APB’s Failure and why I think it’s a good sign

I’ll try and make this brief.  To me it’s really quite obvious why APB failed.

  • Realtime Worlds is full of people who have no clue how to run a business.
  • They had delusions of grandeur.
  • They were/are liars.
  • The game ended up being terrible.  The wrong game, at the wrong time, for the wrong audience, simply made entirely wrong.

The style of game that APB was trying to be does not work in a MMO or even psuedo-wanna-be MMO atmosphere.  This idea of lobby based “massively multiplayer” shooters needs to forever be put in a draw and locked away.   The setting does not work either.  Modern gangs with machine guns and this idea of bringing Grand Theft Auto to a fully realized MMO setting does not work unless you actually do it!  No one has ever even come close.  Either get it right, knowing you’re getting it right, or stop trying.

If you fell for the lies and bought a copy of the game or were sold on the hype are are let down then you really need to spend more time studying what does and does not succeed in this industry.  There are games that really do look good and fool people.  I get fooled all. the. time.  APB never looked good.  There were red flags everywhere.  The attempt at stopping people from talking about the game during the first week of its release, ads over VOIP, their wonky payment model, the smoke and mirrors of trailers that showed zero gameplay that wasn’t scripted, and on and on and on. APB never left that “ehhh” stage for me.  It felt entirely too iffy.

If you’re not convinced, read the blog entries from one of the employees.  Parts One / Two / Three

This leads me to one last thing.

First, it’s a raw deal that people lost their jobs.  I feel for you.  I am not, however, in the least bit remorseful that a company is going under and a game closed down.  This needs to become a regular occurrence.  A lot more games deserve to be shut down and a lot more companies just as bad or worse than Realtime Worlds need to go under.  The sooner these bad companies with bad games dwindle away the sooner the quality will go up.  We’re being inundated with crap, saturated with mediocrity or worse, and being forced into complacent or backward-moving thinking.

The gaming industry is really a weird example of how the proliferation of new gaming companies is not a good thing (and not serving as true competition) for a market that is so clearly undefined.  More companies making more games is not proving to be better for the player because instead of competing against each other to make the best games possible, they’re realizing they can all jointly stop caring or copy one another and that anyone can get into the “game making” business regardless of whether or not they have a clue or $100 million.  It’s getting ridiculous.  Hopefully APB is just the beginning.

I’ll say it once again: There’s going to be a crash;  Maybe just a mini one, but a crash that shakes things up and gets people realizing it’s time to start moving forward, not backwards.  I sound harsh, I know.  I just do not see any reason why companies or their employees should be rewarded for producing garbage.

In related news, can Epic Games (a company that does not suck) possibly make the game any better?

  • From Part One of the aforementioned articles. Prepare to be pissed:

    “We had deeply ingrained approaches to development that derived from the boxed-product world. We had a deep fear of letting anyone find out anything about our game until the last possible minute. “Release early and iterate”, a proven success model for online software, was anathema to RTW. We would constantly find ways to avoid showing features off or talking openly about the product. Press interest was built by incredibly elaborately-constructed demos, choreographed with clockwork precision. Our team of QA ninjas trained night and day so as to be able to act out the same scripted combat scenario on demand (they were actually pretty impressive to watch doing this!). At first, the press would just watch these sessions as examples of “live” gameplay. Later, they’d be allowed to join in, but would be so outnumbered by our staff that they would be forced to stay on the rails of our script.”

  • Haven’t played but APB seemed different, unique. Took a risk. I can appreciate that. What if Verant never took the risk?
    But instead of spending $80M before it was even released they should have started small, see if it worked and expand on that. If people like it, they will tell their friends etc.

    That amount of spending beforehand doomed the game even before release, no way you will get enough subscribers to be profitable any time soon, especially when people can earn “free” gametime relatively easy (apparently).

    I do hope companies will still dare to take risks and make new games that arent clones after this, just that they do it a smarter way.

  • Actually APB worked in a way no other MMO has. If you acted like a gangster, cops (other players) could call you out on it and kill you. If you were sneaky about things, you could go on a lot longer jacking cars, jacking storefronts, mugging NPCs. Outside of weapon balance issues, it was a fun game to play with a group of friends. And also had some great personalization of your toon and car.

