02.3.11
News, Q&A Review 206

Rude Q&A

A ‘Rude Q&A’ is a document you create in consultation with your PR team in the days leading up to a big news announcement to help prepare for the questions you hope you never get asked. These are the questions you dread, because they usually touch on sensitive subjects like release dates, pricing, competitors, platform support, or (shudder) preferences for fast or slow zombies. It’s good to be prepared for these questions so you don’t look like a complete jerk when they are asked, because even if you are not a jerk, fumbling around with the answer or (worse) trying to evade the question can sure make you look like one.

In keeping with PR tradition, we prepared a Rude Q&A for the big news today about our collaboration with Microsoft to create a new zombie-survival franchise for the Xbox 360 platform. This is a super secret document with every question we hope we don’t get asked, and we’re supposed to study it and be prepared to answer the questions if they are asked.

But our Rude Q&A has honest answers to honest questions. So to hell with secrecy; instead we’re just going to post it to our website and share it with you.

FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY

Did Microsoft purchase Undead Labs?

No, they just own our souls.

Kidding! Seriously, Undead Labs remains an independent studio, in full creative control of the games we make. That said, I wasn’t BSing when I said we are excited to work directly with Microsoft on this project. Over the past year we were approached by numerous publishers expressing an interest in partnering with Undead Labs. Not surprisingly, many of them were MMO industry publishers who were drawn to the team’s track record in that industry, and while they were excited to work with our team, most of them wanted us to work on yet another World of Warcraft clone.

Screw that. We’re here to do cool new things; not rehash things that literally hundreds of other companies have been trying to do for half a decade. The team at Microsoft Game Studios immediately understood where we wanted to go with this, and they’ve been enthusiastic proponents for the vision of a zombie-survival online world game from the very beginning. In short, they’re a true partner for us, and we think they’ll drive as hard as we will to get there.

Does this mean that your games will exclusively be Xbox 360? No chance for PS3?

Somehow we don’t think our publisher would be too excited about a PS3 title… That aside, the real issue for us is focus. Look, we love the Xbox 360 — right along with 50 million or so other gamers around the world — but the PS3 is undoubtedly great gaming kit too. This isn’t a religious issue for us; we simply want to focus our time, energy, and resources on doing one thing and doing it exceedingly well. Cross-platform development, particularly when you’re pushing technical boundaries as hard we intend to, is complicated and time consuming, and we’d rather focus on gameplay and polish. Focusing on a single platform — particularly one that has a thriving online community — allows us to stay focused on making a great game, rather than wading through the technical and business challenges of supporting multiple platforms.

What about PC? Can’t you just make it cross platform?

(Note from the future: It turned out that, for Class3 aka State of Decay, a port to the PC was actually very simple. Yay!)

I know that many people are somewhat baffled by our insistence that we don’t intend to release on PC as well as console. Why would we create an online world game and then not make it available to the millions of PC gamers out there currently playing online world games? The truth is that we love the PC as a gaming platform. We’d damn sure better, too, because most of us owe our careers and livelihoods to the PC gaming community. The PC platform has tons of excellent online games, and it continues to be a great platform for online innovation. That said, most of us have been working together on the PC platform for a long time — some of us for as long as 15 years — and we’re simply ready to take on a new challenge. In this case, that challenge is building a new class of online world games for console gamers.

“We just love console games, and we love online world games, and we are passionate about bringing the best elements of both of those genres together into something new and cool.”I think most of you would agree that so far, attempts to create online world games that feel equally at home on console and PC have not resulted in excellent game experiences for either community. Most developers view porting a game that was designed for the PC to console as a set of problems to solve. By focusing on console from the start, we get to instead view it as a set of opportunities to create new online game experiences based on the unique strengths that the console hardware and gamer culture can provide, such as shared-screen cooperative play, ubiquitous voice chat, and a game controller designed for sweet action.

We’re not trying to “Change the MMO industry forevar!!” or make that case that the console is a superior gaming platform for online worlds or any other kind of game. We just love console games, and we love online world games, and we are passionate about bringing the best elements of both of those genres together into something new and cool.

