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‘The War Z’ – Shock, Controversy and Repercussions

 ‘The War Z’ – Shock, Controversy and Repercussions

Even without all of this controversy, The War Z itself is apparently nearly broken. Popular YouTube commentator “TotalBiscuit” gives his own scathing look at the game. Apart from being an interesting and amusing review of the game’s myriad technical issues and gameplay missteps, it also outlines concerns with digital retail gatekeepers and, toward the end of the video, an extremely unsettling hypothetical about what lengths Hammerpoint might go to in order to enact revenge on disgruntled players:

[youtube id=”RtKAm3nzg6I” width=”620″ height=”360″]

More troubling, however, are the goings-on within the game’s official forums. This is where the story gets particularly murky and complex. For starters, let’s look at the oddly specific (and remarkably strict) forum rules. While they contain the traditional rules forbidding spam, hateful comments, and excessive caps lock, there are also some interesting ones that pop out. Specifically, you can’t use the words “Care Bears,” “trolls” or “fanboys,” and you can’t make a post stating that you’re not going to play anymore. Both of these have gotten posters permamently banned. This excessive banning appears to be partly due to over-zealous moderators, but it could just as easily be an attempt to silence any dissenting voices.

The most incredible piece of this story revolves around on someone named Devin, a former moderator on the War Z forums. According to Devin, his moderator account was hacked and a lot of posts were deleted by the hacker. This was seen as Devin’s error by Titov and community manager “Kewk,” and Devin was demoted. In a rage, Devin posted on the forums explaining the situation and that he would no longer be supporting the company on account of their mistreatment of their moderators. Devin then had his forum account banned for violating that “quitting” rule from above, and his in-game account banned for requesting a refund.

Two fascinating bits of the story here. First, if Devin’s allegations are correct, Hammerpoint is permanently banning any players that get a payment refunded (this, I believe, is stated in the EULA).  Secondly, Devin posted screen caps of both his ban message and his bank statement showing that he never issued a refund. This suggests, then, that Hammerpoint invented a reason to permanently eject an angry former moderator from the user base altogether.

A furious Devin went to the Rhino Crunch forums to post about the details of the ban, as well as a few additional things about Hammerpoint (please note that this link is probably NSFW due to some salty language).

Devin spouts a wealth of information about Hammerpoint that may or may not be true. While some of the complaints seem like highly unlikely extrapolation from an angry young man, there are a few bits of information that jump out, such as the claim that this is simply a reskinned port of War Inc, and that the plan is to discontinue the game after six months if it cannot generate enough revenue. Devin claims to have access to a lot of internal information about Hammerpoint, though its credibility is certainly questionable. He also says that the company randomly bans accounts to get them to repurchase the game, which doesn’t really seem to hold any water besides the fact that the EULA stats that an account can be banned for any or no reason. This sounds more like a misrepresentation of the company’s questionable “hacker traps,” which place weapons and items around the world which, when picked up by a hacker (accessing areas only reachable by hacks), will flag the account and get them banned. The problem is that in the game’s current state, this trap can be accessed by anybody, meaning that even an innocent player can pick up the item and get banned. It’s still unclear how much of this is 100% true.

What follows this post is seven pages (and counting; replies are posted every few minutes) of replies of all varieties. One user offers his support, mentioning his own ban that apparently occurred for trying to support Devin on the forums.  Others mention things such as negative posts on the forums being deleted (creating the illusion of universally positive feedback), while multiple additional posts give side-by-side comparisons of borrowed elements, screen caps of deleted forum posts, and links to damning information about the manner in which the company handles PR.

And now, the plot twist:

[youtube id=”Svd-p3-CURk” width=”620″ height=”360″]

That’s right, Devin has completely redacted his earlier claims, saying that it was all an elaborate lie because he was angry at Hammerpoint. According to him (and another post by Titov), Devin had been approached by Titov before the lawyers started closing in and they had a sit-down to discuss the forums. That’s all very nice, but now allegations are cropping up that Devin was either paid off to record the apology video, or was offered a job at Hammerpoint in exchange for his silence about their poor policies. So, who’s telling the truth? While both parties mention a reconciliation between Titov and Devin, many users are guessing that such an abrupt change had to have been motivated by either fear or money. Something stopped Devin from continuing his vengeful tirade against Hammerpoint, but what was it?

Still, Devin’s silence has not ended the tirade of fan-rage against the game, the furious posts across forums everywhere, and the petitions started to ask Steam to remove the game. A monster has been created, and it cannot be stopped. This may very well spell the end for Hammerpoint, unless the company can figure out a way to supply appropriate reparation for its scorned user base.

So we’re back to the beginning. Valve issued a statement to accompany the removal of The War Z from the Steam store.

From time to time a mistake can be made and one was made by prematurely issuing a copy of War Z for sale via Steam. We apologize for this and have temporary removed the sale offering of the title until we have time to work with the developer and have confidence in a new build. Those who purchase the game and wish to continue playing it via Steam may do so. Those who purchased the title via Steam and are unhappy with what they received may seek a refund by creating a ticket at our support site here.

Oh, and that apology Titov promised?

It was clear that there were a number of customers that felt that information about the game was presented in a way that could have allowed for multiple interpretations…we also want to extend our apologies to all players who misread infromation [sic] about game features.

So it’s our fault. Do I even need to mention what Titov said when referring to others playing the gameor that originally the game’s Terms of Service linked straight to the League of Legends TOS page? I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a disaster on this scale in the industry. It illuminates a number of things, not the least of which is Steam’s upsetting lack of attention paid to new entries to the store. While Valve did not act maliciously in this case, the company did fail to catch this fiasco before it went live and shot to the top of the best-sellers list. Undoubtedly, Steam will look at making some major changes to its reviewal process in the future.

As for Hammerpoint, hopefully this situation will make other developers realize that gamers are not to be trifled with. Cutting corners, stretching the truth, and performing shady online practices will not end well. In this case, it doesn’t matter what “percentage” of the players didn’t like the game; that percentage has become extremely vocal and possible ruined a company. Whether their vocality persists for a good reason remains to be seen, as the entirety of this scandal has yet to be revealed. Only time will tell how deep this rabbit hole goes.

If I missed something, or if you just want to chime in with your own thoughts, mention it here in the comments, or discuss the game on our forums!

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