Ah, the survival genre. With well-known titles such as RUST and DayZ, and later on with Sony Online Entertainment’s H1Z1, it has become a massively popular genre to play. The story of H1Z1 is more than just another survival game turned Battle Royale. The rise and fall of H1Z1 is a story both amusing and tragic at the same time, which shows how you can have a great product, a great game idea in your hands yet execute it so poorly that everyone who believed in your game will eventually leave. Well… mostly everyone.
H1Z1, also known as Z1 Battle Royale (amongst many other names) was first developed by SOE (Sony Online Entertainment) with the hope of being their next big thing after their popularity kinda started to fade. They used to be a great game studio with titles such as EverQuest, Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online, and many more, but by now they were fading steadily by the wayside.
SOE and later Daybreak Game Company decided to work with PlayerUnknown to develop what was meant to be a survival game combined with a shooter, which was pretty much unknown by January 2015 when it was released in early access.
H1Z1 Early access
It’s 2022, and nowadays we’re way cooler with the idea of a paid early access game. Heck, we even get very hyped when a great title gets early access, however, in 2015 things were not exactly as they are today.
When H1Z1 was released in early 2015 and adopted the paid early access funding system people were not impressed. Paying for an incomplete game hoping they *might* deliver a fully working and polished version one day simply wasn’t a popular and accepted model back then.
That did not stop them though. The game had a great idea, a survival game where you are wandering a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies, a deadly virus that infects people, and only your wits to guide you. You would have to craft, build your base, and keep yourself alive while at the same time competing with other human beings wanting the same thing.
Combining an online shooter with a PvE was definitely a novelty back then so they were in for a good game.
Managing to sell over 1 MILLION copies of the game on Steam in early access, life was good. The people were happy with the game and for an early access title, it wasn’t half bad.
The game grew rapidly on Twitch and YouTube sparking the career of many streamers such as Dr. Disrespect. They even had their own Esports league. It really looked like the game will be a massive hit.
The controversy started to form when the company behind the game would not keep its promises. Initially, they announced that there will not be any Pay To Win aspects in H1Z1 and the only things you could buy with microtransactions would be cosmetic stuff with no influence on the gameplay.
They made it very clear right from the start that airdrops, weapons, ammo, and meds would not be purchasable with money to avoid a P2W scenario. To the early adopters of the game, this did sound good. A well-balanced game with no advantage for the people who spend money in the game would mean the survival and victory of the most skilled player, right? …Right?
No. Not by far. Just months later they added airdrops that can be purchased with money. These airdrops would grant weapons, heals, and ammo thus favoring the player who has money to spend. When faced with the controversy, Daybreak president John Smedley simply said “if you think it’s pay to win, don’t buy it, don’t play it”.
However, all of these wouldn’t have really been enough to kill the game had it been any good. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Right from the start, the game was plagued with bugs. From hitboxes being utterly abominable to players being invisible, invincible, or simply way too glitched, the game had its fair share of bugs. Almost everything on H1Z1 had bugs at some point in time and Daybreak was focused on adding more and more stuff to the game rather than fixing the already existing issues.
The servers were often down due to either DDoS attacks or technical issues, ping/latency was a real issue and was further exacerbated by the Chinese players joining other region’s servers because Asia servers were even worse. The upshot of this was that the Chinese players introduced even more latency and lag onto the other region servers.
The PvE part of the game was not spared either. It was reported that zombies would often be too slow to react, would get bugged out or the frame rate would drop often. Combined with login issues and a lack of voice chat, people were not happy.
2015 would continue to be a bad year for H1Z1 especially after hacker group Lizard Squad kept DDoSing their servers and introducing even more downtime as a response to CEO John Smedley calling them out. Shortly after that, John Smedley left Daybreak to form another company.
Many argue that might have been beneficial for Daybreak as Smedley has done his fair share of damage to the company and the H1Z1 title, but things were not looking good for the game. That summer in 2015 the game barely managed to hold around 20.000 – 25.000 at a player peak on Steam.
Bugs and downtime issues would continue to plague the game for months until updates were released, and every time a new patch got released it fixed some bugs and introduced many more. Today, H1Z1 still is a buggy mess.
I took the screenshot down below today, 8th of January 2022 and we still have bugs like this in the game. Yes. that picture frame is just floating in mid-air in that house.
Splitting H1Z1 into 2 different games and even more bugs
To make matters even worse, by February 2016 Daybreak decided it would be a good idea to split the player base into two different games, a Battle Royale and a Survival H1Z1. The new games would be called:
- H1Z1: Just Survive
- H1Z1: King of the Kill (Battle Royale)
The fear amongst the players was the inevitably one of them will eclipse the other sucking even more of the development time.
At the point of the split, Daybreak claimed they’ve surpassed 2.5 Million downloads in the first year of early access which was impressive for 2015 standards.
2016 would not be a good year for H1Z1 either. A few updates for bug fixes and content were added a few months apart, but it’s at this time that the Steam comments section was filled with bug reports and people’s frustration with the game being glitchy as all hell.
Going through walls, getting stuck in a roof, mouse control being an absolute mess and so much more.