Why do you use “online world game” now instead of “MMO”?

We feel that “MMO” has become highly associated with a specific game design template, and we don’t want people to assume that’s the kind of game we are making.

“We are still creating the game we set out to create: an awesome zombie-survival online world game for console gamers.”If you think of an MMO as a game that allows thousands of gamers to play together in a persistent online world that evolves and reacts over time to player actions, then we’re still making that game. If you think of an MMO as an online fantasy RPG with elves and dragons and EPIC QUESTS involving gremlin ears and dudes standing around town with bobbing exclamation marks over their heads, then we’re not — and never have been — making that game.

Don’t get me wrong: I truly love fantasy RPGs, and many of us here at the Lab have been making them for a long time. The problem is that “MMO” no longer conveys a set of design tools or technologies that enable play in an online world; instead it conveys “a game like World of Warcraft.” I’m sure that’s great if you’re Blizzard, but if you’re trying to make a truly innovative MMO experience you wind up spending more time explaining what your game is not, rather than what it is.

We are still creating the game we set out to create: an awesome zombie-survival online world game for console gamers. But rather than describing it as an MMO — and having to explain all the ways that it’s not really like the typical boilerplate MMO — we now describe it simply as an online world game, which says just what we want to say, and no more.

What’s the difference between Class3 and Class4?

‘Class3′ is the codename for the ambitious zombie-survival open world game currently under development at Undead Labs for release as an Xbox LIVE Arcade title. ‘Class4′ is the codename for the subsequent zombie-survival online world game that we will develop by building on the Class3 platform. In other words, Class3 runs on your Xbox 360 and supports 1-2 players via Xbox LIVE or on the same screen, while Class4 will provide a much larger server-hosted world for thousands of simultaneous players.

(Note from the future: As of mid-2012, we have to say that Class3 will not have co-op mode at launch. The explanation is part of the Q&A here.)

Why are you developing an Xbox LIVE Arcade game first?

We want to make games that are fun. That sounds like an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised at how often that isn’t the primary goal in today’s game industry. Instead, you might hear, “Look how much money Zynga is making! We want to make a Facebook game!!” or “Have you seen Apple stock? We want to make an iPhone game!”

Those are fine goals, but it’s not enough to define a platform or technology and jump into development. You have to know how to make a fun game if you’re going to be successful, and we want to make damn sure we make a fun zombie-survival game before we get too far down the path toward a full online world game.

A big part of determining whether a game is fun is asking gamers to play it and listening to what they like and don’t like. As a full online world game, Class4 is a massive undertaking, so we want to get the core gameplay mechanics in place and deliver a tight, fun game experience with Class3 and let our player community guide our efforts as we move forward into the full online world experience.

Plus, we’ll get to put a great game into your hands far sooner than if we’d focused on developing Class4 from the beginning…

When will Class3 be released?

Dammit, didn’t I just say, “far sooner”? And wasn’t that enough? ;)

It’s always nice to say “when it’s ready,” but that phrase has been getting thrown around a lot these days — often for purposes other than expressing a true commitment to quality — and basically means “no comment.” I’ll instead say that we have an ambitious schedule and a disciplined development process, and we’re serious about getting Class3 into your hands quickly. That said, we can’t commit to date at this point.

Do I need an Xbox LIVE membership to play Class3?

(Note from the future: No.)

The publishing details aren’t finalized, and I’ll defer to Microsoft to deliver the official word, but I think it’s a safe bet to say that yes, you’ll need an Xbox LIVE membership to play the game, and you’ll probably need an Xbox LIVE Gold membership to host or join other players over the Xbox LIVE network.

How much will Class3 cost?

It’s just far too early to tell. Class3 is undoubtedly among the most ambitious Xbox LIVE Arcade titles ever undertaken, but it’s still an Xbox LIVE Arcade game, so that should give you sense of the bounds.

How long will it take to finish Class4 after Class3 is released?