    Its easy to say point at the money and 80 days of life and go “ludicrous!”, and I hope this does lead to some class action lawsuit. But I wish more bloggers like you and Tobold would have actually tried the game instead of bashing it via what you read on the internet about it.

  • The problem with studios crashes is that people with cooler sounding job titles find new jobs and those who may have been doing the majority of the work don’t so the same upper management continues on. The only exception to this really talented people in the art sections may get jobs in spite of things, though generally if the art director stunk the only people getting jobs will be concept artists since they can take the art that did not get approved and show that.

  • I disagree with you that it was a bad game. The only thing wrong was the balancing issues, and the hackers. RTW dropped the ball on the hackers, they screwed punkbuster up. But they were constantly patching the game, even when the population was down to 300 people. They fixed a ton of balancing problems within the first month.

    This game could have gone places with the right backing and community.

  • @ coppertopper

    ” But I wish more bloggers like you and Tobold would have actually tried the game instead of bashing it via what you read on the internet about it.”

    I’m sorry but this sounds so silly to me. “There were red flags everywhere” But yet Keen should still buy it?

    Really this is what you sound like to me…
    Keen – Hey guys dont go into the water I hear there are sharks.
    Coppertopper – Wish you would have jumped in first to make sure keen.

  • @B in Norco

    Actually it’s a pretty valid opinion expressed by Coppertopper. I mean what exactly is Keen saying that’s insightful? It’s a bunch of broad brush off kilter second hand opinions stitched together under the premise of ‘telling it like it is’ as if talking big is somehow actually within itself a form of critical assessment (which it isn’t). I mean seriously ‘They were/are liars’ and ‘The game ended up being terrible. The wrong game, at the wrong time, for the wrong audience, simply made entirely wrong.’

    The in the next breathe: –

    “We’re being inundated with crap, saturated with mediocrity or worse, and being forced into complacent or backward-moving thinking”

    APB had many faults, but is was actually doing something quite different and innovative from the norm. Perhaps if he had played it he’d have understood that.

  • @Kadayi

    Different and innovate doesn’t equal good.

    In this case, they did things so different that they totally ruined themselves. As a APB Beta tester that staunchly refused to buy the game upon release, I can attest to this.

    They’d have been much better off by actually sticking to tradition.

    It’s like that famous chef who makes strange, alien looking food that people can’t identify and don’t know how to eat. I can understand how valuable it is to push the envelope but its worthless if what you have is bad.

    RTW threw out the kitchen sink along with everything else MMO players AND FPS players are looking for. The players spoke loud and clear about how they felt about this.

  • I had a love/hate relationship with APB, but I wouldn’t call it “terrible.” RTW had great success with their customization features and built-in content creation tools. The depth in which you could customize your characters, cars, and theme songs was astounding.

    The problem? It was a shooter that relied too heavily on traditional MMORPG mechanics. Weapon damage upgrades for example, have no place in a shooter. Upgrades for weapons and characters shouldn’t turn shooting into a dice roll. It shouldn’t be, “Hey, that guy beat me because he has tier 3 upgrades to health and I don’t.”

    If RTW had followed the logic used in the Battlefield games, where upgrades and unlocks allow you to fulfill different roles, rather than just making you uber, perhaps the gamemplay would have been better.

    Anyway, this is coming from someone who played over 120 hours of APB. I enjoyed most of it. I was frustrated by the imbalances. I loved the customization.

    Terrible game? Nah, I don’t buy it. Not when games like CrimeCraft, Star Trek Online, and Champions Online still exist.

    Although, to actually respond to your point, Keen, maybe Cryptic can be next? I have a bone to pick with them for destroying Star Trek.

  • I’d argue the reverse, a little too many failures exist in the MMO industry, we need more of the companies who try something different to have success; otherwise, companies continue following the tried and true formulas out there.

    High fantasy with elves and dwarves, existing in static worlds full of quests and grind needs to die; I want to see companies trying other settings and other types of gameplay succeed.

  • @ Bart You can’t judge the release if you never played it.. what APB was on the last day was nothing close to what it was in beta, or even on the first day of launch.

