Game development

Local cannibalism adventure game is a ‘terrifying hit’ in China

The Christchurch businessman behind a video game in which players can cannibalize their friends says it’s causing him sleepless nights.

But Digital Confectioners director Sam Evans isn’t awake because he’s plagued by nightmares, but because he has to be on call when the game is live in China.

Evans and his game studio created the cannibalistic adventure game Dread Hunger with the aim of attracting around 10,000 players in the United States.

But to his surprise, Dread Hunger became a hit in China, where more than 260,000 people play the game every day, mostly between 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. NZ time.

READ MORE:
* Chinese police have busted the ‘world’s largest video game cheating ring’ worth $107 million
* US accuses 5 Chinese citizens in global hacking campaign
* Emma Keeling: Australian cricketers are like zombies rising from the dead

Digital Confectioners director Sam Evans says the surprise success of his gory cannibalistic survival game in China has resulted in

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Digital Confectioners director Sam Evans said the surprise success of his gory cannibalistic survival game in China had brought “monstrous challenges from every angle”.

Dread Hunger is a survival game set on a ship of arctic explorers in the late 1800s. Players build fires to stay warm, ward off wolves, and hunt for food, including they want it, the human flesh of their shipmates.

The game is not for the faint-hearted with a description on the website stating that players can “collect severed heads and limbs and use them to kill”.

But the game in its gory glory has become a huge hit in China through word of mouth alone.

But Evans says the surprise success of Dread Hunger brought “monstrous challenges from every angle” for the Christchurch company.

“Cybersecurity, our business architecture, staffing, every aspect of our business has been tested by this,” Evans says.

Due to the game’s popularity, it has become a target for DDoS attacks, an unsophisticated hacking method in which hackers attempt to crash a website or server by flooding it with excessive traffic.

But the most frustrating element is that hackers try to find “cheats” in the game, which they then resell to players for a cost.

Cheats are discovered when hackers find a flaw in the game’s code that they can exploit to give players an unfair advantage. Evans says the game’s popularity in China has meant several companies are in an “arms race” to make cheats for Dread Hunger.

“The cheating business is quite lucrative, people buy a subscription to a cheat service for around US$50 (NZ$74) a month. Companies that cheat often have more than 100 employees, and they are very dedicated and very good. But we work on it by beating them.

But among the challenges, there have been incredible successes. Dread Hunger just surpassed one million copies sold, a number that Evans calls “crazy.”

“We would have considered 10,000 a great success. But it is a terrifying success.

Throughout the game’s pre-launch stages, the projected Asian market was less than 1% of the total. Now it’s almost the entire enterprise market.

The huge success in the Chinese market forced Digital Confectioners to completely change the way it markets and develops its game, Dread Hunger.

Provided

The huge success in the Chinese market forced Digital Confectioners to completely change the way it markets and develops its game, Dread Hunger.

“We just didn’t see it coming. We are almost no longer in charge, we just follow and support the game. Trying to give our customers a great experience.

Evans said the Chinese market has forced the company to change the way it operates from providing a product to providing a service.

“The American market largely treats games like a product. They buy the game, they play it for an average of 10 to 15 hours over a few weeks, and then they move on.

“But in China, when they find a game they like, they play it for hundreds of hours for years and years. It has forced us to treat the game as a service. Now we have to focus on the continuous development and regularly updating the game to add more exciting features over time.

But the game was almost not made at all as New Zealand investors were unwilling to deposit the necessary money.

“We were talking to big investors like ACC, who said the biggest they could do was $500,000 spread over several years. To build a game like this is simply not nearly enough.

Because of this, Dread Hunger was built in partnership, with around half of the money coming from the coffers of Digital Confectioners and the other half from American game development company Slowdrive.

Looking ahead, Evans hopes to develop Dread Hunger from a PC-only game to game consoles. But he admits it’s hard to focus on other projects when you have “200,000 people knocking on your door every night to play your game”.

“But at the end of the day, these are good problems that you hope to have,” he says.