(Note from the future: We cannot begin building Class4 until we – both our publisher and our studio – see how things go and get a sense for what the future holds. A massive online world requires many things, among them commitment, a long term contractual relationship, a good guess as to where technology is going, and more. Class4 is still a dream, but for now, it’s only a dream.)

One of our goals with Class3 is to create the core gameplay and world interaction mechanics that will form the foundation of the Class4 experience. This will allow us to focus on the online world components of Class4, including content scope and scale, server and client technology, and player community features. Since we will already have a solid game foundation and a fully developed game world, Class4 development should be very efficient compared to an online world game being built from the ground up. We anticipate that using Class3 as a foundation will cut our development time in half.

Will Class4 be a subscription game?

This is of course a lengthy discussion that we’ll need to undertake with our publisher, so I don’t have a definitive answer, but I can give you some insight into the way we currently think about this.

The current dominant business models for online world games — subscriptions and micro-transactions — each solve a set of problems at the cost of creating new ones.

I’ve previously expressed that while the subscription model is not exactly loved by the gaming community, it does have the benefit of being a simple, clear, and above-the-table contract between gamers and the publisher. Each month, the game either earns your business or it doesn’t. The developers have a singular goal: ensure that the game is fun enough to keep people playing. I like the clarity and purity of that model, and I like that it keeps designers doing what designers should be doing: creating fun. On the other hand, subscriptions are yet another monthly bill to pay, which ranks right up there with rent and car payments as an effective joy kill.

Existing micro-transaction models make it easy to get into a game and let you pay as you go, but I’ve also seen them cause game designers to spend their time focusing on things other than making a fun game, such as channeling players through in-game stores or creating escalating pricing structures for in-game items. I also dislike the slippery slope of what is defined as something you purchase versus something that is a core element of the game experience. We see the phrase “free-to-play” kicked around a lot these days, and some of these games are good games, but we all know that nothing is truly free to play; they are simply blurring the line between playing and paying.

Both models have their strengths, but I’m hopeful that we can also find a way to avoid some of the weaknesses. I’ve challenged our designers to think through the concerns I’ve raised with these business models and be ready to work with me on some new ideas. We may not be able to satisfy everyone on this issue, but perhaps we can get close.

  1. Researcher: Keith

    Very ambitious. I will be following this closely. I hope you understand the experience and atmosphere will be paramount to the fans. That being said. Good luck.

    • Researcher: anthony

      you have no idea how long ive been waiting for a sick ass zombie *online world game* as u put it will there be pvp though like every man for himself type thing just pick your enemies and what not?

    • Researcher: FishyJoe

      This Q&A says exactly what I wanted to hear. Haven’t been so exited for a game since I first heard about the idea for APB. I can’t wait until they release more info on this. Especially concerning death mechanics/consequences, pvp/friendly fire, and about progression. I’m pretty sure they mention somewhere about building shelter..If this game has player housing that you can build anywhere I’ll shit a minecraft brick. I’m so impressed with Microsoft for picking these guys up that I’ll forgive them for the red ringed paper weight i have in my attic. I’m just so glad were finally getting an MMO on the 360, I hope this game blows final fantasy and DCUO out of the water. It’s amazing how Microsoft has managed to best sony on exclusives for 10 straight years. For me, this announcement alone easily beats the new uncharted, LBP, and Killzone. If they get this right, I will respect the shit out Jeff Strain and Undead Labs. Can’t wait to play it.

    • Researcher: Chad

      Are you guys going to look at having custimizable characters with clothes etc? and character creation so you can make your online characters unique

      Since its in 3rd person itd be awesome if you aloud a similar type of ability to change clothing that you find throughout the world when roaming

      and having a character creation thats as good as say saints row 2 would be really cool

    • Researcher: Jakesawesome

      This game truly has been waiting to made. Honestly its just a no brainer. To me this looks like a cross between Dead Island and Fallout. And being the zombie enthusiast that i am i am truly excited to see such a game released. Now believe me if i had the equipment and skill required to make a game of similar nature, i would have. But i don’t. Thank you for making my every video gaming dream come true.

      Now, i am going to have to wait a while for the game to come out so i have no choice but to freeze myself.

      also character customization would be cool.