    The beta was a buggy mess that hardly worked anyway.

  • @Alex Taldren: Man, I hope Cryptic is next. I really, really want them to stop making games. The gloves come off with me on this issue. CrimCraft, STO, and Champions should all have been shut down already (Hence my comment that games and companies worse than APB/RTW should be long gone).

    @Mcface: The facts really speak for themselves. I’ll respect that you enjoyed it. However, the game is shutting down. That has to speak volumes about the company and the game to the point of being factual.

    @Kadayi: I’ll have to agree with Bartlebe. Different and Innovative do not a good game make.

  • I find that first quote in the comments irrelevant. Ya it seems nasty, but you got to be joking you don’t think every game does this to ensure the best ‘demo’ is shown to he public before release?

    Lets not forget that if we are blaming all of these ‘crap’ games for bringing down the industry, then we should also place the blame on those that made it look profitable. After all, it is those titles that showed the potential for great profits and created the incentives for companies to start making more mmos.

    I also fail to see how having well over half of the entire genre fall apart will create the drive to create better games. That isn’t how the market works. If there is a mass failure and closing of companies in the mmo genre, game designers will begin to focus more on developing where the profits are. The risk will be considered too great for profits in mmos due to the failure rates. If a company sees consistent money in in single player and multiplayer titles they will be more drawn to create these types of game than ‘do better so we don’t fail.’

    I have to ask, Why do you play and write about games if you hate them so much? I mean jeez man. Supposed to be having fun and you rarely do anything but doom say any news in the industry.

    Maybe take up hiking or soccer. Get some of that tension out 😛

  • Oh and another thing,

    “I’ll have to agree with Bartlebe. Different and Innovative do not a good game make.”

    Let me get this straight… You want half the industry to fail, so they can improve, without backwards development, so they can make games that are the same as we have always played.

    I think you need to think that logic through a little more.

  • Actually the point is just because a game is “different” or “innovative” doesn’t mean it’s actually any good. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a good, innovative game, just that the quality of being a good game is not related to being innovative at all.

  • @Yogi: Not every game does it. Read the blog of the employee who states they purposely deceived people.

    The games that made the industry look profitable are the games that deserve to be profitable — they’re clearly good enough to attract people playing them. So greatness is a negative now? No, if you can’t cut it that’s your fault for being inferior, not someone else for setting the bar high.

    I dislike very much terrible games and the companies who continually make them, aka Cryptic, and companies who purposely deceive people and essentially know they’re launching as an exit strategy, aka Real Time Worlds. I do not hate “games”.

    And you totally missed the points about innovation and being different. Reread them a few times.

    Bottom Line: If you run your business poorly and make games that bring the industry down instead of building it up then you need to go.

  • I admit I don’t know a huge amount about it but no matter how badly executed it does seem that APB at least tried something different. In your post you say:

    “instead of competing against each other to make the best games possible, they’re realizing they can all jointly stop caring or copy one another”

    A lot of negatives can be said about APB but at least they didnt just copy WoW like so so many other games out there. Personally I think its a shame that a company that tried to make an MMO that wasn’t just a wow clone fucked it up so completely.

  • Whats bad? You are throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. APB was a pretty decent game, but you can’t comment yay or nay on this point because you have NO HANDS ON TIME! Its the same with Tobold, yet you two can’t separate RTW from the game APB. Activision publishes WoW which is great despite Bobby Kotick. So your point is confused to be honest. Either castigise RTW and get to the bottom of where 100 million went (it didnt go to APB), or berate the devs for what APB was at release. But at least choose an arguement based on fact, not ‘what i read on the internet’.

  • I don’t see why this is a shock to anyone who really closely watches the industry. The game was trash from top to bottom, and only sold because people got diluted into thinking it was GTA online.

    Car and combat controls were horrible, hackers run rampant, anti-cheats lag the playerbase so harshly they have to turn it off, subscription models that made zero fiscal sense, lol ad model, etc.

    Yes, it’s good to see a company that released utter garbage fall flat on it’s face and fold in record time. It sucks for the people that worked there, but such is life, and they’re not entitled to anything other then advice of get a job at a better company next time.

