DayZ Bounty's made a positively deafening amount of noise over the past couple days - and with good reason. In short, it's a private server that players will eventually buy into using real money. Then they'll get the chance to win it all back - and more - by killing zombies, survivors, and bandits. And while DayZ exists to encourage crazy emergent behavior, creator Dean "Rocket" Hall and the DayZ team think this is taking it a few steps (and dollars) too far. As such, the brains behind the wildly popular zombie mod have publicly stated that they plan to "ask that [DayZ Bounty] cease their activities in their current form." However, speaking with RPS, Bounty's creators were quick to point out a few key arguments in their favor: 1) no one from Bohemia/DayZ's reached out to them, even though they've hollered in the DayZ team's direction multiple times, 2) they're not charging real money yet, and 3) their goal is to mod DayZ into an entirely different, more PVP-focused form. Apparently, this is only just the beginning.
"Right now, we're not doing anything," DayZ Bounty's Jake Stewart replies when I ask how he and his partners in alleged crime are reacting to Rocket and co's disapproval. "It's free right now. We're not charging any money. People are checking it out. People are giving their opinions on what they think of it. So far, we have 500-plus members – all of whom are very satisfied with the changes we've made to the map. They like the idea that someone's on there 24/7 [monitoring for hackers and giving customer support]. They enjoy the honesty we share with them. We've told them about the issues. We've told them about the articles going around. When Bohemia Interactive does get ahold of us, we'll post those emails and articles too."
"In all honesty, we probably could've worded it better when we were explaining it," adds fellow modder Andrew Defee. "It's completely skill-based. There's no chance in it whatsoever, so the idea that we're trying to set up gambling isn't really a valid point."
Once it starts charging, DayZ Bounty will require an upfront fee of $5 for 20 lives or possibly a monthly membership. Beyond that, however, players' fates are in their own, hopefully steady hands. The hope, though, is that players will slowly but surely break even before their hourglass hits empty. This, explains the Bounty team, is why the monetary rewards (currently a tenth of a penny per zombie, five cents per survivor, 25 cents per bandit, and $5.00 for bagging the lone Outlaw with the highest kill count) are so small. On top of that, they plan to reveal any and all money received on Bounty's website, where they will also mention specifically what it's being used for - whether that's server upkeep or paying particularly skilled/lucky players.
But honestly, why even take that route in the first place? Why charge for a mod - a holy grail of all that's good, free, and oh yeah, based on someone else's wholly owned intellectual property? Well, whether it's presumptuous or not, Bounty's purveyors think they have something special on their hands, and they're determined to keep it that way.
"The only reason money has been brought into this is to limit the players that can join the server, screw around, and ruin the gameplay for everyone else," explains Stewart. "We don't want to charge people to have to play on a good server. So, by implementing this bounty thing – and we're still working on the math to get it right – we want people to be able to take the game seriously. But, we want to give them the ability, during their 30 days, to get their $5 back. It's trying to get realistic, hardcore players into a game where we don't have to worry about people coming in and doing things stupidly. We're trying to enable the ability to somehow give that money back [without just letting everybody join willy-nilly]."
"Everybody understands the concept of money," Defee elaborates. "It's tangible. It's got value. So if you throw that in there, you're trying to earn your money back. It gives you something to fight for. A purpose. You're gonna play smarter, be more competitive, and just be better. Why do people play tournaments? Why are they so big? Because there's money and reputation involved. Look at League of Legends. They just gave a million dollars to their winners. That's why you have pros there – because there's money and reputation on the line. That's what we want to integrate into DayZ, I think, in part."
But that, they go on to explain, certainly isn't their unholy pony of the damned's sole trick. It's only the gate that keeps out the riff-raff, and on the inside is a shiny new style of DayZ that's tailored to very specific tastes. In addition to adding a story and drastically revamping Chernarus, the idea is to inject a bit of ArmA II's camo-green military lifeblood back into DayZ's zombified corpse, and to give a tangible goal to what they consider fun but ultimately pointless proceedings.
"This is another thing not a lot of people talk about: the ArmA players don't like DayZ players that much," says Bounty's James Ortiz. "So we're bringing in these new vehicles – like tanks – and these military weapons to try and combine the two together. DayZ's more of a survival sim without the military. So ours is more like what would happen if the military was involved. Those weapons would be in there. Tanks would be in there. Turrets. Searchlights."
"I've been in the military," adds Stewart. "I'm a retired veteran. I know what checkpoints are supposed to look like. There's no telling what those zombies came from, so we've set up medical facilities and military camps. We've tried to gear people to spread out from the same exact path. Even watching it now, people are still attuned to the same path they follow in DayZ. That never changes, and there are so many things I've added outside that. Some of the small changes I've made to this alpha is setting up checkpoints at gas stations. That would definitely be done. Gas would be limited and on hold. And there'd be military posts everywhere. Yes, it gives people access to a lot of medical supplies, but how much can you carry? Having access to those things may un-balance it in certain ways, but we want people to be able to get into the game, get geared up, move where they're going, and get their plans together."
That's another key tenet of Bounty's formula: speed. Instead of slow, uncertain survival, the team wants people to be able to quickly find what they need to be competitive. Because that, at the end of the day, is Bounty's central purpose: to tip the DayZ balance from flight to fight. Naturally, this makes me wonder why they've even picked DayZ in the first place when you can get a competitive experience from hundreds of other modern shooters - including vanilla ArmA. But Stewart and co point out that DayZ-style dynamics still exist in their mod, and that's what makes things interesting. For instance, what happens if you've formed a fragile alliance with somebody, and they suddenly achieve Outlaw status? Do you take them down and claim $5, or is a burgeoning friendship worth more than that?
And so, in spite of all the recent animosity from Bohemia, Bounty's creators actually think they see eye-to-eye with Rocket and co in regard to the big picture. They love DayZ as much as anybody, and they want its community to thrive. However, that's not happening right now, they argue, so they decided to intervene with their own ideas and - in the case of infamously rampant hacking - preventive measures.
"I mean, that's the biggest complaint we hear about DayZ: that hackers have taken it over," explains Ortiz. "We have a build right now where, yeah, maybe they can get away with it for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or hell, I'll give them two minutes. But that's about it. That's one of the big things we're trying to build, too. The verbal communication [from players]. 'Hey, we saw this, or hey, we saw that.' And then we also have 24/7 admins in spectator mode, so if we get a tip that someone's hacking, we watch them. First move he makes, he's gone forever. But we want people to exploit the hell out of our system so we can make it better. I want hackers. I hope to see them soon."
For now, though, the Bounty team's taking things one step at a time. They are, after all, still in alpha, so everything's subject to changes both large and small. Nothing's set in stone. Not tanks. Not guns. Not even the concept of paying to play. And who knows? Maybe it was unwise to go forward with the idea in the first place, given that it's now attracted all sorts of negative attention and, of course, the potentially project-halting ire of the DayZ team itself. But Stewart, Ortiz, and Defee insist that they couldn't just sit around and wait for approval. They had to do something.
"We've been doing our best to let [the DayZ team] know what's going on – to get them involved," says Defee, claiming that he and the Bounty team sent multiple emails to DayZ's developers long before ever going live. "But we can only wait so long. If we send them an email, we can't wait six months for a reply. We have the means to get this done. Why should we wait? We've got the means and the ability, so we just decided to go ahead and do it ourselves."
As of writing, Rocket and co still hadn't directly contacted DayZ Bounty. We will, however, keep you posted if that changes. Further, in light of Bounty's arguments, we're also seeking further comment from the DayZ team.