Survival Games Are Important

In early 2012, a mod for Arma II called DayZ was released. Two-and-a-half years later, its odd mixture of multiplayer, horror, and a need for players to keep themselves fed and watered, has given rise to the survival genre.

Let’s celebrate that genre.

Take a look at the most popular games on Steam right now and the list is littered with survival games: Don’t Starve, Unturned, Rust, 7 Days To Die, The Forest, and Life Is Feudal to name a few. The last year has also seen the release of The Long Dark, Eidolon, Salt, Unturned, and The Stomping Land, to name a few more.

DayZ didn’t create the genre – Minecraft came out in 2010 with some similar ideas, Wurm Online had many similar mechanics before that, and the first version of UnReal World was released over twenty years ago. The elements that make up the survival genre have existed for a long time. But DayZ seemed to be the moment when the genre took root; the right game at the right time, capitalising on trends and technology.

Here’s what Jim wrote in his second post about the game, in May 2012.

This unfinished modification is more interesting than 90% of games that will land in the same year. It is a game that – for many people – represents this kind of experience we were promised. An open-world, persistent, zombie game, where survival is the goal, and where each encounter with another real human being is a moment of terrible tension. What’s astonishing about this unassuming zombie mod is that it manages to take what is most interesting about MMOs – persistence, co-operation, risk of genuine loss in PvP – and add them to a multi-server FPS. Not just any FPS, either, but the monstrously deep simulation provided by master soldier sim, Arma 2. It’s unflinchingly bleak. It offers freedom, while threatening destruction. The stories that result from it are enthralling.

The kind of experience we were promised: videogame stories as something more than occasionally interactive movies; multiplayer games as more than capture the flag or paintball, with added gibs.

DayZ – and survival games – feel obvious precisely because they’re such a logical extension of everything videogames have been building towards over the past decade. They’re like Son Of Videogames – a second generation design, and as fine an example of the medium’s growth as violence-free walking sims.

Jim identifies the persistence, co-operation and risk of PvP in MMOs, but you can draw a line from the survival genre in almost any direction and hit an idea that seems to be borrowed from elsewhere. Half-Life’s environmental storytelling leads to the way setting is used to pull you around the world of survival games, say, or the difficulty and permadeath of the already-resurgent roguelikes.

They’re games with a naturalistic design, beyond the emphasis on nature in their setting. They tend to have no cutscenes. They’re not filled with quest markers. You’re not arbitrarily collecting one hundred baubles to unlock some achievement. This makes them forward-thinking, but they’re still distinctly videogame-y – you’d lose important parts of them in the translation to either film or board games.

You are still, of course, collecting lots of things, by punching trees and punching dirt and punching animals, but survival mechanics have an odd way of justifying a lot of traditionally abstract, bullshit-ish game mechanics, or of making technological fanciness relevant to actual mechanics.

For me, that’s most obvious in the way that they engage you with a landscape. PC games are about terrain, and I love stumbling across some fertile land or bustling city, and I feel frustrated when that environment is slowly revealed through play to be nothing more than a soundstage. Collectables are a traditional motivation to explore, but the need to eat – to find some life-giving berries – binds you to a place, pulls you from A to B more purposefully than a fetch quest, makes your decisions meaningful, and makes a single bush as exciting a discovery as any unique, handcrafted art asset.

After a number of stumbling starts in DayZ’s mod, I eventually broke through its fiddly installation, shoddy servers and empty worlds, and lost myself in the world of Chernarus. I still remember each of my deaths, but one stands out in the charnel house of memory. I’d survived for nine hours but a series of misfortunes had left me with only one loud rifle, two bullets, and no food. My best chance of finding something to eat nearby was inside a power station; the problem was that it would be swarming with zombies, and any gunfire would only attract more.

It was while lying in some bushes on a hill above the station, considering my options, that I saw another player in the field in front of me. They had a better weapon, a larger backpack, and were moving towards the station.

I came out of the bushes and walked down towards the person. I don’t know what was going through my mind – I didn’t have voice comms at that point, but I typed hello. This person said hello back, pointed their weapon at me, circled around, deemed me unthreatening and turned away to start back towards the power station.

