I’m Adopting the War Z Method of Developing Feature Lists

Okay, so normally I do everything I can to avoid criticizing someone’s PR efforts. Who am I to say that the way you’ve learned to do something is wrong? Well, in this case, I want to give a bit of advice to the fine folks at Hammerpoint: please, guys, stop talking!

If you don’t know about this whole War Z thing, just go read Jason Schreier’s summary over at Kotaku, then come back here.

Okay… back? In short: game comes out on Steam, tons of people rush to buy it, game is but a hollow shell of the advertised product, and developers are banning people on message boards for voicing their dissent. Now leave our site again, and let’s look at this GameSpy interview with executive producer Sergey Titov. It’s something else. Hit the jump for my comments.

When asked about the misleading feature list — which noted that the game features “A huge persistent world: The War Z is an open world game. Each world has areas between 100 to 400 square kilometers,” when in actuality it has one area that’s at the low end of that spectrum — and further about the stated player limit of “up to 100 players” — when it’s really limited to 50 — Titov simply throws up his hands and suggests that anyone misled by those numbers is obviously not very smart. Okay, so he didn’t say that. He did, however, say this:

“Max players — I’m not sure why this is even an issue. [The] text clearly stated ‘up to 100 players.’ And 50 players [which] we have right now — is what our players — our community feels is comfortable level for them to play. We had it at 40, we’ve raised it to 70, and after that we’ve asked our players, ‘What you want this number to be for Colorado map?’ Over 90,000 players took [the] survey and most of them said — 50.”

Okay, so the limit is 50. Not 100. Got it.

… but then…

“Let’s be frank: when you read ‘up to 100 players’ — what does it mean to you personally?”

Awesome! So I’m going to play with 99 of my closest friends!?

“I mean, for me it doesn’t mean that I will play with 99 other players. Really :) And yes game supports 100 players — heck, it supports actually over 400 players per server as of today. Do we have servers launched with this number of slots? No we don’t, because this is not what our players WANT.”

Ah, so. Let’s be clear, developers: when you’re creating feature lists for your game, it’s a good idea to provide the actual, correct info. It’s why when we promoted The Witcher 2, we didn’t say that it supports between 1 and 20 players. Or that you could choose from one of up to 40 characters. Now, I admit that there could be a language barrier at play here. We work with a lot of non-native English speakers, and there are often situations where they say something and I merely look at them in disbelief (and entirely unsure of what they just said).

However, in the rest of the interview, Titov makes every effort to avoid admitting the mistake. He suggests that because this is an online game, it’ll never be truly “released”… and because in said online game, new features will be added, and maybe some day you will be able to play the advertised game — just not today — that the initial feature list is still relevant.

This new and exciting method of writing feature lists is, quite frankly, a blessing for all PR reps in the industry. Ladies and gentlemen of the PR profession, listen up! As long as you intend to add features in, you can include them? So Blizzard should be advertising Starcraft II with something like, “Play as the three classic races of Terrans, Zerg and Protoss!” And if you have DLC planned for your game, don’t worry about waiting for them to actually get released, or suggest that “Future DLC will introduce new features.” Just toss it all into the pile. It’ll make your game sound so much more appealing than it is.

The sad part of all of this is that the negative publicity will merely lead to more awareness of a game that — by a number of accounts — isn’t (in its current state) worth the time. There are a lot of developers out there who are under-promising and over-delivering, and many of them (and their games) will slide under the radar, never to achieve the sales success of The War Z.

I’m sure there are plenty of great people over at Hammerpoint. But damn, folks, think before you act. This is why it’s important to consult with your resident PR rep, who, unless he/she is totally batshit crazy, may offer a voice of reason in these times. There are few courses of action in this case more damaging than the one you’ve taken. Swallow your pride, embrace humility. Start working extra hard to convince your fans that it was a mistake, and that you value nothing more than their interest in your product and their business. You live to make them happy, not the other way around.

(As noted in the GameSpy story, the Steam pages have been updated to be less misleading, and others have reported that Valve is also investigating the accusations… but I’m afraid it’s a bit late.)