By Alec Meer on October 17th, 2011 at 11:07 am.
We already mentioned this briefly in The Sunday Papers, but really it deserves its own post – both because of how flat-out tragic the situation is, and because a vocal subset of the online response to it has been repellent. To summarise: The Indie Stone, developers of Project Zomboid (as yet unreleased, but playable builds are offered to anyone who pre-orders) suffered a break-in over the weekend, with the thief making off with two of their laptops. One of these laptops contained the current and in-development code for the game and future updates. The other laptop contained the only backups of the latest code.
Needless to say, the team – just four guys making them game themselves, and funding it solely via pre-order money – are distraught, apologetic and enormously self-recriminatory. There’s a statement from PZ’s writer Will Porter here, but the long and short of it is that, while the game will continue, clearly it’s going to delay the next update. The finished game has never been given a release date, but the community has come to expect a regular trickle of new builds and features. The current build is still online and running however, and I’m assured the game’s wider integrity is not compromised. All will be well again very soon.
Unfortunately, a vocal but small subset of the game’s players (or idle observers) weren’t satisifed by any of this, and immediately gave the devs an enormous amount of openly hostile grief about not having another backup – some wretched nutters (primarily trolling onlookers rather than players) even declared the theft was simply an elaborate scam. Most players were supportive or silent, which is what really matters, but clearly even a little poison was the last thing the devs needed in their fresh wound. A little of this knee-jerk, know-it-all vigilantism even found its way [important edit – I mean the primarly now-deleted people hurling insults, not the people having calm discussion about the importance of backing up] into our comments threads, for which I am thoroughly ashamed and worried – not purely in terms of Project Zomboid, but because it suggests the distinction between independent and corporate development seems to have been lost in the wake of growing quantities of indie success stories.
Quite obviously, being indie doesn’t justify being ramshackle about other aspects of the business – but it does massively increase the chances of it. These are non-established indie developers, making it up as they go along. They are not businessmen or security experts or anything other than four guys making a game from their own homes. They’re where they are by chance as much as by skill, and similarly disaster was as much a result of chance as oversight. We must remember that the randomness and chaos of indie gaming is what makes indie gaming indie gaming. Sometimes the die is going to come up snake eyes.
Granted, the devs were hugely unwise to publicly, immediately, drunkenly and… passionately declare and respond to their bad news on Twitter rather than privately assess the situation and come up with a considered, community-reassuring response later on, but it’s grim and unsettling that they encountered so much hostility. It’s made what was once a very public and open team turn that much more private, and that’s just very sad.
EA or Valve or even Mojang would doubtless have more protection and safeguards against this kind of event – and The Indie Stone should have done too. They didn’t, they know it, they’re suffering for it, they won’t make the same mistake again and they’re doing everything they can to ensure their customers get the game they paid for with a minimum of delays.
All the very best, and the greatest of sympathy to them. They’ll come back stronger from this, I am quite sure.