How The Day Before went from Steam darling to disaster

The Day Before went from one of the most anticipated games on Steam to an unqualified disaster. After spending months at the top of the platform’s most wishlisted list, the game’s release on Dec. 7 quickly led to a wave of immense blowback, tens of thousands of players seeking refunds, and the closure of the studio behind it.

Just four days after launching on Steam, The Day Before developer Fntastic announced that its game was a “failure financially” and that no more updates would be released for the early access title. Fntastic, saying it lacked the funds to continue, was closing. The studio then wiped its YouTube channel, deleting all official uploads of The Day Before gameplay trailers; its CEO has disappeared from social media; and the game itself has been pulled from sale on Steam. The game’s publisher, Mytona, said on social media that it’s working with Valve to provide refunds.

The sequence of events, and Fntastic’s promises about what The Day Before would be, have led many players and purchasers of the game to call it a “scam.” Polygon has reached out to Fntastic, its CEO, and publisher Mytona, as well as Valve, for comment on The Day Before’s launch and removal from Steam, but all parties have refused to respond so far.

To recap the events leading up to The Day Before’s disastrous launch, we have to go back much further.

Developer Fntastic was founded in 2015 and released its first game, “eerie survival adventure” The Wild Eight, two years later. Back then, the small independent studio went by the name Eight Points and used Kickstarter to fund development of its first game. Eduard Gotovtsev, lead developer of The Wild Eight, co-founded Fntastic with his brother Aisen Gotovtsev. Fntastic would go on to release first-person horror survival experience Dead Dozen, artistic adventure Radiant One, and horror hide-and-seek game Propnight, which are all available on Steam.

In January 2021, Fntastic announced The Day Before with a trailer that showed impressive visuals and gameplay — far more impressive than anything Fntastic had pulled off before. The developer called its new game an “open-world multiplayer survival game” set in a “huge, stunningly detailed post-apocalyptic world destroyed by a terrible virus.” Early gameplay video showed players driving into a city in search of fuel and supplies, with players scavenging buildings, and engaging in combat with zombies and enemy player groups.

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The Day Before’s first trailer implied a massive explorable world, with skyscrapers that players could climb in search of survival gear and other loot. The game drew comparisons to The Last of Us, Tom Clancy’s The Division, and DayZ, leading some viewers of the video to complain about its copycatting. Others were simply skeptical that what Fntastic showed would result in a real game of the same ambition and quality.

Despite that skepticism, The Day Before quickly became one of the most wishlisted games on Steam, sitting just behind Hogwarts Legacy until that game was released in February 2023.

A few months after the game’s reveal, Fntastic released a second gameplay video of The Day Before. This one was even more impressive, showing players driving through an expansive rural area, fixing a truck’s flat tires, looting a gas station and a farmhouse, and encountering a police presence before retreating to an underground tunnel. Like the original game reveal, it was slick but seemed to be heavily scripted.

In October 2021, Fntastic revealed a release date for The Day Before: June 21, 2022. In yet another new trailer, the developer promised even more features, including a base where players could work out, relax in a sauna, and socialize in bars, and a massive shopping mall to explore, complete with knock-off versions of the Apple Store, Tiffany’s, and Louis Vuitton. That trailer also showed players customizing a secluded log cabin and modifying highly detailed weapons with attachments.

One month before The Day Before’s original launch date (and after a period of relative quiet from the developer), Fntastic announced the game was delayed. The Day Before slipped eight months, and would now be released in March 2023. The developer chalked the delay up to a change in game engines.

“Feeling and understanding the great responsibility that we face, with enormous gratitude in our hearts, we’re pleased to announce that The Day Before is switching to the new Unreal Engine 5 technology,” Fntastic and publisher Mytona said in a statement to IGN. “The transition to a more advanced and adapted open worlds engine, will make the gameplay of The Day Before even more fantastic.”

That last-minute delay raised eyebrows, with some commenters on the IGN story already calling it a “scam” and others joking “I have literally no faith in this product!”

In June 2022, Fntastic was criticized for its use of unpaid volunteers in the development of The Day Before. As reported by Well Played, Fntastic boasted on its website that “anyone can be a part-time volunteer to contribute to the Fntastic community and get cool rewards, participation certificates, and free codes.” Some of that volunteer work included translation — developers promoted a volunteer-voiced trailer in French and Portuguese just last month — and community moderation. Other volunteer work was more opaque, according to Fntastic’s since-deleted website: “Part-time volunteers also can offer their unique skills to improve our projects or create new special features.”

