Dean Hall is the mastermind behind DayZ, the ultra-popular Arma 2 mod and later standalone game that helped to jumpstart the online zombie survival horror genre. He later left the project to strike out on his own.
"I'm the chief executive of RocketWerkz, I guess," he told Polygon when asked about his job title.
"I'm not actually an employee, which is kind of weird," he explained. "I wanted to pay myself a very low salary, but you can't do that in New Zealand, there is a minimum wage and it's quite high, so I just get paid nothing instead."
I asked about the specifics of how that works. "I don't know, actually, I guess if I don't have a problem with it, then it's not a problem. I do give my lawyers in New Zealand a bit of a headache."
Dean Hall is a game developer who comes complete with an origin story worthy of a super hero. He's confident and warm in person, but it's clear he's always looking for something a bit harder core than most, in his games and his personal life. He told me he's skipping a planned trip to the hot springs since it's a bit touristy. Instead he plans on renting a plane to explore the countryside.
We're sitting together in a hotel lobby in Iceland, discussing the few details he can share about the upcoming game he's working on with his team in London. We know he's still interested in multiplayer experiences where you can actually impact the world and the players around you. The game won't be in first person; he describes the viewpoint as "isometric." He's still interested in survival mechanics. That's pretty much all we know so far.
Why he's picking up his own tab
The game, and the other prototypes that may make it into full development, is completely self-funded.
"The problem is I think I'll only survive in the industry if I'm looking to push and try different stuff ... just trying things, particularly in the area I'm interested in," he explained. He's spoken with people from the investment world, and he hasn't totally written the idea of external investment off, but it's not in the cards for now. The problem isn't the investors.
"I like to think I'm a reasonably selfish person..."
"They were like, you just need to find the right investor. But I don't think it makes a difference, if I'm using someone else's money, and this is why I don't like Kickstarter, because I can't help but feel obligated to do certain things in different ways. But if it's my money, it's no one else's business what crazy idea I want to try out."
Being in a position to fund your own projects is rare in gaming, and Hall knows his ideas may not find the same audience as DayZ. He's not worried about it.
"I did some soul-searching, and I asked if I really wanted to do this, because it's going to cost a lot of money. But I decided I really did, and I definitely reached a point with my project in London where I don't really care if I make that money back," he says. "As far as I'm concerned that money is just gone. If it comes back, great, but I've just been enjoying the process so much."
And that's the rub when it comes to a Kickstarter, or outside investor. For all Hall knows he's setting fire to the money, and he's free to try even strange ideas, or things that may not pan out at all. The absolute worst case scenario is that he goes through his own money, but that idea doesn't seem to scare him. But once that money belongs to someone else ...
"I like to think I'm a reasonably selfish person, but there's a part of me that can't disconnect from that," he states. "That hesitation could be a recipe for disaster."
"I'm a mountaineer, there's nothing more selfish than climbing mountains."