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Overkill: Microtransactions necessary to keep Payday 2 running

Dev team has tripled since launch to meet schedule of updates and DLC

The addition of microtransactions to Payday 2 will not be reversed, according to developer Overkill Software, as the revenue stream is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the game.

The microtransactions introduced as part of the game's Crimefest event led to an outcry within the game's community. Both Starbreeze Studios, Overkill's parent company, and 505 Games, Payday 2's publisher, declined to offer an official comment at the time, but once the week-long event finished Overkill staged a Reddit AMA.

Almir Listo, global brand director at Overkill, attempted to distance the game's current team from comments made at the time of Payday 2's launch in August 2013, when both he and (at that time) game director David Goldfarb emphatically dismissed the idea of introducing microtransactions.

"To make sure there was no confusion, we said what we did to make things absolutely clear. If you asked me then, there would be no way we would've added a system like we just did," Listo said, but he also stressed that the reality of keeping Payday 2 running has changed. The size of the team has tripled since its 2013 launch - from 25 developers to 75 developers - in an effort to make the game as good as possible.

"Two years ago people would have us instantly start work on PAYDAY 3, right after we released Payday 2, like developers usually do," Listo continued. "88 updates later, we have to ensure the future survival of the game.

"Two years ago people would have us instantly start work on PAYDAY 3... 88 updates later, we have to ensure the future survival of the game"

"We do sales when we can where we reduce the price point up to 75 per cent in order to pay people's wages and create a buffer for a rainy day. Six months ago, we also made a bold move to permanently reduce the price point of 16 Payday 2 products by 33 to 43 per cent in the hopes of drawing additional sales. Needless to say, we didn't see the result we anticipated, and have had to think of other ways to make sure we can continue creating content in the pace we want in order to keep Payday 2 fresh and exciting.

"We have a partnership with our partner 505 Games, where we have a deal to produce a specific amount of content until 2017. However, we at Overkill want to create more than what we and 505 Games agreed on. We want to do everything we can to make Payday 2 as awesome as possible. In order to do that, we made the decision to triple the size of the crew. To ensure that we can keep the size of the team, we decided that the best approach was to introduce the Black Market update to the game."

However, while Litso claimed that the Overkill team understood the community's ire, he also said that, "from an economical standpoint...completely based on statistics, we can already see that the Black Market update is working as we intended. Going forward, we hope we can convince the parts of the community that resist this change that this was the right decision to do to ensure the stability of Overkill as an independent developer and the future growth of Payday 2."

On the whole, the Reddit community responded to Listo's position as little more than thin excuses, and it's arguable whether the AMA did anything at all to pacify the dissenting voices. But Listo's point about Overkill's 'independence' was singled out by a number of disgruntled posters.

"Oh and by the way, you're not an indie dev by any typical definition of the term. You've got a publisher and a publicly traded company," one person said.

Another said: "I hope you realize that Starbreezes [sic] financial statements have been posted on this subreddit and that trying to pretend like you weren't making enough to support continued developement [sic] isn't going to work. You're supporting Payday, multiple other games and a VR headset. I get that the answer to 'do I really want more money' is still yes, but don't pretend you're not making a profit on Payday as is."

And a third added: "Realise that you are a subsidiary of Starbreeze and published by 505 games. Oh and you are also a publicly traded company... Lets make this perfectly clear, you are NOT an independent company and you have lost any possible identity as one as a direct result of Crimefest."

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Latest comments (14)

Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 2 years ago
I do understand that there is a cost to everything and microtransactions are one way of dealing with those costs. But it just makes one wonder how on earth developers survived even a few years ago when the monetising wasnt so dependant on microtransactions...
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada2 years ago
GI, could you guys ask Overkill for some information directly? One thing I'm really confused about is tripling the dev team size AFTER the game is already out, when you know you're going to be transitioning into tail revenue. I literally can't think of any other examples of teams doing that (but if someone knows, please share!), so that seems like an unusual bet to make.
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Thomas Kennedy Unemployed (Seeking work) 2 years ago
I get they want to keep the game over but lets be real here when you take a game that costs money (yes its now alot less then it was on release but it's still a good £20) couple that with £81 of DLC many of which involve heists, guns and cosmetics (So thats £100 roughly for the complete pack) and add onto that Microtransactions that's just slapping your community in the face, in that AMA as well they basicaly said that they care more about numbers playing then they do player satisfaction, Look I'm sorry I know its difficult to develop games I know it's expnsive but once you focus more on numbers and means to make bank with a game over making a game the players enjoy, well at that point you should be looking at making another game and gradually letting the one you've put on life support die.