I was starving to death. I had no chance of getting inside that power station. But I did have two bullets. We were far enough away from the zombies here that I could…

Until now, I’d never killed any other player in the game. Oh well. I raised my gun and fired into this other player’s back. I ran over to where they’d fallen to ruffle through their backpack.

As I crouched, something hit me. A bullet. I was bleeding, badly. I looked down the hill, but I couldn’t see anything – just some bushes. Another shot, only this time the bullet pinged into the field in front of me. I turned and ran, breaking for the bushes I’d been hiding in earlier, back at the top of the hill. I reached them just in time to pass out from blood loss.

Over the last month of planning this week’s content, we’ve been talking a lot in the RPS chatroom about what a survival game actually is. The best rule of thumb we’ve come up with is: you should be able to die through inaction. Find a safe space away from any monster, walk away from the computer and come back sometime later and you should find your character having passed away from starvation, dehydration, exposure or some other downward ticking meter.

Is The Sims a survival game? Maybe.

That moment of slow expiration on a cold hillside belonged to me because it wasn’t scripted by a designer, but it was shaped by systems crafted by a designer. That’s survival games.

I made a meaningful decision and was met by meaningful consequences. Both were depicted with physics and flavour resembling life, and not with stats and floating damage numbers. That’s survival games.

That power station looked like all the other power stations in Chernarus, but I’ll recognise its unique placement if I ever see it again. That Arma-derived world isn’t procedural, but its artistic limitations no matter when space and place can be imbued with player significance. That’s survival games.

It’s too easy to say that we know them when we see them, but survival games are post-genre in the best possible way: they borrow from everything and so are strictly defined by very little. There are survival games that are top-down and 2D, like Don’t Starve. There are survival games that are plainly realistic, with no enemies but the elements. There are survival games set in the distant past and the far future.

And we’ll be writing about a lot of them over the next week. The last five years have been marked by a staggering diversification in the types of experiences you can have in PC games. Survival games are an important part of that, so let’s have fun picking at them, celebrating them, and talking about them.

You can read more Survival Week articles over here.


  1. Gothnak says:

    Funny though.. In the real world, you’d see that chap, and likely you’d say hello, and he’d say hello back, and because the situation you are both in is terrifying and you’d literally die forever, that you’d actually work together to survive the situation.

    In computer survival games, if you mess up, you just start again, and the opportunity to progress up the chain is so easy by killing another Player that the the risk (restarting) is nowhere near as bad as the reward (loads of cool stuff) so it’s a huge advantage to fundamentally be a dick to everyone.

    Which is primarily why i don’t play any of them. If there was a game where people HAD to work together to survive against a terrifying world of death, that would be interesting, but the fact anyone can stab me in the back because i have better stuff than them? nah.

    Die2Nite was an interesting Zombie Apocalypse browser game where the competition and arguments were about what defences to build each night, and if you upgraded your shelter, you were thrown out to the zombies at night. That was a much more interesting dynamic than ‘oh hello…’ Bang…

    • GameCat says:

      Die2Nite is the best zombie survival sim. 40 players managing one town, oh boy…

      I remember playing it once, I had spare action point so I offered to close the gates before night. But I forgot, really forgot to do that, because I was busy playing something else…

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Back in the MUD days, people played a character and were attached to that character. Your character’s reputation mattered and while there were lawless areas, a law system in most places meant that attacking other players made you free game for law enforcement types. The consequences of dying were more serious too, usually losing a level of experience, several stats, and some equipment that you might not ever get back again. So if you were the aggressor, and you lost, you were about to have a rather hard time.

      Now obviously you can’t have an automatic law system, if the point of the game is to see what behavior emerges from interactions between players. But it should be possible to make the benefits of helping someone, and winning their trust or loyalty, outweigh the benefits of murdering them in cold blood.

      • Gothnak says:

        By having the world truly deadly, and single Players weak, but exponentially more powerful (think defined roles) as they group together would be a perfect way of doing it. Of course if the things in the deadly world that kill you all the time had the most awesome loot, then banding together is the only way to get it.

