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The H1Z1 saga has taken yet another bizarre, confusing twist, as developer NantG Mobile has announced that it is giving up on the newly-renamed Z1 Battle Royale and returning it to original developer Daybreak Games. The studio did not confirm that the change has resulted in layoffs, as reported last week by Massively Overpowered, but said that it "will focus on its core mission of developing mobile games moving forward," and has "refocused our team toward this vision."
A little history probably wouldn't hurt, given all that's happened so far. H1Z1 originally went live on Steam Early Access in 2015, and then split into two games in 2016: H1Z1: Just Survive, the multiplayer survival game, and H1Z1: King of the Kill, a competitive battle royale. The following year, the H1Z1 bit was cut from the first game, leaving it as Just Survive (which was closed in August 2018), while King of the Kill went back to being just H1Z1, and was then rebranded to Z1 Battle Royale last year. And after all that dicking around, we're right back where we started, except with a battle royale instead of a survival game.
"Despite the team’s determination and commitment to revive Z1BR’s player base with our recent Season 3 launch update, we soon realized that the road is still paved with many challenges that preclude us from long-term success, including the confusion it caused by having both NantG Mobile and Daybreak managing the same game under two separate brands," NantG announced on Steam.
"Based on these events and the current state of the game, NantG Mobile will focus on its core mission of developing mobile games moving forward, and we have refocused our team toward this vision."
NantG said that Daybreak has committed to keeping the Z1 Battle Royale servers online and continuing development of the game, and that it's working with Daybreak to help ensure a smooth transition. I've emailed Daybreak for more information and will update if I receive a reply.
Update: Daybreak has posted a message on Steam saying that it is reacting to NantG's decision to drop Z1BR "in real-time," and thus still formulating its plans for the game's long-term future.
"We can share today that servers will remain up, that we have no plans to change the name of the game, or make any other big changes that will affect your current Z1BR gameplay experience. Our number one goal throughout this entire transition is to make sure there is minimal disruption to the game’s service," the studio said. "That means you can still expect to receive Z1BR news through existing Z1BR community channels. It also means that we’ll continue to support the game—through hotfixes, live maintenance, other service updates—as our team works to get back up to speed."
"Z1BR is a game that so many of us here at Daybreak have worked on and supported in myriad ways over the years, and we want to do right by our community. As we work through this transition, we only ask for your continued patience as we prepare our plans for the game’s future."
An estimated 13 employees were laid off by NantG as a result of the decision to drop the game, according to Gamasutra, nearly all of whom had been working on Z1 Battle Royale. The bulk of those employees came over to NantG from Daybreak to work on the game, but will only be given severance for their time at NantG, which one former employee said means that some of them will lose out on "upwards of 18 years worth of seniority."
H1Z1's third season arrived today, as well as a rebranding to Z1 Battle Royale, marking the third name change the game has undergone (originally, it was called H1Z1: King of the Kill). More than just the name has changed: a new developer, NantG, has taken the helm and is promising to revitalize the game by 'restoring' a number of its old features like animations, vehicle mechanics, guns and combat, and even the map itself to bring it back to "the glory days."
It's an interesting strategy, I guess: reverting the game back to how it was during the height of its popularity (and it was extremely popular) and undoing many of the changes fans have disagreed with over the past few years. Nothing seems to have gone untouched, including the UI:
"The first thing you see when you launch a game is the loading screens and the front end user interface," the patch notes read. "It is a massive point of nostalgia for players and we knew we had to get it in for this patch."
The clock has also been turned back on many of the weapons' recoil, sway, and bullet speed, and the patch even goes so far as to completely remove the 'points of interest' that were added to the map over the past couple years. It also restores the lighting, textures, trees, and roads from the King of the Kill era. Wow. It's like a remaster, but in reverse. A de-master?
It's not just old stuff making a return, there's some new stuff as well, like an in-match mission system, new daily and weekly challenges, and more. Is this what H1Z1—er, Z1BR—needs to pull players back in? Well, it peaked at about 13,000 concurrent players today, which is more than the typical 1,500 or so I've been seeing in the past few days. It'll be interesting to see if they stick around.
Here's a look at Z1BR's extensive patch notes and Season 3 skins.