The console was no more…
In September 2016 Daybreak announced officially that they are pulling the Xbox and PlayStation variant of the game because they cannot afford to spread the studio’s resources so thin, and will instead concentrate on the PC version.
This is particularly a bad move when you consider how popular titles like Rust became on the console.
The heyday of H1Z1 in early 2017
Following this, in 2017 Daybreak managed to get H1Z1 to its peak after finally pushing some quality of life updates to smooth things out, fix the bugs, add leaderboards, tweak the UI, new map, and so on. Bugs were still present, but for the first time in 2 years, the game was playable. This was definitely felt in the population of the game as it saw some spikes in the total players.
It’s the well-known Season 3 of H1Z1 and its pre-Season which remains the most popular season of the game.
By 2017 H1Z1 King of the Kill would change its name again into simply H1Z1. Following the rebranding, Daybreak announced the H1Z1 Fight For the Crown Tournament which would air on The CW in prime time. This has helped the game a lot with the total players jumping to almost 100.000 peak which was massive for the game considering its very rough start.
The game even made it to Steam’s most-played charts briefly. It looked like Daybreak finally had a formula that would work. Don’t get me wrong, bugs and glitches were still very much a thing, but compared to the previous 2 years, they were far less annoying.
It’s at this point in H1Z1’s life when it started to really skyrocket on Twitch and YouTube with Dr. Disrespect, Ninja, TinTheTatman, and Lirik making content on it. Following the success, Daybreak would double-down with even more good updates which added spectating, shotgun balancing, and other bug fixes.
All these combined would result in H1Z1 reaching its player peak at 150.179 players total in July 2017.
And down we go…
August 2017 was not a great month for H1Z1 unfortunately. Following more hotfix updates that caused even more bugs and downtime due to the update not installing correctly for many players, the population of the game took yet another hit.
They introduced the infamous Hellfire 4-5 SMG which nobody needed and nobody asked for. An OP, poorly balanced weapon, that would favor a spray meta up close and would eliminate players in a heartbeat giving very little time to react.
Many players have left the game due to this weapon and never come back.
Things were not looking good for the H1Z1 Just Survive mode either. They’ve released an update that removed the player housing feature and forced everyone to build only on designated strongholds because of cited server issues caused by the builds.
Yes, an update that removed functionality instead of adding any. Not to mention the mode was significantly less popular than the Battle Royale H1Z1.
Then they dropped the bomb…
In August 2017 they’ve released the H1Z1 Combat Update which changed spray patterns for many of the weapons and tweaked movement. An update that was received very poorly by the community. It has essentially changed the game too radically and this took a severe toll on the player count.
From here things start going downhill fast. In September 2017 Daybreak started copying more and more the newly popular PUBG to the point where H1Z1 became a buggy mess of failed attempts.
By now their peak player count was around 60.000 players. A massive drop in the span of just 2 months. Whatever success Daybreak had initially, it was now rapidly vanishing. The Steam comment section by now was filled with pleas to go back to Preseason 3 when the game was at its peak.
In just the span of a few months, the Steam comment section reflects how negative the perception of this game has become. The writing was on the wall for H1Z1 when players started to say “I’d rather buy WinRAR than this game”.
The official H1Z1 Pro League announced in October of 2017 was another complete fiasco resulting in barely any benefit for the game but sparking yet more controversy after salaries were not paid and allegations of abuse surfaced.
H1Z1 would have another short-lived success at Twitchcon with the event called H1Z1 Invitational which garnered a lot of views and increase the game population once more, but it will fall back down to around 20.000 shortly after.
H1Z1 leaves Early Access
Finally, in 2018 H1Z1 left Early Access and added a mode called Auto Royale which would play exclusively with cars and it was relatively well-received. The price was now dropped and the game became Free To Play.
This has initially sparked a rise in the player population back to around 40k players, but it will soon fall back down a month later. It was by this point that the ties of Daybreak to ColumbusNova have come back to bite their rear sparking even more controversy and putting Daybreak in hot waters again.
In June 2018 H1Z1 would launch again in Open Beta on PS4 following delays since the announcement in April, and while mildly successful, the success was not enough and Daybreak was now hit with employee layoffs. About 79 employees of Daybreak were laid off at once.
While the game remains available today on PlayStation, the lobbies are mostly 18-20 people instead of 100 and take forever to load. It’s clear H1Z1 isn’t massive on console either and to be brutally honest it’s a surprise anybody at all still plays.
H1Z1: Just Survive did not survive
In October 2018 seeing no financial reason to keep it alive anymore, Daybreak has officially shut down the survival H1Z1 called H1Z1 Just Survive. The mode that sparked the whole idea of H1Z1 was no more.
They were right. It did not make much sense to keep it up. By the time it was shut down their peak game population for survival was a tiny bit more than 1000 players. That’s nothing.
In the years after 2018, not much interesting stuff happened to H1Z1. It has continued to decline steadily and by January 2022 the player population is in the hundreds. Lobbies are 15-20 players at most and really the game isn’t in any better shape.
2020 saw almost no updates thanks in part to the global pandemic and in part to the lack of user interest. People are just not playing this anymore having long moved to PUBG, Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call Of Duty Warzone, and other Battle Royale games who have played their cards better.