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‘PayDay 2’: Crimefest Ends With OVERKILL’s Reputation Aflame

‘PayDay 2’: Crimefest Ends With OVERKILL’s Reputation Aflame

Filed inside: Editorial

The gaming community can be one of the most fickle and powerful around.

I don’t need to talk about the ways the internet has affected how consumers can interact with creators and companies, I wouldn’t have the time anyway, but recent events incited by OVERKILL in relation to the until-recently almost universally loved PayDay 2 have been an intriguing petri dish that at once can show what a unified voice in a gaming community can sound like. It alludes to the potential power we as gamers have—but also illustrated how ultimately fruitless these actions can be.

I try to be reasonable—I’ve chosen the term as my moniker, after all—and as such try to do my best to have all the information at hand. To avoid letting emotions get the best of me, and make the most educated decisions I can manage on things. I may not always be successful, and in a weird way, it’s a contradictory name—many of us play games for the escape, the story, arguably because we have some kind of connection with the games we play.

As such, I like to imagine that when I take a drastic action, it’s not for the wrong reasons, and that it somehow holds more weight, take what you will of that.

Crimefest is OVERKILL’s annual celebration of the initial release of PayDay 2, giving us free content for meeting a series of community challenges both in and out of game. OVERKILL had, in the past, garnered the affection of the PayDay community through responsive adjustments to their game based on player feedback, quick and clever communication, and dedication to the quality of their product.

That reputation has been slowly tarnished over time, always tempered by a misstep’s proximity to the community’s ideal trajectory for the game. A steady stream of DLC sated the players’ collective appetite for new guns, mods, and heists. But then the crew started expanding and some less-than-appreciated promotion deals (the John Wick inclusion in particular) made what once felt like a tight-knit crew into a haphazard group of miscreants.

New weapons quickly began to overshadow old ones, so despite the variety, an obvious tier list for the high-difficulty player was ever-present. Players constantly asked for a weapon rebalance, but felt their concerns were constantly falling on deaf ears.

While there were plenty of skills to choose from, some were almost completely useless, prompting cheers from the player base when the Fugitive class was added alongside fan favorite Old Hoxton in a free Crimefest update last year. While some skills were adjusted, several more were added that still see essentially no use.

As OVERKILL embraced parts of the modding community, a great move on their part in terms of enhancing the user experience, other major quality-of-life scenarios were never addressed: sync between hosts and other players could break stealth heists at the least provocation. Connecting to the wrong host could nearly destroy your save unintentionally if they messed with the game too much. The lobby system was obnoxious at best, a cool interface that masked a clunky method of connecting to others.

Many oft-discussed features were never implemented, Safehouse Customization chief among them, but the sheer amount of content being added often pushed that concern aside. OVERKILL introduced the Infamy system to allow players to reset their progress in order to enjoy special benefits and increased skill versatility, but when they expanded the system, it was an obviously poorly executed move with only minor boosts and new masks.

Things slowly began to skew downwards, though, and I first started to feel it during the Hype Train event. OVERKILL promised a number of updates to the game, but while Crimefest often tasks players with in-game goals or expanding support for the game’s Steam group, Hype Train goals were reached with “Hype Fuel”, which was obtained by purchasing special DLC for the game, essentially prepaying for a variety of upgrades, and felt significantly more like a cash grab than previous moves OVERKILL had made.

Crimefest is often a time for celebration, but this time felt different. Players were tasked with following specific Twitter accounts, though those challenges were eventually replaced by more in-game challenges due to some backlash from the community. The ‘Road to Crimefest’ fostered plenty of speculation about what we had unlocked, but the first reward we were given was basically a huge slap in the face.

If you follow gaming news much at all, you may have already heard: new rewards were added when a player completes a heist in the form of Safes. Much like some contemporary games like Counterstrike: Global Offensive and Team Fortress 2, these safes can be drilled open by obtaining a matching drill. The trick: drills (at the time of announcement) could only be obtained by buying them from the Steam store for $2.49 each.

Though the game has been sustaining itself through regular DLC releases, the inclusion of a microtransaction model in a game that featured well over a  hundred dollars’ worth of DLC was more than many players could stomach, and that wasn’t all: the safes were dropped at the end of a match in lieu of traditional rewards. A player that never wanted to pay for a drill could conceivably be denied weapon mods, masks, or materials and the like. The primary contents of these safes consist of new skins to customize various aspects of your characters. The biggest problem: several of these skins can enhance the weapons they’re applied to, leading to one of the most feared concepts in gaming today: a pay to win model.

Well-monied players, especially those of the variety that are less rabid fans of the game, could possibly just throw money at their screens and come out the other side with a souped-up arsenal that puts them in an advantageous position in relation to someone that’s played the game for hundreds of hours, but didn’t buy a single drill.