This isn't TF2, Payday 2 is not a free game and does not give all these new maps and weapons for free, the DLC of Payday 2 alone is more expensive then the game itself, that's why everyone is up in arms about it, if your game isn't making the money to keep it running then don't keep it running, put the money towards a new game for people to buy, I'm sure people would love a Payday 3 instead of what amounts to a Microexpansion pack for Payday 2 or hell branch out, try making another game not to do with Payday
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Show all comments (14)
David Phan Producer, Relic Entertainment2 years ago
Hi James,

It used to be that the road through Production had the largest team size and the team would shrink after launch, but now it is becoming more common that teams actually maintain their team size or scale up even further after launch. With more and more games taking on the "games as a service" approach (freemium, microtransactions, regular events etc), the dev team needs to be just as active (if not more) as the Production cycle. Live Operations of games requires teams to constantly churn out new content to engage and retain their player base and generate revenue well beyond launch. I know this is certainly the case in the mobile and pc freemium space and now even console teams as well are running larger and larger live operation teams.
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James Berg Games User Researcher, EA Canada2 years ago
Thomas, the DLC from a *lot* of games is more expensive than the base game. That's not unusual at all, and it's business-as-usual doing things like offering a season pass to secure future revenue, or discounting the main game to entice DLC purchases. Adding microtransactions on /top/ of that seems to be where players had the issue, not the DLC that came before it.

David, do you know of other teams that double or triple their team size though? Payday 2 has been doing far more interesting things than skins, so it's likely a fair cross-section of skillsets to implement the stuff they've done. Then again, I'm bloody impressed that their original team size was only 25 people, so 75 might just be a less-Herculean team size to keep things going. ie, getting the game out the door with 25 was risky/hard, and a 'natural' team size closer to 75 is more realistic for sustained dev.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 2 years ago
The biggest sticking point probably is Almirs historical statement that there wont be any microtransactions. Its just basic human nature to be disappointed...."but mom, you promised we would go to disneyland" and mom does whatever the hell she wants, its her money, its her car and the resentment will die down eventually. But gamers and the people on the net, oh boy, we all know what they are like. Probably even people who do not play the game start to cry and moan. And when mom goes back on her word about disneyland, you stop wearing your diaper to day care just for laughs, dig up dirt on mothers childhood (probably that picture of her during the 80“s) and go on hungerstrike.

On one hand I understand the rage and on one hand the internet and gamers deserve a slap. People can always vote with their wallets and in this case it might even work seeing as it is about money at the end of the day.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Aleksi Ranta on 26th October 2015 9:42pm

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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 2 years ago
No, I think the biggest issue is simply being utterly clueless about customer relations.

Payday 2 is not only a game that required (or rather, is requiring, in an ongoing way) significantly more development effort than the original Payday, but also has (at least in part by design) a longer lifetime. It's not a huge surprise that audience growth for the game hasn't been large enough that the increase in people buying the base version of the game (and perhaps some of the DLC) isn't generating as much revenue relative to development costs as had been hoped.

Let's leave aside whether Overkill should have thought about this before they started and laid in some plans for this possibility. Regardless of how they got here, they're in a situation for which I'd imagine most of their audience might have some sympathy. After all, people like the game, which certainly makes it easier to like the developers.

But not only did Overkill not reach out to the community to explain their problem and at least ostensibly allow some community involvement, they went and made a move that clearly was going to rub a fair number of people the wrong way, and did so at a time when they'd decided they wouldn't talk to the community for a while. (I mean, come on; who in their right mind who's had any contact with the gaming market in the past few years would think "of course nobody will complain if we introduce microtransactions"?)