    When you see “talent” behave in the manor that RTW did, it casts a shadow on all the other studios in the business. Some (like Cryptic) rightfully deserve that lingering stench, others that produce quality sure as hell don’t.

    Hopefully this is the first of many to come. The industry needs a reality check – big time.

  • Basically this article is a joke along with it’s author. I’m fairly sure no ones twisting anyone’s arms when it comes to what games they buy, so this desire by the author that developers of games he deems unworthy go to the wall is infantile in the extreme. All nebulous opinions expressed are apparently really universal facts (‘Bad game is bad!!!’)*rolls eyes*

  • You forget that Realtime Worlds had staff that weren’t working on APB at all and they all lost their jobs too. I don’t know how anyone can think that so many people being jobless in this climate can be a good thing sorry.

  • @Kadayi

    Natural Selection at its finest.

    No one bemoans the loss of the weakest link. They botched their vision, business model and presentation. They failed because of it.

    The industry will learn and evolve from this, for the better.

    I’m not so sure what this is so difficult for you to accept.

  • @Keen APB is shutting down because RTW is bankrupt and has no way of earning a profit off of APB. I agree they dropped the ball on the business end of things, but the game it’s self was going places. It has little to do with the actual game it’s self, other than it’s small player base.

    I don’t think I’ve played a game since darkfall where I’ve thought “this has huge potential”

  • I think the point Keen is trying to make that many people are not getting is that he is tired of companies “phoning it in” when it comes to making new games.

    To me it seems like the last year or so has been a mad rush for anyone to slap together a crappy game that they know is bad, ramp up the hype, then make a bunch of money on presales, just a quick cash grab with no intent of making a quality long lasting game.

  • IMHO, as games move closer and closer to movies in terms of production budgets, time lines, and potentially massive payoff, we will see more and more APBs. A $100m bomb of a movie is not a strange occurrence. The same will become true of MMOs.

  • @Sentry: That’s exactly right. This past year has been a year of slapping it together and hoping to make an initial surge of cash. In fact, I think that’s the only reasons why Cryptic is still in business.

    I want these companies to fail. It’s not acceptable to this player for companies to release games that have nothing to offer the present or future all the while making it appear like it’s acceptable for others to follow.

  • I actually agree with Keen on most of the salient points he’s making in this post, and think the criticisms people are attempting to make are really falling flat.

    That said, the blog posts, as I read them, really don’t support Keen’s arguments at all, and I advise anyone interested in hearing more about all sides of this affair to read them. Keen seems to imply (purposefully or not) that those posts perhaps reinforce his assertion that RTW was spending all their time lying to and misleading their customers. However, I think it’s pretty clear that 90% of the posts are about problems in RTW’s internal corporate culture, and the fact that they were basically fooling themselves into thinking things were OK when their company was being destroyed by over ambitious growth and bad upper-level management decisions.

    I don’t think this really invalidates anything Keen has said, but it does cast it all in a very different light than the subtext of his post implies. Based on those blog posts, this is a story of a small start-up company that made a deal with a corporate devil, losing their soul and their vision in the process – not the story of a heartless, inept company out to mislead their players.

    Either way, I recommend reading those 3 posts Keen links to in the OP, it’s a very interesting story. Other than that, I do mostly agree with Keen here – the game industry has been growing astronomically for years now, it has to have a correction at some point. I’m just sad that RTW – by most accounts one of the good companies, despite their loss of direction on APB – had to go down, rather than Cryptic or some of the truly onerous companies like Zynga.

  • EDIT: In hindsight, RTW did make a lot of bad decisions on their own – I don’t mean to imply that they were destroyed by this corporate monster through no fault of their own. Just read the articles by the RTW employee Keen linked to, he explains it better than I ever could.

  • Let me clarify that the posts made by that employee are simply background reading and just support for my claims: Poorly run business, deception, failure to understand their own game and how it would be received by the players.

    They’re not entirely about deception and a great deal of the content within them is actually a bit weird. I mean, at one point the guy says that he doesn’t even play multiplayer games and just provides tools for artists. Does he have much insight? Debatable. They are are interesting though, and that’s why I linked them.