This is considerably less offensive in a game that costs nothing to play, Warframe is an example here (and that ignores the fact that nearly everything in the game can still be earned through a little grinding and effort), but assuming you skip the sales, PayDay 2 can cost you well over a hundred dollars to have all content unlocked—even more if you purchased the game closer to release.

The explosive response to this was truly incredible to behold. I frequent the subreddit dedicated to the game, I’ve played it for over four hundred hours. I like to discuss the game meta with some other friends, and used to stream the game on the occasional evening. I know I’m not the most intense player out there, but I really, really like PayDay 2. And that’s why I can’t play it anymore.

The players revolted. It was a sight to see. It should be telling that the top post in the subreddit uses some choice wording, and eight of the top ten all time posts on the sub are related to decrying this business in some way. In short order, the game’s “Overwhelmingly Positive” steam rating was reduced from over 95% positive to (as of this writing) 76%. The game’s user score on Metacritic tanked in days.

Popular YouTuber Jim Sterling, well known for calling out game companies on their shady practices produced a video about it in short order. A Forbes contributor ran a piece on it. Eagle-eyed players were quick to point out that OVERKILL even told us two years ago that they’d never put microtransactions in the game (and shame on us for thinking so).

That last part became a focusing lens for community ire. It was this that made me question the growing popularity of the decision by so many veteran players to abandon the game entirely. Microtransaction models are here to stay, but they have their place, and PayDay just didn’t seem like one of them, but they can really help support a game.

A game that’s free to play needs to make money somehow. That makes sense. Throwing a few dollars at a game for some aesthetic upgrades that don’t change the game overall? That makes sense (looking at you, Destiny). Talking over a major change to the game with the player base to manage expectations and make changes to the program if necessary? That makes sense.

Plopping an obvious cash grab on players without refining it first? Bad plan. Similarly, seeing a business make a change and rebelling emotionally can also be problematic. And to me, holding a statement made about something over two years prior over the dev’s head is kind of a red flag when it comes to these kinds of arguments.

Compounding that issue was the fact that OVERKILL seemed to make no effort to communicate with the players about the firestorm that was currently burning at full strength. We were left in the dark to speculate about their intentions as Crimefest updates continued to disappoint players. Our only consolation was a minor update that added drills to possible loot drops, but no drop rate or frequency was known.

It left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was determined not to bandwagon prematurely. Revenue streams change. Intentions change. The team at OVERKILL had grown by many orders, and other studios were being contracted to add additional content to the game. This all costs money. My argument was eventually weakened by the presentation of some of Starbreeze’s financial reports (Starbreeze is OVERKILL’s Parent company).

The much anticipated day finally came when one of the frontmen for PayDay 2, Almir Listo (Producer), returned to Reddit to speak to the community and answer any questions. Overwhelmingly, the questions turned to how the microtransactions would be handled or altered, and overwhelmingly our worst fears were confirmed: when asked whether the stat boosts for the skins would be removed, Almir answered with a succinct “No”.

Which leads us to the present, and a situation we all feared. PayDay 2 was free to play during Crimefest, bringing in a large number of new players. Combined with the distaste by the established players and a mass exodus of veterans, OVERKILL is getting what they want: a fresh set of players who don’t mind a few dollars here and again to add to their experience.

I abhor that phrasing, “getting what they want”. It paints OVERKILL as some kind of enemy, when rather, they’re simply a studio that made a product and wants that product to be as successful as possible. And a great game is not necessarily a successful one. We are all people in this world, after all. People with goals, families, and expenses.

It certainly does feel like OVERKILL used to be more dedicated to making their game as good as possible, rather than to make as much money as possible. Even more, who are we to dictate how OVERKILL handles their creation? Obviously, one might think it was in the company’s best interests to exchange information with the community, but in the end, the decision it theirs to make, despite our complaints. Of course, I also acknowledge that some people out there have to forge a new path. To make games that address complex issues, introduce new mechanics, or find new ways to provide ongoing content to its players.

Without the most experienced players in-game, the new community will dictate the game’s future. The conclusion I’ve reached is that this is the best course of action I can take as one of those who will soon be exiting that ecosystem: to add to those voices that continue to say to OVERKILL that this is not okay with me.

I can’t pretend that they owe me anything. They’re not beholden to me to change their creative or financial decisions just because a group of wallets with faces disagree. Of course, my hope is that OVERKILL will take notice and change course, but that seems unlikely. As such, I hope for a more realistic scenario: that other developers will take notice of what has transpired and endeavor not to follow a similar path.

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Written by Ray Allaire -The Reasonable Gamer

Writer, game designer, and gaming analyst. Practitioner of all nerdy arts: Games, tabletop, TCG, and all. Twitter: @mateusrayje

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