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Rust hits 3.5m sales amidst concerns over gender, race assignment

Facepunch has found success in Early Access, but recent changes have ignited a debate within its audience

Facepunch Studios' Rust has now sold 3.5 million copies in Early Access, but its transitory state has brought controversy as well as success.

Garry Newman, the studio's boss, gave the updated figure in a column for The Guardian, in which he also revealed that Rust has around 500,000 MAUs. That would be impressive for a finished game, but as it stands Facepunch Studios is a paragon of Early Access' commercial potential.

It is also a paragon of the creative potential of Early Access, but Rust is now embroiled in a controversy that is directly linked to the fluidity of the model. Facepunch has made a host of changes to its embryonic version was launched in December 2013, often to "passionate" reactions from its swelling fanbase. However, according to Newman, "the range and strength of opinions have never been this intense."

"Gender and race are randomly selected and linked to a player's account, permanently unchangeable"

The issue stems from the solution to a problem Facepunch observed in its own design. Rust is a game about survival in a hostile environment populated with other, similarly desperate players, and yet every avatar spawns as a bald white man. This was less a calculated choice than a legacy of the game's stages, when Facepunch had, "other things to focus on." Recently, Newman's team made a change, to add diversity to the physical appearance of Rust's avatars while avoiding the unwelcome ramifications of allowing players to regularly change their appearance.

"A survivor shouldn't be able to attack another then come back later with a different gender or race and befriend the same player," Newman explained. "They should be recognisable consistently and long-term - so anyone likely to commit a crime would be more likely to wear a balaclava or a face mask.

"So this is what we did. Gender and race are randomly selected and linked to a player's account, permanently unchangeable."

It was a choice about design, and yet - predictably enough - it has been proved divisive the Rust community. Newman noted that complaints about race, "seems to be a regional thing," with the majority of negative feedback about being assigned a black character coming from its Russian players. Complaints about gender displayed no geographical pattern, but there were complaints from male players - who often complained of a lack of connection to their avatar, while invoking concern about the politics driving Facepunch's choice - and also transgender players, who voiced concerns about the system's rigidity.

Newman's column is well worth your time - an interesting look at the myriad ways a decision that, "comes down to gameplay," and is coherent with the original intentions of the game's designers, can be misinterpreted.

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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