twist-ridden Project Zombie story coming up soon on PCGamer.com, including news of new features the team are planning to add to the game.