Project Zomboid was first released as a tech demo in April 2011, preceding releasing on Steam in November 2013. It had something of a rough ride in those early years, with the game being leaked and, an infamous story at the time, the burglary of two laptops containing a lot of code which hadn't been backed up: Developers The Indie Stone would, rather winningly, proceed to give an industry talk named 'How (Not) To Make a Game'.
It currently looks like Indie Stone should compose another presentation: How to transform your passion project into a viral hit ten-and-a-half years after release. While every other person was scoffing turkey and leftovers, Project Zomboid's player numbers have been going through the roof. The cause is a major update that basically overhauls the game starting from the earliest stage.
It can't be over-emphasized the amount Build 41 further developed Project Zomboid. Among many different things it introduced a new animation and development system, vastly improved multiplayer functionality, a new city, a new combat system, a lot of new systems for things like injuries and foraging, and such a large number of different things to list. It almost feels like the engineer might have just stuck a 2 on the end and sold this as the sequel.
The rise in players coincides with the form's release: in November 2021 it averaged around 7,000 daily players, a profoundly respectable figure for an indie game anyway, yet from early December the player numbers start to go through the roof. Zomboid had never broken five figures before yet on December 9 the test branch of this new update was released and it smashed through.
The full update was released on December 20: Project Zomboid at the hour of writing has just under 48,000 individuals playing, and three days ago hit its all-time record of 65,505 players.
I asked Chris Simpson, coder and MD at The Indie Stone, about this wild development. Is everything about form 41?
"We knew we had something special brewing with fabricate 41," writes Simpson. "The response from our local area in the long beta was overwhelmingly positive about the improvement to the game over previous builds, and the information on what multiplayer would add to it made us sure that if we would stick the landing and convey non-broken multiplayer that we'd get a greater spike of interest to what in particular we're used to.
"We were hoping for a major spike of interest of course, yet hoping and expecting are two totally various things, and the ridiculous magnitude of it was impossible to anticipate. The game competing in the best ten during the winter sale seems like science fiction frankly."