Project Zomboid first appeared as a tech demo in April 2011. It was released on Steam in November 2013. The game had a rough start, with leaked code and infamous stories like the theft of two laptops that contained a lot of code. Developers The Indie Stone would go on to present an industry talk entitled “How (Not) to Make a Game”.

Indie Stone now needs to present another presentation on how to make your passion project a viral success ten-and a half years after its release. Project Zomboid’s user numbers have been growing at an alarming rate, while everyone else was eating leftovers and turkey. This is due to a major update which basically rewrites the entire game.

It is hard to overstate how Build 41 made Project Zomboid better. It introduced a new animation system and movement system, greatly improved multiplayer functionality and a new city. There was also a new combat system and a number of new systems to help with injuries and foraging. The developer could have added a 2 to the end and made this a sequel.

The build’s release coincides with a rise in players: In November 2021, it averaged about 7,000 daily users, which is a respectable number for an indie game. But, from December, the player numbers begin to soar. Zomboid hadn’t ever broken five figures, but the new update’s test branch was released on December 9, and it crushed all records.

On December 20, Project Zomboid released the complete update. Project Zomboid currently has less than 48,000 players and, three days ago, it had reached its all-time record at 65,505 users.

Chris Simpson, coder at The Indie Stone and MD, was my first question about this bizarre turn of events. What is it all about?

Simpson writes that “We knew there was something special in build 41.” The long beta received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the game’s improvements over previous builds. We also knew that multiplayer would bring new levels of excitement to the game, so we were confident that if the landing was successful and we delivered non-broken multiplayer, we’d see a greater spike in interest than what we’re used too.

We were expecting a huge spike in interest, but anticipating and hoping are completely different things. The sheer magnitude of it was unimaginable. It seems almost like science fiction that a game could be in the top ten during winter sale.

Project Zomboid is a streamer favorite that has been around for a while. Its multiplayer survival mechanics are a great fit for roleplaying and have always enjoyed some popularity.

Simpson says that players love to play characters in the zombie apocalypse and live their own Walking Dead. We’ve noticed a significant increase in people watching this type of content on Twitch. GTA RP is a popular thing, where streamers love to play characters in serverwide stories and other such things. My wife has been involved in this scene for quite some time and it was obvious that our game is the perfect platform for such fun.

The biggest reason Build 41 is more appealing than B40 apart from the fact that it has a more solid multiplayer is the character customization, animation, and combat overhaul. This makes a big difference in how the game feels and looks. This makes the game more accessible and visually appealing to players who had tended not to play with us because of our immersive FPS experiences.

Project Zomboid streamers on Twitch are currently viewed by 31,000 viewers at the time of this writing. Not bad for a game still in early access. The Indie Stone’s forums and blogs are clear that this is both a studio and collective that is passionate about a project. If there isn’t a lot of love, you won’t spend as much time working on a game.

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However, I find it strange that the ‘early-access’ label is still there. Simpson was curious about Simpson’s passion for the game. Will Project Zomboid ever achieve the Platonic ideal?

Simpson writes, “Well, we won’t stop until we consider the game ‘done,’ and we love it dearly, but it has been a decade.” There’s a burning desire for something new that every game developer feels after a year or so. We have been suppressing that long enough! We’ll continue with Early Access until it’s ‘done.’ It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be something we can look back on and not regret it. It’s very clear what these things would be and why we wouldn’t have done them. It will go 1.0, I believe. Many of us will be satisfied and eager to try new things after having spent a lot of time on Zomboid.

Simpson states that 1.0 “wouldn’t be the end” of support for the game, and the studio, as it has done in the past, does not impose any deadline. Simpson writes that “We’re tortoises and not hares” and has always ensured we win the race whenever our builds are released. It will be completed when all features on our internal checklist have been checked and are solidified, and all the janky and archaic elements of our game have been removed. We’ll continue to add stuff to complete the game’s other elements.

It is hard to emphasize enough how amazing Project Zomboid has been in its sudden popularity explosion. This 11-year-old indie game has been supported and updated over the years and suddenly has a wider audience. It is a testament not only to the dedication of its creators but also to the support and encouragement provided by the community over the long period. This is undeniably a vindication – this game clearly has something special.

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