        Other Player = Co-op Opportunity for hot loot action, everyone is happy.

      • Thurgret says:

        I still play MUDs. I’m particularly into a niche little group of them called Roleplay Intensive MUDs, where roleplay is enforced and death is permanent (but, you know, enforced roleplay, so completely random PKing doesn’t tend to be a thing, because most people aren’t playing psychopaths.)

      • zentropy says:

        I so regret never getting in to MUDs every time I read something like this. :(

    • Vrokolos says:

      It seems like Don’t Starve Together is what you (and I) are looking for.

    • Donjo says:

      I think DayZ (especially) is problematic because of this notion of “realism” and not doing anything to reward or hinder behaviour. Things don’t work in reality the way they do in virtual worlds no matter how many rotten oranges and hats there are and no matter how cold your character gets and that their digestive system is realistic. The addition of so many guns during the alpha has defined gameplay and I doubt that will change even when we can grow tomatoes.

  2. DThor says:

    Watching some of these on twitch, it’s apparent a huge part of the genre lives due to the shared experience. Basically, build a sandbox, create some rules, and let people play in it, just like I used to play as a kid with others using a stick as a rifle, except of course I was running around getting exercise and they’re working on their first coronary. Arma 3 has incredible potential for this, truly a magnificent looking and behaving engine with an aggressively pro – mod developer that seems to survive just as much for the community as they do to make a single player game. I sort of get that aspect of it, but the whole minecraft “combine 15 out of 2000 items to make a zombie foozball” aspect seems like a autism sim. I still like a well written story with interesting characters.

  3. Gothnak says:

    As another point…

    I want a Survival game where i see another Player and think ‘oh, thank god, together, we might just be able to survive the night’. It is a rare game that can make you happy when you see someone online, not just want to shoot or avoid them.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      Indeed… Do you need to sleep in DayZ? Surely that would be a good mechanic for helping people work together. The more of you there are the better you can set watches and sleep in shifts and have more people in each watch, etc.

    • Jericho says:

      I agree. I picked up the current “stand alone” version of DayZ at the start of the summer and for the first month of playing it I never once considered killing other players for their loot (mainly since it was easy enough to scavenge for everything that you needed at the time). However, every time I ran into another, lone player in the world there was about a 50/50 split of them immediately attacking me on sight, even if I didn’t have impressive looking gear or was brandishing a weapon.

      So I started purposefully avoiding other players that I saw in the game and only wearing clothing and equipment that would help me to remain unnoticed or gave me the appearance of not being “well geared”: green pants and sweat shirts, camo hats and other headwear so I could hide in the foliage easier, no use of larger weapons unless they could be painted into camo colors to match my clothes, no large backpacks, and only using melee weapons that could be stowed in my clothing rather than slung over my back. When I was exploring the map and I saw another player in the distance I would immediately jump in a bush or behind a tree and watch them, but never approach. And so DayZ sort of became a hermit simulator for me. I’d always disappear off in the woods in order to log off. I’d use maps and my knowledge of the map to travel from place to place while staying off the roads. I’d only enter into towns to scavenge after I’d circled them and made sure no one else was there. I’d craft bows or use the other quieter weapons to hunt the wild game for food.

      And that was all rather entertaining, actually. I know that there are many people that play the game so that they can rush to the military sites and loot assault rifles and BDUs, and then turn around and use said equipment to guard their precious spawns of loot from everyone else (or just harass anyone else they manage to run into), and that’s great for them. But I find that I am actually quite happy to have a gaming experience where I can just be alone in the woods for a time, occasionally fending off packs of zombies or hiding from the few players that I do run into (and to have it said, I try to always join near-to-full servers; doing otherwise seems to break the wonderful tension of the game).

      And now the game has weather effects and temperature control, so staying dry and warm are important in addition to getting enough food and water, so that’s always a plus!

      • Gothnak says:

        So, that is exactly how you’d live a real life if everyone else living in your country was murdering bandits. You cared about your life, so you did everything you could to not die. If everyone else felt the same way, that death was the worst thing imaginable (not just a minor inconvenience), then the game would be interesting.

