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H1Z1 players demand refunds after accusations of pay-to-win mechanics

Controversy over perceived deception by Sony Online Entertainment.


Dennis Scimeca


Posted on Jan 17, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 6:09 pm CDT

Some customers who purchased Early Access to zombie MMO H1Z1 on Steam discovered a different kind of horror than what they expected to find.

Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley announced Friday that players complaining about supply airdrops purchased via microtransactions in H1Z1 may request refunds for purchasing early access to the game. Players were upset because they felt the presence of these airdrops clashes directly with information shared by game developers only days prior to the beginning of H1Z1’s Early Access period.

H1Z1 is an open-world, resource-scarce, massively multiplayer zombie apocalypse game that bears more than a passing resemblance to indie sensation DayZ. Scarcity of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies is a driving force behind how DayZ plays out. Other people hunting for the same resources can be even deadlier than the zombies, which is precisely the conundrum presented by George A. Romero’s classic zombie movies and The Walking Dead

This was expected to be the same sort of world presented by H1Z1. In fact, in a livestream on Twitch that was posted to YouTube on Monday, H1Z1 developer Adam Clegg explicitly states “There’s no way you can get ammo any other way. You can’t buy ammo, can’t buy guns, you can’t get them out of a crate, there’s zero way. You have to find them in the world.”

Early Access is a Steam program that allows players to get in on a game while it is still in more basic levels of development than one might experience in a beta test. Early Access essentially allows the general gaming public to volunteer as playtesters, to help developers make the game better by providing feedback.

In some cases, as with H1Z1, Early Access is paid for. This is why the H1Z1 subreddit lit up with pay-to-win complaints after the Early Access period began on Thursday, once players learned supply airdrops that could contain weapons, ammunition, and supplies could be purchased via microtransaction by players. This was not the game some people thought they were paying for. 

This screenshot of the contents of an airdrop container purchased by a player quickly made the rounds as proof that blatantly contradicted what Clegg had stated during the H1Z1 stream.

The developers had, in fact, disclosed the existence of airdrops as a game mechanic in H1Z1 as far back as August 2014. What was not disclosed, however, is that these airdrops could be purchased.

When the Daily Dot asked Sony Online Entertainment for comment, the company directed us toward a comment Smedley published Thursday on Reddit. Smedley disagreed that players have been misled, pointing at the “Welcome to Early Access” post on the H1Z1 website.

“So if you think it’s P2W don’t buy it,” wrote Smedley on Reddit. “Don’t play it. But I have to say wait until you’ve personally tried them before making the call. We included airdrops in both the $20 and the $40 versions just so you could see for yourselves.” Smedley also clarified that airdrops not only don’t automatically bestow supplies on any H1Z1 player, the airdrops are also designed to be contested by other players, and dangerous to collect generally. He added:

But to clear up the misconceptions – 1) You cannot call in airdrops until the servers are 1/4 full 2) You can’t call in airdrops without generating a ton of zombie heat. 3) the airdrops are random in what they deliver. 4) you are not guaranteed to get a single thing out of the airdrop you called in. You could die trying and you’re out the money. 5) We fly the plane in very slowly and loudly.. we also stream green smoke from it you can see from very far away. This is all I’m going to say on the subject. We’ve been straight about it. We’ve called attention to it publicly and it’s something we’ve decided we want in the game. It makes it more fun. It can shake things up. Please don’t judge based on knee jerk reactions. Try it. Or watch more streams with people doing it.

Smedley also outlined a number of changes that Sony Online Entertainment is making to the airdrop system, all of which ought to make airdrops even more difficult to collect. Smedley’s comments failed to mollify some of the complaints, that continue to argue that airdrops represent a pay-to-win mechanic.

Screengrab by Dennis Scimeca

While H1Z1 players continue to argue amongst themselves about the difference between a “crate” and an “airdrop,” casting back to Clegg’s comments on the livestream, and whether or not supplies that one can purchase but not automatically receive still constitutes “pay to win,” Smedley announced that anyone who purchased H1Z1 via Early Access on Steam and who wants a refund will be granted one. These refunds will not go through Steam, but directly through Sony Online Entertainment.

Because H1Z1 is still in development, everything that is currently true about airdrops and their associated mechanics could be completely different mere weeks from now. Owing to today’s fracas, there will undoubtedly be plenty of consumers who hold off on thinking about playing H1Z1 until it is closer to release and these decisions are closer to being finalized.

Rarely are incidents like these addressed so quickly, i.e. offering refunds inside of a 24-hour period. Any company that develops online games faces an audience that is already more connected and vocal online by default than audiences for other types of games, and therefore a long-running MMO developer like Sony Online Entertainment is well-advised to execute nimble responses such as these.

However, the emotionally sensitive, core gaming community has a very long memory when it comes to this sort of thing. Whether fair or not, if H1Z1 does not perform well in the marketplace, critics will inevitably point back at this incident as a root cause no matter how quickly SOE responded.

Illustration via Sony Online Entertainment

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*First Published: Jan 17, 2015, 1:25 am CST