      ….if this is not possible there must be a big black guy

  2. Researcher: John

    Very cool. Can’t wait to play. I’m tired of a Robotron-twitch zombie game. I want something dripping with dread and tension.

  3. Researcher: Alexandr

    Was really excited to play this on ps3… oh well, I guess not. That being said, I still wish you the best of luck, and hope you can make it a cross-platform game.

    • Researcher: PRocker320

      i hope it is cross platform too.

    • Researcher: AHamilt0n

      You can continue to hope, but I’m pretty sure Microsoft didn’t get where it’s at by helping it’s competitor generate revenue.

    • Researcher: Tsunajov

      I think for this game, it might be worth investing in a 360 if you are a Ps3 person. It sure seems that it’ll be one of a kind.

    • Researcher: ian

      want my ‘ol 360 got a slim just cuz i wanted to?

    • Researcher: Tadashi

      Man….. *tears streaming down face* I’m hoping they at least make a game similar for the PS3 yes xbox has alot of people but I despise paying for xbox live I’d be more willing to pay them and play……One can still hope they’ll do it

    • Researcher: James Krusikov
      Date Recorded: March 30, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      I’m somewhat confused as to why this isn’t coming out on PC. Microsoft game studios released Halo: Combat Evolved for both the Xbox and PC. Why can’t the same thing be done here? By not making this multi-platform Undead Labs + Microsoft are missing out on a potentially huge market for this game =/
      PS: But more importantly, I won’t be able to play the game if it’s on Xbox =(

  4. Researcher: Chris

    So not even “Class 4″ will be an MMO? Just servers with few players each? Mark me disappointed.

    • Researcher: tsmith

      He did not want to say mmo cuz mmo basicly means wow It will be a mmo and every mmo is a game with serverson which people can play with each other just a few thousand instead of 4 and class4 will have a few thousand players…did you even read the article?

    • Researcher: Vinnypop

      class 4 is an MMO they just dont want to be compared to WOW, SWTOR or Everquest.
      and while some people are smart enough to know the difference there are many, who are also very vocal, who wont be able to understand that.

  5. Researcher: morbid squid

    NERDGASM!!!!

  6. Researcher: Kyall Davis

    I don’ t believe a subscription fee is the way to go, especially on the 360 where the Xbox Live service is already a monthly fee.

    • Researcher: NexAnima

      People already pay for xbl regardless whats out there. If they were planning to play this on the pc and still had an xbox, one could think they would still pay for both anyways.

    • Researcher: twztid

      but most of us on XBL dont play on the pc because we cant afford to pay xbl fees and a monthly subscription for a game on the pc. not to mention that consoles are cheaper than pc an most people cannot afford a decent gaming pc. for exampl my laptop cost a little over 300 and it cannot play APB for shit and can barely play fallen earth. undead labs is creating a inovative game hopefully they will come up with an inovative way of genorating income to keep the servers up, i’m sure the console world is defferent than the pc world in terms of creating revenue.

  7. Researcher: MNM1245

    I’m kind of confused about the “Class3″ and “Class4″ thing. Does Class4 just add online support and will be have to purchase Class4 to get the online even if we already bought Class3?

    Also I just wanted to leave some input on my thoughts on pricing. I’m a teen without a job atm, so the idea of adding another yearly bill does get me down and turns me off from the product quite a bit. I realize you need the money to maintain servers and all that though. Would it be possible for you guys to work with Microsoft to make it so Xbox LIVE Gold Members get a 50%-75% discount? That would be awesome. Then if a silver member just wants to play this game online instead of buying Xbox LIVE Gold he can pay a larger amount. Hopefully it isn’t too expensive. I don’t think I could handle more than $20 a year until I get myself a new job.

    • Researcher: Vinnypop

      If i read this right class 4 will be a new and separate title, that expands on the game world also I’m sure they will make it worth your time and money to get it.

      As for sub fees the xbox gold is a factor but you have to realize that that pays for xbox lives infrastructure. im sure that the partnership with Microsoft will aid in the cost of the game’s fees. how ever scince undead labs will have its own undead servers, you might not need to pay for xbox gold to play it. that’s me being speculative though.