        Maybe something like unique abilities & loot are unlocked the longer you are logged in, alive and moving around, and are soulbound to that character. Then see how much a high level player wants to risk all their cool unlocks to steal the food in someone’s backpack.

  4. amateurviking says:

    Have any of the above games actually reached a state that could reasonably be described as ‘finished’? I’ve been holding off for the ‘true’ experience – what’s worth jumping in on now?

    • GameCat says:

      Probably Don’t Starve, I didn’t played it though.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Yeah, pretty sure Don’t Starve is the most “finished” of this lot (though I, too, have not played it). The Long Dark and The Forest are both perfectly playable but they’re not even close to done. Eidolon is finished, sort of, but it has no real ending or ultimate goal other than collecting all the story segments, and it’s not much of a survival game (very few variables, most of them effectively meaningless) – it’s more an interactive novel.

    • derbefrier says:

      Don’t starve is probably the only one that’s “finished” that I know of. Funny thing about the survival genre is that’s there’s a lot of games to choose from but most of them seem to be stuck in an early access limbo.

    • Oozo says:

      They still add occasional stuff to Don’t Starve, but it has been finished for a long time now.
      UnReal World is older than some readers here, so that can be considered finished, too.
      And people who say that Minecraft is not “complete” yet are just annoying.

      The rest, though, are indeed often not “finished”, even though some of them are perfectly playable and enjoyable (for me, that is even true for DayZ, one of the least complete of the bunch).

      Which makes me think: the problem seems to be that in the age of instant patches, you can always add more stuff to system driven games. Which is probably the reason why survival games are so often early access, but it’s also the reason why a lot of people are a bit aggressive in labelling them “uncomplete”, even when there are already highly complex systems at play. The problem is that if you’re thinking, as a dev or a player, of some sort of “realism” being achievable and/or desirable, you’re shit out of luck in survival games…

      “Survival” is such a complex issue that no matter how much you add, there will always be parts that are “missing” in a somewhat realistic “simulation” of the problem.

      Which is probably why you should clearly define what you’re aiming for beforehands: the cartoonish nature of Don’t Starve certainly helps in creating a world which is limited and stylized enough that the rules for survival, too, can be a bit arbitary, and clearly established with clear boundaries… if you’re thinking about multiplayer simulations, though, and if you’re creating them in an engine known for its utter “realism”, things get complicated. Where do you ever stop? How many kinds of illness are ever enough? How much food do you need? And so on.

    • Crusoe says:

      Don’t Starve has multiplayer coming out very very soon. As someone who’s played 222 hours SP, I’d say you should give it a shot :)

    • salattu says:

      I’ve played Don’t Starve and have dabbled in rust Rust and Unturned. Don’t Starve I played first and having loved the gameplay, the atmosphere and design, I gave a shot to Rust as a cool big 3D survival game as opposed to a quirky indie one. I haven’t wanted to return to Rust, nor have I had any desire to try out DayZ or any of the others. Unturned I peeked into because of a friend’s suggestion, but then I suggested we play Don’t Starve.

    • P.Funk says:

      The ‘true’ experience of DayZ happened a while ago. It was an emergent experience that was stark and new and exciting. Nobody really cared if the mod wasn’t finished because it was built on a finished game.

      I had my DayZ experience and I’ve moved on. I don’t really know what ‘finished’ means with respect to that.

  5. Hunchback says:

    2 posts for the same thing? *ponder*

  6. Shiloh says:

    I love Unreal World. Lo fi it may be, but it’s a role player’s delight – in the same way that “Losing is Fun” in Dwarf Fortress, there’s a merciless quality about it that means you’re always only a couple of disasters away from death.

    That being said, on my current iteration I’m nicely set up – a very comfy cabin on an island just off the coast, cellars full of smoked and dried food, two pet dogs, a cow and a pig, trap fences on the mainland regularly bagging me reindeer and elk… but the developer has dropped a new build on the community recently which I think gives the AI the ability to cross onto islands so I’m half expecting to wake up one frosty morning and find an angry Njerp warrior pinging arrows my way.

