Payday 3 has not had the smoothest of launches, with PCG's Tyler Colp finding some positives in the latest instalment of Starbreeze's heist-em-up, but concluding that much of it "needs a rework." Players were similarly unimpressed with elements like the progression system, the always-online requirement combined with matchmaking woes, various stability issues and then the cherry on top: a "critical error in our backend" that delayed the release of the first patches considerably.
The upshot? Over 36,000 "Mixed" Steam reviews, only 40% of which are positive, and a playerbase that looks like a fraction of what Payday 2 had going. At the time of writing just under 30,000 people are playing Payday 2, while 605 are playing Payday 3. Starbreeze is in trouble with this game and seems to have been caught completely off-guard by the sheer negativity of the reaction. It's one of those things where players who love Payday 2 really love Payday 2, so the sequel's issues are seen by some as almost an affront.
So what's the plan? Well, we don't know yet, but the plan is definitely to come up with a plan. Over to Starbreeze:
"We're well aware that many of you aren't satisfied with the game the way it is in its current state," says a new blogpost credited to Almir Listo (brand director and community lead) and the Payday 3 team. "Since launch, we've been reading your valuable feedback [which] helps us massively and is crucial to the continued development of Payday 3."
Listo says that "we've put together a strike team of veteran developers from the design, community, communication and production teams with the focus on bringing Payday 3 up to where it will meet your expectations.
"This team is currently creating a plan, deciding what will shape the game into the heisting experience you expect from a PAYDAY sequel in both the short & long term."
There's undoubtedly something amusing about a heist game assembling a grizzled crew of old-timers for One Last Job, and I reached out to ask Starbreeze about the main problems it is focused on, and who these veterans are. What are the primary complaints that Starbreeze is concerned about and intends to address?
"We are currently looking at two different categories of feedback: our feature upvote page and the input from our community in our social media channels and forums," said a Starbreeze rep. "We will be able to talk more in detail about what specific improvements we are looking to do when we communicate our roadmap in February. But in general it comes down to server and matchmaking experience, user experience and our players' requests for features and improvements.
"We will not be able to do everything at once, and it is essential to conduct a realism check on some of the feature requests. But with this initiative we want to make sure we properly investigate what we can do, how, and when."
So not an enormous amount more detail, but players will at least be pleased by the general areas of focus. Starbreeze doesn't mention the progression system, which is the subject of enormous community ire still, but if the studio really is listening then that little phrase "user experience" may prove crucial for Payday 3's future prospects.
As for the veteran heist crew assembled for one last grizzled job, I asked who they were and where they came from.
"During the fall and winter we conducted a post-mortem with an external party that, together with the sentiment of our community, have led us to a clear understanding of what we need to do," said Starbreeze. "The staff included in the strike team is put together based on those findings and are a mix of Payday 3/2 veterans as well as staff members from other projects that provide their expertise from working on games in similar situations at other studios."
Starbreeze says to expect concrete details in February sometime, when "we will communicate a plan detailing the upcoming improvements and when you can expect to see them in the game." Whether this will be enough to pull Payday 3 out of what looks like a bit of a tailspin remains to be seen, but at least getting the old gang back together is thematically appropriate.