  • think there is a term in software engineering called Dynamic Development or something. Basically means software or games are create in tested as development goes along. This is basically an industry standard.

    What many gaming companies do i have noticed is make all the parts of the game and then throw them together right before launch hoping they fit.

    This is what APD did. Its also another good sign of a games quality.

    GW2 for instance brags about how their QA people sit next to their developers. This you can probably say showed at PAX.

  • You know after rereading this, I do agree with the first 3 bullet points. Its getting to the point with game companies, with the Zyngas and Bobby Kotics and RTWs, that you would expect enough shock and awe has been mustered up to bring on a few class action lawsuits. You don’t walk into a dealership to buy a new car and expect they left off the suspension, airbags, a/c – all things promised in the advertisement, yet thats so many MMOs lately.

  • Oh the irony.

    “An Open Letter to Shooter/MMO Fans from Hi-Rez Studios

    Dear Shooter/MMO Fans: Image

    The last few years have been rough for many fans of the Shooter/MMO genre.

    Several innovative game titles with great communities have folded as they sought to bring together those of us who enjoy the fast-action, intense pace of a shooter, but also the character progression and persistence offered by MMOs.

    Today, we mourn our latest fallen colleague, APB. In making APB, Realtime Worlds had a bold vision to make an MMO devoid of traditional tab-targeting, cast bars, and die-roll combat. We honor their effort and innovation, and greatly mourn the game’s closing.

    Sadly, the APB server shutdown leaves their entire community with nothing to shoot or blow up tonight!

    So between today and Friday, September 24, 2010, we are offering refugees from APB and other Shooter/MMOs an opportunity to join Global Agenda’s growing community more easily and affordably than ever.

    We figure you deserve it. And you’ll fit right in since you already know how to aim.

    All players that purchase Global Agenda on the game’s official webstore prior to September 24, 2010, using the promotion code “LongLiveShooterMMOs” will receive a 30% discount off the game. That’s $20.99, £13.12 and €15.75!

    This one-time purchase gives you full access to the game’s content, with no monthly fees.

    And, remember, you can try the game before you buy by playing the free trial, available here..

    We at Hi-Rez Studios believe strongly in the Shooter/MMO genre. We celebrate and thank all developers advancing innovative Shooter/MMO concepts, as well as the fans that dedicate their time to playing and supporting these games.

    Todd Harris
    Executive Producer, Global Agenda”

  • Ugh, reading the letter from Todd Harris I now have a mental image of Global Agenda as a mangy hyena laughing and scampering around the corpse of APB.

  • Thinking some more on this, it’s really sad that one of the few MMO’s that actually tried something different has failed so badly. Next up: more WoW clones!

  • As I think Keen pointed out, and as I can attest to as more strongly an FPS gamer than an MMORPG one:

    We who like both FPSs and MMORPGs generally don’t want the character progression bits in our FPS. We want big battlefields and long-term campaigns, if anything. Similarly, we want action based combat and easy switching between loadouts in our RPGs.

    If you take a slow ass FPS with bad hit detection, bad maps, and bad gun dynamics, and put a gear grind, unlocks, and other shit from MMORPGS in it, very few people will like it. It’s that simple.

    Sheesh, not hard to understand. Next they’ll try to combine an RTS with the “progression” of an MMORPG.

    Oh wait. I guess these people truly don’t understand gamers…

  • “Different does not automatically make it commendable.”

    Of course not. However, the people bankrolling games often don’t know good game play from bad, and it’s easy to imagine innovation stifled. e.g. “Sorry, we won’t fund your non-DIKU MMO because look what happened to APB…”

  • I kind of liked the customization features in APB. There is/was no other game that allowed this amount of customization to your avatars and items.

  • I think everyone acknowledges that APB tried to be different but alas other than “great customisation” they did not focus enough on actually making the game work. Instead they put a lot of effort into deceit, misdirection and censorship.
    The Dev’s blog also indicates that while many of the teams were dedicated and smart, the company seemed hell-bent on simply blowing through their budget and hiring ever more managers. It’s almost like the game itself became a sideline.