    • Superelastic says:

      A fine game! On a similar(ish) theme, I find Cataclysm DDA to be remarkably good fun.

  7. Raiyne says:

    I think the biggest part about survival games is the sensation that you’re dealing with something that’s ‘alive’, or ‘organic’, as opposed to a simple script, dice roll or even more complicated systems; It’s like you’re past the uncanny valley of perceptive behaviour and it evolved from a mathematical, logical pattern to something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, it has a life of its own. That’s the main basis of survival and essentially all simulation games I supposed.

  8. alh_p says:

    “In early 2012, a mod for Arma II called DayZ was released. Two-and-a-half years later, its odd mixture of multiplayer, horror, and a need for players to keep themselves fed and watered, has given rise to the survival genre.”

    Sorry Graham but is DayZ really the FIRST survival game? I don’t mean to generate some sort of historical/librarian discussion here about who/wat was first but one glaring problem with calling DayZ “the first” is a little known indie game called Minecraft… no?

    EDIT: I should read more than 2 para’s before posting…

    BUT, I still think it’s wrong to call DayZ the first of a genre.

    • LexW1 says:

      There are older games than UnReal World, too, twenty years old though it may be. I played games on the Atari ST in the very late 1980s/very early 1990s that were about survival in precisely this sense (food, water, illness, injury), damned if I can remember the names, though.

      EDIT – Hell, stuff like Oregon Trail and the one where you were Vikings on a raid on England pioneered this (pun intended). DayZ is just a peculiar modern interpretation which has inspired a few games (pretty MC did more to inspire most, though).

      ALSO Fallout 3 and Fallout NV had mods and even settings (with NV) which made them into survival games LONG before DayZ.

      • Tom Walker says:

        I wrote a game (purely for my own amusement) on the ZX Spectrum where you were a stick-man moving around a featureless white screen with just a health percentage constantly ticking down in the corner. It was sort of a survival game, except there was no way of doing anything that would enable you to survive.

        I named it “Freezing to Death in The Arctic”. I hereby lay claim to the invention of this genre.

        • LexW1 says:

          Funny, but Oregon Trail is 1971, and ZX Spectrum was 1982, so that was a decade or so before…

      • statistx says:

        Interested on the Name of that Viking game.

        Also adding Heart of Africa on the C64 to this less known list of survival games.

    • poetfoxpaul says:

      I believe Graham was suggesting that the popularity of DayZ gave rise to the popularity of survival games as we now know them. I sort of agree – I distinctly remember the excitement I felt upon reading various experiences that people had within the game, and that excitement encouraged me to purchase Arma 2 solely for the purpose of DayZ.

      While I agree with some of the discussion above about how death within these games needs more impact (MP games, that is) I also remember the pure stress and tension I felt upon logging in for the first time. No other game had ever made me sweat like DayZ, nor had any other game created so many stories in such a short period of time.

      I think DayZ is still rather unique, despite various attempts to recreate it. The slow pace, the detailed and massive setting, and the never-truly-finished gameplay sort of coalesce into an unnerving, frustrating but extremely rewarding experience.

      • LexW1 says:

        DayZ is a very interesting game, but I think it’s dead wrong to say it was significantly behind this genre, given that we were already seeing it revived in things like the Fallout games (Fallout NV in 2010 had it as a difficulty option, fr’ex), and the vastly popular Minecraft, long before DayZ.

        Further, apart from a couple of DayZ clones – Rust particularly – it seems like most of these games are more influenced by MC than DayZ, or going a different way entirely.

        Personally I think that the general revival of Roguelikes in the Indie market is what got people thinking in this direction, not DayZ, which is a slightly different approach to things.

        • jonahcutter says:

          That’s a good point. Survival games share much of their genealogy with roguelikes.

          DayZ is a descendent of the fps line.

          Rust is an fps/voxel-builder hybrid. A liger, if you will.

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          Graham Smith says:

          I don’t think DayZ created the genre, but it strikes me as the nexus point for a bunch of different already developing trends, like I say in the piece.