    • Researcher: AHamilt0n

      Money talks, that being said I dont think they’re marketing to teenagers that can’t afford $20/year.

      I’d be more than happy to pay a monthly subscription for a game that deserves it. It keeps the dev team on their toes just like the article claims. Just look at the track history of sub games compared to free to play.

      I vote for monthly subscription, good luck guys!! I’ll be following this closely.

    • Researcher: Gunner
      Date Recorded: May 31, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      I personally have to side with a subscription. While this adds another monthly (or yearly) bill atleast that way you have everything. I cant stand games that have the in game market model. where a subscription may be looked at as expensive for being 10-15 a month you can pay a lot more than that in games that require you to purchase individual items; guns for example. if its 5 dollars to use a gun for 30 days, then buy it. get bored of that gun in a few days? buy another. and another. and another. it could lead up to like 50 bucks a month and I would simply not buy the game.

    • Researcher: stefen
      Date Recorded: July 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

      class 3 is going to be the base of the class 4, from what i have heard class 4 is also going to have things added and have more sophisticated systems that may or might not include weapon customization, car customization, and a couple more things. but i’m not sure. don’t be upset if some of the things i said wont happen. that is just what i have guessed after reading everything.

  8. Researcher: Budwyzer

    I agree half-way with Kyall here. I would much rather have a subscription fee than the underhandedness of the micro-transaction that adds up, and in the end causes a few hardcore players to rock while the game fails because most people wont pay.
    It could be a lowered sub fee, say $9.99/month? Because like Kyall said McS already gets that fee for their servers, so that’s paid for, the sub fee would be to pay you guys at UL for future content and just for being so awesome. =D

  9. Researcher: frankichiro

    What if it worked as an arcade game, and you paid for credits? You pay for a life, and if you die you need to “insert coin” in order to continue? You could also buy “life insurance”, which means that you don’t lose all your stuff if you die, or something like that. Playing as a random zombie could be much cheaper than an official character.

    • Researcher: urban angrybear

      dude thats an amazing idea like if u die u need to pay lets say 100mp to come back as a human that would be nice cause microsoft would be getting lots of money then if the games a big hit and it would be better then dieing and coming back to life right away and going to ur team base and never getting killed t hat would be boring

    • Researcher: stefen
      Date Recorded: July 26, 2011 at 11:52 am

      i don’t know. i don’t even thing there will be any player zombies. and this isn’t an arcade game. its going to be on the Xbox live arcade but its going to be like most games (at least i suppose so). and when you die there are going to be consequences, losing the stuff you have with you may be one of them. but i doubt they will let you buy something to get out of losing your stuff. that would take away a chunk of the simulation factor.

  10. Researcher: Snook

    I just found out about this, and I must say I am very eager to hear more about this…its pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in a zombie game.

    Perhaps you could use some sort of system where you pay MP for it initially and get however many months included in the original price, and for every consecutive month, the lowest amount you can afford of MPs…?

    • Researcher: Joe
      Date Recorded: July 9, 2011 at 4:53 am

      we all have a lot of faith in this game, its sounds amazing, just make sure you follow threw, and take your time. id rather have a masterpiece than a game put together in a year (more or less) Kick ass!!!!!

    • Researcher: stefen
      Date Recorded: July 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm

      i would think that it would depend on the quality of tools used and experience of the scripters and programmers that determines how good a game is, not quite how long it took to develop

    • Researcher: Joel

      Stefen I totally agree and everything I’ve heard and read bout this game I’m sure it’s gonna be epic when all is said and done. Just hope I don’t have to wait too long like with swtor(which was 3 yrs) and now I lost all interest in. Best of luck

    • Researcher: tYn0
      Date Recorded: June 17, 2012 at 4:14 am

      Is there ANY chance that game will be ported to PC? I LOVE zombies and games and I was waiting for game like this since I saw first zombie movie. Unfortunately I do not own Xbox or any other console :-/