On Project Zomboid and Not Being a Jerk On the Internet

Project Zomboid isn’t quite dead-by-real-life (the tag below notwithstanding), but that doesn’t mean that life hasn’t given the project a few sound wallops with murderous intent. First Paypal froze their account. Then Google Checkout decided to do the same. Then pirates created an auto-updating pirated build of the game which threatened to kill them with bandwidth fees.

And now, this:


That’s one of the Project Zomboid devs posting on Twitter upon learning that two of the team’s development laptops had been stolen right out of his bedroom. Those laptops contained both the most recent build of the game, as well as the team’s back-ups of that build. Upon hearing about this, fans of the game reacted with torrents of abuse, prompting Chris Simpson (a.k.a. Lemmy) to give up his position as the public face of Project Zomboid.

The fan reaction to this unfortunate turn of events irritates me. On a general level, it is a pretty miserable thing to heap abuse on someone when they’re down. With indie developers, however, treating them this way also threatens to destroy one of the very things that makes indie development so wonderful: the close, open relationships indie developers tend to enjoy with their fans. Watching this latest incident with Project Zomboid is like watching one of those lovely, open relationships disintegrating in slow motion:

I’m stopping this blog, I’m keeping twitter closed, steering clear of the forums. The other guys can do interviews and deal with the emails. No one put ‘must have thick skin’ (or ‘must make nightly off-site backups, for that matter) in my game programmer job description. People assume I ‘should have thicker skin’ but there you go, I don’t. I got into this because I love making games and none of those skills relate in the slightest to being able to withstand torrents of abuse, and despite the support and the attention it’s made me scared to open my e-mails. I sit there with the ‘new email’ notification haunting me, and I’ve been guaranteed to read something that makes me want to cry every day for the past few months. This is only going to be 100x harder now, so I’m bugging out of all that. It’ll kill me otherwise.

Could the Project Zomboid team could have done more to back up their game? Absolutely. But this is a small team working out of an apartment, not a professional organization with sacks of cash and personnel to throw at protecting against wild contingencies. The PZ team was victimized by criminals: to respond by attacking the developers is a pure, stomach-turning example of blaming the victim.

Being an indie developer should not mean having to deal with a constant, unrelenting tide of insults and personal attacks.

Remember, folks: developers are just people who happen to be making (extremely complicated) programs for your enjoyment. And what’s more, they will read your remarks. It’s easy to forget that when we post online, we aren’t just venting privately to friends: we’re making a permanent, searchable record that anyone in the world can read. The subject of your rant is almost certain to find it. Every comment you make offers up a right behind you moment. So, if you have feedback to offer, type it out with the expectation that the person on the other end of the computer is going to hear and be affected by what you say.

Or, as Bill and Ted once succinctly decreed: be excellent to each other.

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  • skavenhorde says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I was online when that whole mess ensued and couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy. Sorta wish he could have gone to a friends house, gotten drunk and played some killed a bunch of bad guys in some FPS.

    The thing that really annoyed me was when people starting saying it was a scam. Well you know what if it is a scam then I’ve had a ton of fun with this scam. I’ve played that alpha they’ve released over and over again. I’ve gotten my measly 10 pounds back (bought it when they had to sell those “fake” games during the whole paypal/google mess).

    I really don’t understand people at all anymore, if I ever did. At our worst humans are mean, spiteful little demons. The internet seems to bring out the worst in people.

  • Gazillion says:

    Not so much the internet as anonymity.

    I can’t give them too much crap for not having an offsite backup… I work for a small web development company and we don’t even use an SVN for all our different products. Our backups are done once a week but the guy in charge often forgets to do them and when he does it’s on a crappy external HDD he brings back home with him. The day something bad happens I will crawl up in a ball and cry (I don’t use twitter so I don’t have the ability to vent like he did hah!)

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  • Van says:

    No nononono, no.
    When almost the exact same thing happened to me everyone in the indie scene, or rather everyone who vocalized it, leapt on me and savaged me and my company.
    The same thing happens and now people finally decide to grow a heart?
    I don’t think I like this.

  • lajcik says:

    @Gazillion: I’m sorry, what? You work for a company that can’t afford to shell out $10-15/month for VCS hosting? That’s just plain stupid. For indie devs working on a project there are a number of VCS hosts that allow having one private repository for free. Hell, you could even use dropbox if you can’t google.

    So please don’t come up with excuses for not using a version control system, or performing backups because it only shows your own incompetence.

  • Craig Stern says:

    @lajcik: let’s keep it civil in here.

  • lajcik says:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult or upset anyone with my previous comment. I guess I could have put it a little better. Know that I do feel sorry for the guys and I sympathize – I know what it feels like to lose a lot of work just like that. It’s in the top 3 of the most discouraging things that can happen to a software developer. I also agree that the overall reaction on the internet to their situation was bad.

    But! I really don’t like when people make up excuses or patronize others. Things like being a small team, having a small budget or working out of your apartment really aren’t an issue when it comes to backups or unwanted downloads. You only need some experience or foresight to come up with measures that will help you minimise the impact of any unexpected surprises. Even if you don’t have experience you just need to google a bit or ask. Information like that is plastered all over the internet, so if you’re at least a little bit invested in what you’re doing you’ll find simple and reliable advice on anything.

    I know it’s easy to say all that once you have that kind of experience behind you, I guess everyone needs to learn this kind of stuff the hard way. They probably knew it themselves, just thought that this kind of stuff happens to other people, not them. In truth most of us are at least a little guilty of this type of thinking (I know I am), it’s just the way of life 🙂

    All in all, I hope the guys learn from their misfortunes and that they never have to go through stuff like this again 🙂

  • Dan says:

    I am a bit confused when developers claim that losing work will kill a project. While losing work sucks and is very disheartening at the time, you should have already iterated on so many of the features that a lot more work is done than you think.

    Losing art assets sucks for sure, but losing scripting and programming can sometimes help a project because it forces you to tackle issues again. Not only should you be able to be faster the second time around, you should be able to be more organized. Losing X amount of days just means it is time to buckle down and get back to where you were faster and better than the first time.

    Sure it sucks, but I am always a bit wary when projects use it as an excuse for cancelling it altogether. No one said making a great game was going to be easy or that there would be no bumps along the way.


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