          Minecraft doesn’t feel like a survival game to me. It’s a creative building game with monsters, and the need to eat was added fairly late on during the alpha/beta phase. Even now I don’t think you can actually starve to death; it just stops you healing and takes you down to a half-heart of health.

          Wurm Online is closer, obviously. Online, open world, sandbox, but also the real need to eat and drink lest you die. And obviously Wurm was worked on a bit by Notch.

          But still, DayZ seems like the thing most games are aping, or at least responding to the popularity of. Most survival games are about guns and zombies and scavenging on top of the eat/drink stuff, not blockbuilding.

          • statistx says:

            We can establish that DayZ didn’t create the genre, but it definitely brought the spotlight for the greater masses onto this genre and added some defining new ideas to it that others adapted.

            Thus said: This genre and MMOs always got destroyed for me by players. You have a great athmosphere, tension and almost movielike stories to tell and then a bunch of naked, armed kids come running and kill you “for the lulz”

          • Chuckleluck says:

            DayZ at least could be considered the catalyst for the explosion of survival games. When people tell stories of Minecraft, I often hear about the computers or 1:1 scale models of the Enterprise. When people tell stories of DayZ, it’s about survival.

      • jonahcutter says:

        I think DayZ’s timing, through intent or chance, was excellent. But the survival genre was already in the early stages of its current explosion at that point. I don’t think it’s accurate to give it credit for the popularity of the genre. We would of very likely experienced the rise of this type of game without ever hearing of it.

        As it is, DayZ’s brand of survival gameplay is one of the weakest on the market. It’s not much of a survival game. It’s a slow-motion deathmatch with largely inconsequential, post-apocalypse, survival-genre window-dressing. The size of the maps so pvp encounters are rather rare, and the ArmA engine, is what gives it its tension. ArmA is something rather unique and special. It’s really good at creating a sense of weight and physicality to your avatar, within a shooter. And I think that, along with its lethality, is the source of much of the exciting tension of the game (and all its mods).

        Not to say I don’t enjoy the DayZ brand of gameplay. When I want it though, I usually play the ArmA 3 Breaking Point mod or the new version of Rust. But when I wander around Breaking Point, I’m focused on interaction with other players. Shooting them. Avoiding them. Hunting them. Not ever really trusting them. “Survival” elements are only brief and slight considerations. And Rust is currently the same. But it also has a significant fort-building component to go along with it’s rather vicious pvp. Hell, Rust even has PvE servers where you can put a focus more on building/cooperation.

        So far, most of the games called “survival” that actually provide survival gameplay are singleplayer (that I can think of, anyway). Two of the most well-developed, Project Zomboid and Don’t Starve, have or are about to implement multiplayer. PZ has it, though I don’t know how well it plays. And DS is about to.

        Perhaps those will show how well games focused on actual survival gameplay can implement multiplayer.

        In short though, I question DayZ being responsible for the popularity of the genre, and actually represents a rather poor example of survival gameplay.

        p.s. Don’t Starve is the premier example of survival gameplay and at the moment pretty much sets the standard, imo. It’s a truly brilliant work.

  9. Wowbagger says:

    One of the things that attracted me to WoW was that I could just mooch about skinning and mining things. I wasn’t really in to the ‘leet’ raid shit or anything.

  10. stoner says:

    DayZ? 7 Days to Die? Don’t Starve? You call these survival games? Pfft!!

    Checkers. Now THAT’S a survival game. It’s just you against another play (human or AI). Your sole goal is not be killed, because death is permanent. There are no medpacks nor power-ups. Each piece goes into this violent dog-eat-dog world with the tools it starts with, the will to survive. And, if by chance the piece survives and makes it to the other side, they are awarded with a simple achievement…the right to go back into the fray…the hell they just escaped.

    Keep your DayZ.

  11. poetfoxpaul says:

    I personally believe that most Americans who enjoy survival games are subconsciously channeling the ghost of Manifest Destiny. Seriously – American culture was defined by the belief in a wide, open land rich in resources sitting just a little further west than they were now, ripe for the taking by any able-bodied male (of course, this belief ignored native people and the massive amount of government sponsorship required to exploit those resources). Survival games, especially those where you can build a homestead, echo that absurdly powerful belief that one man can “do it all.” All he needs is a tool for construction and a tool for violence – from there the world is his to shape.

