If you’ve been on ROBLOX for a while, DeadzoneZackZak is probably a familiar name — he’s made some of this platform’s biggest games, including Battlefield and Deadzone. He’s been featured in multiple blog articles, and his name, which is Nelson, is now featured elsewhere: the Steam games store. The 16-year-old developer has just released Unturned as a free-to-play game, and it’s picking up (pardon the pun) steam at an insanely fast speed. Several hundred thousand players have already played the game since its release in late June, and it’s reached a maximum concurrent player count of 30,000 people. On behalf of the ROBLOX staff: congrats Nelson.
This is a story we’ve been waiting to tell. The story of a developer cutting his teeth in game design by rapidly prototyping, publishing, and iterating multiplayer games for millions of players on ROBLOX, and then leveraging what he learned to break into a different gaming marketplace. And though Nelson is busy (as you can imagine) dealing with throngs of fans and responding to passionate feedback, we got a few minutes to chat with him about this milestone.
“I learned a lot about the basics of game design from ROBLOX,” he tells me. “Learning Lua was really helpful. Learning Java is what proved to be a huge boost when I transitioned to Unity.”
Unturned is massive multiplayer sandbox environment where players scrounge through a 3D world to find and build things to survive. Oh, and there are zombies everywhere. If that sounds familiar to another ROBLOX title (hint: Deadzone), that’s because it is. Nelson took several general ideas from his hit ROBLOX title and built on that foundation. Unturned is also being developed iteratively, which is a method emerging as an industry standard way of publishing a game — more and more developers of open-ended games are releasing their projects in “early access” mode and updating and improving them with great respect to community feedback. Though this method seems like a relatively new notion for emerging game studios, this was a (zombie pun) no-brainer for Nelson, who had been developing ROBLOX games this way for years.
“One thing I really like about ROBLOX is how easily you could get anyone to play your game with you,” he recalls. “I decided to make Unturned free so anyone could join and get their friends in there as well.”
“As far as feedback? I think the best way to keep people interested in a free game is to just keep adding what is most requested,” he adds.
He takes me through the laundry list of requests from fans, including reworking the Steamworks networking API to allow for dedicated servers, adding cars that blow up realistically, adding Mac and Linux support, and giving players the ability to shoot weapons out of car windows.
Nelson’s ROBLOX fans helped to turn the game into the uber-popular overnight success it has become – his existing fanbase quickly discovered his project, which immediately injected the game with about 500 players, according to Nelson. Word of mouth spread quickly among fans in the following days, and videos started surfacing on YouTube. It was those videos, according to Nelson, that made his game go viral.
The rest, as they say, is history, and Nelson is making two kinds of it, on two platforms no less. This story solidifies the rock-hard foundation of ROBLOX as a place that can start careers in game development. What started as a passion for gaming turned into a passion for creating and building. This turns invariably into the greatest aspiration a game developer can wish to attain: innovation. Nelson represents that complete path, and as our builders and developers age, we suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more stories like this in the future. We can’t wait to tell them.