RGS: Payday 2 and Post Release Support

RGS, or Really Good Stuff, is where I look through the games I play and pick out cool features about them that are worth talking about. It might be gameplay, art, business or even just the whole package.

Update: added information on #BailoutHoxton

Update 2: An addendum to this post about the recent crime fest is forth coming

I’ve realised for a while that my gameplay style is one of breadth rather than depth – I don’t spend huge amounts of time playing a single game. Instead I delve into my collection and play a lot of different games. So for this reason I never delve too deepish into multiplayer. There are however a few exceptions. Payday 2, Overkill and Starbreeze’s heist em’up is one such game.

So here is a question, Why? Well in one part its down to my friend’s playing it (nearly every night in fact) but another part comes down to how the game has managed to keep updating and changing itself at an almost constant pace.

I must point out before I begin that I’m not a megafan of the game – it has its many flaws(don’t get me started on the loot system), I don’t play it every night and I’m not quite up to date with the paid for DLC.

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The Details

Since release in August 2013, Payday 2 has had 37 patches (not including hotfixes). These patches have been made freely available to all and are delivered via Steam, a cornerstone to the game’s success. Many of these patches are simple fixes – replacing sounds, fixing bugs and other minor tweaks needed to keep the game in the best condition.

However, there are also some other, much larger patches. Some of these are standalones, introducing large amounts of content or engine overhauls without the player having to pay for them. Examples of this include Patch 20 (which added the Go Bank heist as a Christmas event), Patch 22 (which added a prestige style feature called Infamy) and Patch 24 (that introduced the Deathwish difficulty mode to increase the challenge to players), all three large feature sets that changed how the game is played. Other patches change the game engine – Patch 33 massively overhauled the networking code (a vital part of a co-op focused game) while Patches 13 and 26 modified the stealth system in order to make it a more viable way to play the game. These patches also added additional enemies, bringing back the Cloaker from the first game as well as an additional gang of goons to take the player on.

Finally, and most importantly, there are the DLC patches. These are tied into content packs, usually priced between $5 and $7 and in many cases worth every penny. The most common are weapon packs, provided (according to the game’s fiction) by Gage, a wheelchair bound war vet who provides you with a selection of firearms. All these weapons are incredibly detailed, with custom animations, lovely ingame models and a whole host of attachments to add (if you can get them from the labyrinth of the loot system). Many packs also introduce new weapon types to the game, adding machine guns and sniper rifles to change up playstyles massively. The weapon focused packs include multiple weapons (often based around a theme) as well as new masks for your character and achievements, some of which help to unlock the rest of the DLC content. Another Gage pack is one that unlocks several packs of weapon attachments, as long as you can collect the packages. Some of these packs also included tweaks to main game such as the addition of frag grenades, melee weapons and shotgun ammo types. Overkill can be see frequently to massively overhaul the game when it matches up to player requests and their vision.

For some players, the more exciting DLC packs are the heists. These add new missions into the world of Payday and often are very different beasts to the set included in the base game. The key ones so are Armoured Transports (a set of four heists and one secret job as well as new guns and masks) and the Big Bank (a huge heist that adds a pre-planning feature to the game while also including a new gun, masks and achievements) but it is highly likely there will be more soon, especially with the frequent comments relating to a certain character from the first game. With these packs, anyone can play the jobs as long as the host has bought the DLC.

The content patches (both paid for and non-paid for) are nearly always advertised by Overkill on their site in a long webpage unveiled over several days – the first day shows the basic page, the next the first set of items/features before the last releases all the information, including additional achievements for the players that way included. A good example is the last two DLCs – the Gage Assault pack themed after the Battlefield games, as can be seen in its colour scheme and distorted soundtrack,  and the Hotline Miami DLC, which brings the neon glow of the murder em up to the street of Washington (along with some themed weapons, masks and achievements). These pages are a delight to read – teasers of weapons lead to speculation, pulling fans together to throw ideas and try to be the one to shout “Ha, I told you so”.  Overkill also like to use other teasers for future content, from youtube videos to replacing the game’s intro with one forecasting future events, often with a live action sequence that continues on the web series.

Finally, Overkill tempts players to join the community by offering exclusive guns and masks to anyone who join up to the Steam community page. Its only a small feature but it does help to draw players even further into the game. This was also helped by the Crimefest event, where extra players joining the community would provide additional bonuses such as new guns and additional heists and masks.

The game has done massively well for itself – it managed to turn around the fate of its developer. They are also planning to keep it in constant update for the next two years which is another great sign as to how well its working.

A poster advertising one of the Heists included in a free update – This once requires stealth to complete, a good test of the mechanics changed in several patches close to its release

Why Does It Work?

First of all, the base game is good. Otherwise, players wouldn’t have any desire to spend money on these packs and keep the ball rolling. The game provides a unique co-op experience, something that can require the planning of a MMO raid but with a greater level of action – very different to its closest rival for four player co-op, Left 4 Dead. I could write tonnes about various parts of the game (and probably will write something about the music system) because it has so much going for it.

Second, the patches and updates are constant and consistent. 37 patches in just over a year? Either your games super buggy or you want to keep people playing. Their patching system can be a little problematic, requiring lots of extra space during the process, but the process up to the patch, especially the DLC ones, is full of player interaction. Patch notes are pored over, trailers watched and teasers sites ripped to pieces.

Third, the developers listen to the community. Now, this is a double edged sword – the people shouting the loudest is not often the representative of the masses and so you get the crazy hard additions to the game. But they are willing to overhaul key elements of the game’s workings in order to keep people entertained. This constant change can be a little confusing, with the playstyles of the moment rocking back and forth but better a developer listen and change to much than not at all.

A major example of this is the #BailoutHoxton situation. Between Payday and Payday 2, Overkill changed two of its main character voice actors, replacing Dallas and Hoxton with brand new, all american VA. The fans were not happy – Dallas’s voice was quickly changed but it seems that Hoxton’s original voice, Pete Gold and his glorious Sheffield accent, was slightly harder to get hold of. A dedicated fan campaign later, and Old Hoxton has become tied into story of Payday 2 from his Christmas album to the upcoming free Hoxton heist.

Fourth, the game was designed with constant expansion in mind. The rather irritating missions system, which doesn’t present you with a simple list but rather populates a map with random jobs, makes a lot of sense when factor in designers wanting a simple yet narratively suitable interface for choosing your next heist while at the same time letting them slot extra missions onto the list of possibles. The huge number of weapon slots make a lot more sense when you have a huge number of guns. It is also a game whose idea lends itself well to expansions – choosing jobs rather then being led through a single story removes some of the issues singleplayer games have when they add extra plot 6 months down the line.

Fifth, the developers knew not everyone would buy the DLC. Just because people haven’t bought the DLC, doesn’t mean they don’t like your game. It could be that don’t play it enough to justify the costs to themselves or maybe they are just fine with the guns they have, thank you very much. Letting players join heists they don’t own, adding new features that they can try out and keeping them in the loop helps to keep the fanbase whole and give the potential to convert new players over.

 

What Can We Learn From It?

  1. Plan ahead – Make it easier on yourself and make it less of a slog to add new content.
  2. Listen to your fans. ALL of your fans, not just the loudest guy in the room.
  3. Give everything to the one paying, but always give something to the little guy who doesn’t. Maybe you’ll tempt him in one day
  4. Make your content worth your player’s time and money.
  5. Make game gud.

That's right Dallas, make game gud