    I enjoy the hell out of it, but I also do so wondering about the cultural heritage that spawned such enjoyment.

    • Harlander says:

      So, should British people (and others from former European colonial powers) enjoy games where you go to other lands, impose made-up borders on the locals, and exploit the natural resources, possibly while building a railway?

      • Cinek says:

        Don’t forget a games where you, an exemplary European, are at war. Constantly. With at least half of your neighbours.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        So I love Minecraft and DayZ for the same reason I love Europa Universalis IV?

    • cpt_freakout says:

      It is a wider mindset in contemporary Western culture, I think. If you could condense neoliberal ideology into a game, it would pretty much be a solo survival sim: nature as hostile, scarce resources over which we gotta fight, if you manage to get a group together it’s always because there’s an opposing group; all those sorts of details don’t express a romantic venture into solitude but a kill-or-be-killed situation in which absolutely everything is a means to the end of ‘making it’. They make for some amazing games, mind you, but when it’s got multiplayer it’s also kind of disturbing to read that the core of every story is not so much self-realization and self-discovery (Walden style) but the thrill of distrust, uncertainty, and scarcity. It’s weird, and I love these games for what they are even when I find some of their implications alarming.

  12. Scurra says:

    More than 20 years ago, Richard Bartle managed to generalise MMORG players into four classes: Achievers, Socialisers, Explorers and Killers.

    Achievers act on the world
    Explorers interact with the world
    Socialisers interact with other players
    Killers act on other players

    As these groups affect each other, you get an interesting evolutionary balance between the types (too many killers will drive away the socialisers, but then the killers will only have each other left, and so on.)

    • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

      This is fascinating. I’m definitely an explorer, with a dash of socialiser thrown in. I thoroughly enjoy exploring my surroundings in games, but I’m mostly disappointed by them in MMOs. Still, it’s what I do. Thanks for sharing this.

    • lowprices says:

      The story about MMO players and enviroments that always stays with me is one about Ultima Online. Originally UO had an ecosystem programmed in. Some animals ate others, for example, and if their food source was running low they would move elsewhere, potentially generating all sorts of emergent fun. Then the players were let in, and they just killed everything. Constantly. No creatures were adapting to their situations because nothing was surviving long enough to do so. Eventually they just removed the whole ecosystem.

      • jrodman says:

        The main story of Ultima Online was immense naivete of the developers regarding how the players would behave. They were explicitly told by mud players what to expect, but they just didn’t believe it.

  13. Cinek says:

    Survival games got 3 major problems:

    1. Too much incentive to kill other players.
    Already mentioned in the comments up above.

    2. Too quick depletion of resources
    I.e. humans dying of starvation after having 24-in-game hours with no food, dying of dehydration after 12 hours or so, the only way to hydrate yourself is by drinking one of 5 magical water-refueling liquids.

    3. Infinite development.
    Vast majority of (idea-wise) half-decent survival games are feeding off Early Access zone and well… basically never get into a state where you have one, self-enclosed, complete game, there are always these doors not-working-yet-but-will-eventually, these herbs that currently-do-nothing-but-might-eventually, these rocks that you can’t-use-for-defense-now-but-will-few-years-in-future….

  14. Mezmorki says:

    My introduction into “survival” games was – in a certain way- the old Quest for Glory sierra adventure games (circa early 90’s). They were lite-RPG adventure games where you did have to eat, drink, and rest on a regular basis or else suffer attribute penalties and eventual death.

    The next touchstone was in using various survival mods in the Elder Scroll games (Morrowind + beyond). Those were worlds filled with all the stuff for survival, but none of it was required. For me, adding that dimension to the gameplay really helped the immersion.

    Ultimately, this desire for survival needs translated to Fallout 3 – and was one of the biggest reasons behind the Fallout Wanderers Edition (FWE) mod which I developed in collaboration with others. It’s currently one of the most popular + downloaded mods for FO3, and the follow-up for New Vegas is much the same. The Fallout world is a perfect setting for a survival game – adding to the existing gameplay, but was a huge missed opportunity for the original release.