Fntastic later clarified in a statement that volunteer work “doesn’t relate to code writing, or development itself though, but other important things such as moderation, localization, or simply rooting for us and cheering us up.”

A survival walks through a derelict city center at night in a screenshot from The Day Before Image: Fntastic/Mytona

In January 2023, Fntastic released another brief gameplay trailer, which showed ray tracing and Nvidia DLSS tech, features promised for launch. It also promised a deeper look at the game, highlighting “features and gameplay elements requested by our community” while also providing “a clear glimpse into the current state of development for The Day Before.”

Instead, players looking forward to another peek at The Day Before got something else instead: an eight-month delay. Fntastic originally chalked the delay (and a temporary removal of the game’s presence from Steam) up to a trademark dispute with a calendar application that uses the name TheDayBefore. The Gotovtsev brothers clarified to IGN, however, that a delay was already part of the plan. The Day Before was now planned to launch on Nov. 10.

People had become increasingly skeptical about Fntastic and The Day Before, but the game’s creators pushed back on accusations that they were being misleading about their ambitious project.

“We understand that some players, not seeing the whole picture, might have doubts about the game,” the developer said in a statement to IGN. “We’ve been creating the game for four years. All these years have been full of sweat and blood to make this game, and for many members of our team, it is unpleasant to hear such accusations.”

Added Fntastic, “No matter what anyone says, you’ll see for yourself on November 10 this year. We hope that after the game’s success, we’ll give people faith that in this life, if you persevere toward a dream, it will come true, despite all the obstacles and doubts.”

The Day Before did not come out on Nov. 10.

In the months leading up to the game’s actual release on Steam, Fntastic released more trailers, including one that was accused of blatantly copying a Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies trailer and another that was accused of lifting from a Grand Theft Auto 5 trailer. The Day Before returned to Steam (and to the top of wishlists). And Fntastic announced one more delay. The game was now scheduled to launch on Dec. 7.

In the days leading up to The Day Before’s release, Fntastic took to Steam, X, and its Instagram — the latter of which has since been scrubbed, too — to address supporters and haters alike. “We made this for you so that you will enjoy the game and it becomes a celebration,” the studio said. “Together, we will continue improving the game and adding content.”

And while the studio said it “accept[s] any kind of criticism and don’t hold a grudge against you,” it denied scamming players or asset flipping (meaning taking visual assets from other games). “Please don’t underestimate our work; it wasn’t easy,” Fntastic said.

On Thursday, Dec. 7, The Day Before went live on Steam. It was released as a Steam Early Access title, and Fntastic said it hoped to be in early access “for around 6-8 months, but this could change. The full version will be released when we are confident that it represents the best version of the game possible.” The studio pledged “bug fixes and improvements to balance and core gameplay,” as well as additional content “such as new items, weapons, equipment, cars, and houses.”

But from day one, The Day Before had big problems. The game’s North American servers were overloaded, and players complained of hours-long wait times. The game crashed frequently and suffered from other bugs — some of them quite amusing.

A player-created screenshot from The Day Before, showing a character with a giant head
The Day Before had an unintentional Big Head Mode problem at launch
Image: Berj on Steam

But players weren’t amused by the game itself, which did not seem to match the marketing and ambition of Fntastic’s many gameplay trailers. This wasn’t the big open-world zombie MMO they were promised, players said in negative Steam reviews. The Day Before was more like an unrefined extraction shooter, à la Escape from Tarkov, than the “open-world multiplayer survival game” it was pitched as.

Fntastic delivered two hotfix patches to The Day Before on the day of and the day after the game’s launch. But the damage of its botched launch had already been done; streamers and Steam users publicly flogged the game, resulting in more than 20,000 user reviews that skew “overwhelmingly negative.” After racking up some 200,000 sales, nearly half of all buyers had refunded the game, according to data reportedly from Eduard Gotovtsev posted to Telegram.

On Dec. 11, Fntastic announced it was closing. The developer said in a statement on X that “The Day Before has failed financially, and we lack the funds to continue. All income received is being used to pay off debts to our partners.”

“At the moment, the future of The Day Before and Propnight is unknown, but the servers will remain operational,” Fntastic said. “We apologize if we didn’t meet your expectations. We did everything within our power, but unfortunately, we miscalculated our capabilities. Creating games is an incredibly challenging endeavor.”

More players have sought refunds for the game in the meantime, and after peaking with 30,228 concurrent players on launch day, The Day Before active player counts dipped to less than 700, according to Steam Charts.

Fntastic has removed much of its online presence since announcing its closure, but an X account for the studio still exists. One of its final messages posted to social media reads, “This was our first big experience. Shit happens.”