    If a Shooting and Driving game has very poor shooting and driving gameplay then no amount of avatar customisation is going to save it. Sure people are rising up to defend it now but the bottom line is that the number of people who bought and played it was extremely small.

    It won’t have helped that there was next-to-no marketing for the game (UK anyway) – I was aware it was under development and the next time I heard the name was the article describing the CLOSURE of the Servers.

  • http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/09/17/youll-never-take-us-alive-epic-to-buy-apb/

    Kieron actually makes a really good point when he states that the shutting down of APB actually erodes the MMO industry as a whole.

    Personally I’m now less likely to purchase a speculative MMO based on untested mechanics, since there is the very clear danger than a developer is just trying to recoup some of their losses only to shut down the servers in three months time. Games cost close to a days wage in Australia, why should I trust an indy games developer with that money? At least I know the boring, tried and tested MMOs aren’t going to shut down any time soon.

  • You shouldn’t trust. Skepticism is a good thing in this industry. Early adopt at your own risk. Maybe if more people understood the red flags they wouldn’t have even purchased APB.

  • Next up … Keen whining about WoW clones with cash shops.

    Honestly, after APB blew that much of investors money, would *you* pitch anything else ?

  • The thing is that Combat Arms is a F2PMMO and by all accounts is making money hand over foot for Nexon. I think APB failed because it wasn’t F2P, cost way too much to make, and didn’t have adequate cheat protection.

    I don’t think you can say the idea doesn’t work, because Global Agenda, Combat Arms, and Wolf Team seem to work. I agree though that I’m not liking the shift to monetizing FPS games by adding grinds.

  • It’s a crappy situation no matter how you look at it:

    On one hand I want to see bad developers who can’t run a business or release a polished game punished. On the other I don’t want to see investors scared away from this market which will hurt future development.

    One positive I see from all this is that developers might start to kick it old school again: smaller budgets and narrower scopes. You might think that a bottomless pit of money is a good thing, but it isn’t imho. If you don’t focus your thinking and come up with a good design foundation that money is only going to get you into deeper shit because it will exacerbate your flaws. You’ll spend millions chasing ridiculous dead ends.

    The guys behind Love and Minecraft: I think the industry needs to take a good hard look at what they’re doing.

    As for that crash you’re predicting, it looks like the industry is at least starting to plateau: http://www.nazgum.com/blog/2010/09/mmo-subscription-numbers-flatline.html

  • I think scaring away investors is for the better — at least the ones who want to throw tons of money at the industry and expect the impossible. Educated investors on the other hand are what we need.

  • “why should I trust an indy games developer with that money? At least I know the boring, tried and tested MMOs aren’t going to shut down any time soon.”

    Luckily most good indy designers charge realistic amounts for their games. As has been said, Love and Minecraft are both very affordable (or free) for what you get. Although, to be fair, most indy developers aren’t making MMOs.

    I mean this raises a good point. MMOs have become so expensive, that as Keen points out they can only be made by either hugely successful companies, or companies that get a ton of money from an investor who wants to gamble big, and throws money at some developers expecting another WoW. Neither of these groups, however, tend to create the best environment for designing and ushering to launch a high quality game.

    The MMO industry is sort of where the movie business used to be, before people realized that there was good money in small budget, big earning films. We just have to suffer through summer after summer of overblown, formulaic blockbusters written by marketing committees – until some cheapo indy MMORPG that actually has solid design and good post-launch management earns big on a small budget.

  • I wouldn’t say that all lobby type shooters don’t work. Look at Global Agenda. It’s a lobby-type and it actually does work. It’s population has been growing since the swing to B2P. I don’t think the problem is the type of game. I think it’s the marketting for that type. First person shooters should. not. be. p2p. Period. They don’t offer enough to be worth a monthly. Even GA, in it’s current state, is still just a shooter.

  • Wait hold on.. they spent 80 million?????? one non-ip mmo?

    Stupidity of companies in this business never ceases to amaze. I mean.. when were they planning to start turning profit? or recoup initial investment? were they planning anything?

    Just looking at the features of this.. they could throw away half of this junk and they should have made in in under 4mil then MAYBE they could have made some $$ for their investors