    • Dorchadas says:

      and was one of the biggest reasons behind the Fallout Wanderers Edition (FWE) mod which I developed in collaboration with others

      And thank you very much for doing so. (^_^)

      I was never too big a fan of FO3 as a Fallout game, but I downloaded FWE and a few other mods like Scavenger World, put the settings up to punishing but not brutal, and poured 600 hours into it as a post-apocalyptic scavenger and scarcity simulator. Some of the most fun I’ve had in recent gaming.

  15. Robin says:

    Surprised to see no mention of Robinson’s Requiem in the history recap.

    link to

    • rebb says:

      Indeed. It’s like the blueprint FPS survival game. Many current survival games likely took a hint or three from it since it models a crazy amount of stuff.

      • statistx says:

        I never liked Robins Requiem and it’s sequels gameplay and controls, but I would lie if I said I never found the medical system intriguing. Mostly booted those games up to try and see how much stuff I can amputee before my character dies of pain or bloodloss.

  16. bill says:

    I don’t have much experience with the recent trend in survival games, as I’ve only tried a few single player ones. One or two free Early Access ones and Terraria.

    But basically, as single player experiences at least, I’m finding them very dull. Every game seems to be the same. Every game seems to start with the same repetitive actions. Get some wood. build a crafting table. Build a shelter. Your odds of dying in that first section, before you work out what you’re actually required to do or how to survive are quite high, but once you get your base built up then that’s basically it.

    The few I’ve tried (which may well be totally unrepresentative) aren’t really survival games, they are 3 little pigs games.

    I imagine something like DayZ with other players might be more survival. Are there any free multiplayer survival games that are worth checking out? I don’t really want to pay for one until I find out if I like it.

  17. Emton says:

    Hey don’t forget Skyrim. Skyrim makes a pretty good open world survival game with the right mods; Frostfall, Realistic Needs and Diseases, Skyrim Unbound which gives you random starts, You Hunger which gives you less food. There’s a whole bunch of mods and it takes a while to get everything set up right but gives a nice sandbox style adventure survival thing, what with Skyrim’s pretty nice graphics and tons of items.

  18. jrodman says:

    Is something wrong with me if I detest the whole concept of these games and am praying that the fad ends soon?

    • Harlander says:

      Well, you’re sound on the first half, but “I wish people would stop making things I don’t like!” is a bit sketchier. That being said, it’s perfectly within normal operating parameters, and certainly no worse than answering a rhetorical question as if it was serious.

      • jrodman says:

        Well that’s an uncharatible rephrasing of what I didn’t say.

        I’m more interested in people making more games that I do like.

  19. gabrielmsvp says:

    I think you guys should really check Haven and Hearth. I hardly ever see someone mention this game when talking about the Survival Genre but even being the small game it is, it is one of the best i ever played (wasted half of my vacation on it).
    The game community is basically formed by Russians and Americans but unfortunately given the size of the world map and the average 200 people online it’s aways somewhat empty. i will not describe the game in it’s entirity but if anyone feels interested please give the game a look. Especially the RPS guys, a post on the site would be wonderful.
    Game site: link to
    obs: i’m sorry for the english.

  20. TheReaper1221 says:

    Wow, small world.
    I read your story about being killed by the sniper by the power station after killing that guy, and then I realized. I was that sniper.
    I was experimenting with a new form of anti-banditry that I dubbed Guardian Angel. Basically, the idea was I would set up with a sniper rifle and just help people, save them from zeds and bandits, that sort of thing. When you went down the hill, you passed about 3 feet in front of my position, scared the shit out of me. I watched your interaction with the other player with interest, seeing how it would end, and if I had to take action. When you fired, I fired at you. The first round hit, the second went wild. After that, I was swarmed with zombies who were already close to me, and I had to bail. Until reading this, I didn’t know what had happened to my target, I knew you didn’t die immediately, but I didn’t know if you lived in the end. Seems you didn’t.