Project Zomboid Has More Problems than the Guy in this Screenshot
Making a video game requires an incredible amount of work. It requires people skilled in many disciplines to work together for thousands of hours merging visual art, computer programming, game design, sound design, and music composition into a fun game. The Indie Stone is a Scottish indie development studio started, like so many others, by industry vets who were tired of corporate restrictions and wanted to make the crazy games they had always imagined.
They announced the game Project Zomboid in early 2011. It is to be a genre-bending survival horror RPG of sorts with crafting, a character progression system, a story, and inevitable death at the hands of the living dead. The graphics are very reminiscent of X-Com: UFO Defense, a game which both delighted and terrified me as a child. This game does an even better job of that, even in the only version available to date—the alpha tech demo.
The story as to why there is only a tech demo to enjoy today is a tragic lesson in the perils of indie game design. Tragic, and in retrospect, kind of hilarious...
The Indie Stone's problems started with their funding strategy. Originally, interested gamers could preorder the game via PayPal and The Indie Stone would use that money to fund production. Paypal froze that account without warning or explanantion, so they added a Google Checkout button. That account was suspended shortly thereafter, leaving 80% of the money the company had earned thus far frozen. Ultimately, Paypal decided to close their account because of "bad customer experiences", of which The Indie Stone had heard of none. Google Checkout allowed them to start selling the game again, but only after they started selling the preorders attached to existing games, since apparently Team Google Checkout has some objection to preorders.
And the problems did not end there.
Shortly after the Google Checkout situation was resolved, hackers developed a self-updating pirated version of the alpha build of the game. That's the version that users who preordered had been able to download. Piracy is a problem for any gamemaker, but The Indie Stone's choice of digital distribution system made this a disastrously bad situation for them. They use a cloud system to distribute their game, which makes sense since it is in alpha and being updated frequently. However, the cloud service they use charges them every time someone downloads or updates the game. The auto-updating pirated versions of the game are not just costing them potential sales, but also draining them of the funds they do have.
As a result, the alpha build of the game is no longer available for download. I have preordered the game, but must content myself with the free tech demo that is all that remains. It is great fun, even without the majority of its planned features. Check out the demo here, and if you like it please pay 5 quid through The Indie Stone's website to help make this game a reality. It deserves it.
You can listen to an excellent podcast interview IndieGames.com did with some of the game's developers here. Even this podcast had problems, and was just released last week despite being recorded months ago. Ugh.