APB: Deep Knowledge

A commenter at the PC blog every PC gamer should follow Rock, Paper, Shotgun with the moniker ExRTW gave a long, insightful comment on the news story about all the layoffs for All Points Bulletin (“APB”) developer Real Time Worlds.  In my opinion, the saddest part is, rather than being a revelation, it really just seems to confirm everything we knew or should have known about the game.  The game definitely had highlights, but the community pretty much seemed to be unified on the main problems of the game: vaporous design and silly business plan.  As ExRTW notes, they were pretty big problems for a released game.

The biggest issue, for me, was the business model.  It confused me even though I could rationalize that $50 for 50 hours of gameplay (not counting art time) was a pretty good deal for a fun game.  I would guess most potential consumers who gave APB a free pass with some of the gameplay could not do so when they also saw “subscription.”

I’ll be honest.  I still have hopes for APB.  There is some great potential, but I imposed the 6-month wait (or Steam sale) rule on myself for the game before launch.  Hopefully there is some energy and funding to change the big problems before the game goes belly up.  Good luck to all ex-employees of Real Time Worlds, and good luck to those staying the course in the emptier halls.  I hope all you guys can land on your feet quickly.

there will be blood

3 thoughts on “APB: Deep Knowledge”

  1. A few more big budget titles like APB tanking might just improve the scene in general. I feel the MMO market is becoming far too saturated with well-funded badly designed/implemented games.

    People only have so much hobby time and they’re voting for titles they want to play with their wallets.

    APB was a great concept but I can’t say I was surprised to read ExRTW’s comment. It seems to be the industry standard these days… Studio managers just don’t seem that competent at keeping their staff on task and up to a standard of quality necessary for a good release.

  2. There are a few problems at work here, at least from my point of view.

    1. Nobody wants to make a shitty game. Often, the people in the trenches know the game is going poorly, but they feel powerless to change anything; they just focus on doing the best job they can individually. Sometimes even management knows, but the inertia prevents major changes from being made. MMOs seem to fall prey to this more given how large and cumbersome they’ve become. Often people will continue to work, anyway, hoping for the best or just keeping their head down and drawing a paycheck. And, to be honest, it’s better to most employers to have worked on a shitty shipped project than to have worked on a string of unreleased games.

    2. You have to dream big to get investment. I’ve helped pitched some mid-range projects to some investors, and none have ever gotten past the initial meetings. I’m sure RTW had to promise the moon and stars and directly compete with WoW to get investment.

    3. Games are still a bit of a black art. As much as we’d love to be able to know exactly what the audience wants, and even though some people put a lot of faith in metrics-based design, it’s still uncertain if the market will react positively to a game before it’s out there. As that comment pointed out, a game can gel at the last minute and turn out pretty good, so sometimes you just have to keep the faith.

    4. Managers aren’t designers. Or even “creative directors”. If you’re CEO, you need to focus on running the business side of things, not pretending you’re a designer. Sounds like there were some business issues that needed attention that weren’t getting them. Unfortunately, the only real way to “live the dream” of having absolute design control is to be CEO and dictate design, so this happens way too often from my experiences.

    5. Marketing is hard. APB pimped their game too early, and focused on an impressive part that wasn’t related to gameplay. As the comment says, that made the game feel stale.

    6. New stuff is risky. Sadly, APB’s failure isn’t a good thing if you want originality. Again, people are going to see this as meaning that only WoW-clones are possible, or worse, that the “MMO fad” is officially over and now it’s time to jump on the social games bandwagon. It would have been nice if they could have tried a more modest game before jumping into making a huge MMO. Then again, #2 above is one reason why this doesn’t happen.

    Unfortunately, it looks like it’s a perfect storm of problems that hurt APB. Unfortunate, especially for people out of work in this economy. And unfortunate for the rest of the MMO industry.

    1. @2 – Funny though isn’t it? Why should a game like APB have to compete with WoW? They aren’t even remotely the same kind of game. I can understand pitching Alganon to investors saying “We are going after WoW’s market!” but APB is a completely different beast. At best it could be compared against CrimeCraft and we all know how well that one did…

      @4 – I think the guy pointed that out in his comment. The CEO was trying to put on too many hats and in the end did a shoddy job of them all. A proper manager should delegate and manage. If he’s spread too think he needs to hire on additional coordinators or submanagers to help him out. With $80M surely there was budget for a proper team structure…

      @5/6 – APB should have been marketed as a GTA MMO. Obviously, the game needed to play as well or better than GTA and it failed spectacularly at that, but still. GTA is one of the best selling console games in the world and there was definitely a sizable niche carved out if only they marketed and executed it properly.

      GTA online with many other people, amazing customization, and faction-based PvP? That sounds like a huge “original” win to me. Sad they couldn’t deliver.

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