There are plenty of ways to monetize a game, and I'm willing to accept even that microtransactions on paid games could be accepted by hard-core gamers in some circumstances. But regardless of what you do, treating your community as merely the source of revenue rather than partners in making your game successful is pretty obviously something likely to backfire, especially when you're looking at gamers with the level of sophistication to play something like Payday 2, which is in no way, shape or form a "casual" game.
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Matthew Handrahan European Deputy Editor, GamesIndustry.biz2 years ago
Both 505 Games and Starbreeze declined requests for direct contact. With this in mind, it's worth noting that Overkill's rep partly blamed the growth of the controversy on the press, hungry for a "first scoop" and unwilling to do proper research. From what I understand, the press was frozen out of the situation by Overkill and its owners/partners.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 2 years ago
the base version of the game (and perhaps some of the DLC) isn't generating as much revenue relative to development costs as had been hoped.
This got me thinking about sales/pricing strategy.

Payday 2's been on a couple of Free Weekends, plus a couple of other sales. Every time, the base game has been discounted, along-side the majority of the DLC. This isn't unusual, for instance Paradox has done exactly the same thing with Crusader Kings 2. The difference with CK2, though, is that that game is (I believe) now making a tidy profit. Payday 2 seems like it would benefit from something that most publishers do - discount base-game, but leave the DLC price untouched. Obviously, this means current owners don't gain anything form the sale, but it does mean that the income generated from DLC goes to covering most development costs, whilst the game continues to gain new players... Who, if they like the game, will gladly buy the DLC at non-discounted price, because they got the base game so cheap.

Higher DLC price = (some?) lost sales, but when you're talking about that or micro-transactions, it seems weird that they'd jump straight to the worse of two evils. :)

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 27th October 2015 7:39am

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Paul Shirley Programmers 2 years ago
@David
now it is becoming more common that teams actually maintain their team size or scale up even further after launch
Which is fair enough IFF the players know what they're buying into and crucially how you intend to fund it. Again we're back to promising no IAP then reneging on that. Not honouring their deal with the customer.

I'm left to wonder whether they decided to add IAP and then needed to triple staff to actually deliver it. If they genuinely went on an insane campaign to 'improve' the game that required so many people, their financial planning was broken and they're trying to get players to pay for their own mismanagement.
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Thomas Kennedy Unemployed (Seeking work) 2 years ago
James, I think I must of explained that horribly, my point was that in a game which keeps releasing DLC (most none cosmetic) to the point where the DLC outprices the base game (Not a bad observation but to give a comparison of quantity of DLC) to add microtransactions is a kick in the teeth to many, especially since its buying power (I believe so unless they changed it to pure cosmetics), That's like doing a raid in say Destiny or WoW but also having the option to buy that 0.1% drop rate legendary weapon, that's buying power and in a game that is very much to do with luck (End of heist rewards) its a real bad practice which they added anyway.

Also the way the microtransations were implemented, No pre-discussion, no letting players know just "Hey we got microtransactions now, don't like it? screw you they're staying" I mean ok their game their choice but you should really try to make a compromise with your community, Overkill didn't bother as has been mentioned before just a ton of silence and suddenly "We have made this change out of the blue". It's not right to stab the players in the back like that, bigger companies inform their players of changes or new additions and sure they get fleck but we can at least credit them for letting their community know (Upcoming patch notes are a good example of this)

Again sorry if I made it sound like having DLC outprice the base game is a bad thing, (It isn't) I'm just terrible at explaining sometimes
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It's not hard to imagine they got a bunch of money from the sale to Starbreeze and foresaw huge potential if only they had more employees. Voilą, instant packed office coupled with instant crazy expenses. A natural reaction to loads of extra money sure, but upping your team is such a dangerous line we all skirt. 90% of games fail and of the 10% who do see profit, 90% of those will eventually fail through over-expansion. Given their huge success with 25 ppl, why Overkill didn't just bank their safety-net money and figure out how to make better games with a lower team count than 75 is mystifying. But if I had guess an answer: a relentless need for growth is the cancer in publicly traded companies.
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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief2 years ago
Listening to your customers is important. But if your metrics are showing something quite different to what your vocal critics are saying, go with the metrics. That's what they seem to be doing...
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 2 years ago
Nicholas, observing and acting on your metrics certainly doesn't mean that you can't also engage with your customers, rather than utterly ignoring them and their potential reaction to what you do. There's no profit in alienating even a small part of your audience not because of what you've done but because you refused to talk to them.
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