If you ever wanted the answer to the question "how to spend $100m on an MMO" (are you listening, Bioware?), the UK is the place to be this week, or at least to review the damage. Three sources from Britain analyze what is, if not a neutron bomb, at least a very explody one, with game industry recruiters already combing the wreckage for cheap 'acquisitions' of talent.
First, apparently from within the bunker, an anonymous commenter left a very detailed, very caustic comment on the British gaming blog site "Rock Paper Shotgun"
No team sets out to ship something anything less than perfection, but projects can evolve in ways that no one seems to be in total control of. All that said, it was pretty clear to me that the game was going to get a kicking at review – the gap between expectation and the reality was huge. I wasn’t on the APB team, so I played it infrequently, during internal test days etc. I was genuinely shocked when I played the release candidate – I couldn’t believe Dave J would be willing to release this. All the issues that had driven me nuts about it were still there – the driving was poor (server-authoritative with no apparent client prediction, ergo horrendously lag intolerant), combat impact-less, and I found the performance of the game sub-par on what was a high-spec dev machine.
But the real killer, IMO, is the business model. This was out of the team’s hands. The game has issues, but I think if you separate the business model from the game itself, it holds up at least a little better. A large scale team based shooter, in big urban environments, with unprecedented customisation and some really cool, original features. The problem was that management looked at the revenue they wanted to generate and priced accordingly, failing to realise (or care) that there are literally a dozen top quality, subscription free team based shooters. Many of which, now, have progression and persistence of some sort – for free.
Nicholas Lovell, at GamesBrief, comes right out and calls APB "a massive fail". Well, when it kills your company, yeah.
Back in the summer of 2009, Dave said that with 100,000 to 200,000 players the game would do alright financially. I estimated that each player would have to spend £500 on the game for the investors to make their money back with those figures, which seemed unlikely to me. (That was when I thought the company had raised $50 million. It would be $1,000 based on $100m of investment.)
But 100,000 players, which I imagine seemed a laughably low target to the management of RealTime Worlds, is 10x the number of players who have even bought the game.
APB is turning out to be the games industry’s own Heaven’s Gate.
Lovell analyzes APB's sales numbers and comes to the jarring conclusion that APB sold less than 10,000 units, which would, given its budget, easily make it the most ridiculously disastrous MMO launch of all time. Adam Martin, in his post on the subject, believes the number to be closer to 100,000 based on his sources, which brings it from "ridiculous disaster" to "unsustainable disappointment". He goes on to contrast the discussion from within and about Realtime Worlds with his own experience with Tabula Rasa:
The professionals: you’re getting burned out, chewed up, and spat out. Your lives are being wasted.
The investors: you’re getting screwed. You write it off as random failure, and you can afford it, but you’re shying away from “games” as a result, leaving good profits behind on the table.
The inexperienced, the mediocre, and all those people who don’t actually MAKE the game, but do get to ruin the process (rockstar-designers, producers, marketers, directors, managers, etc) : you’re doing great. Your lack of skill hasn’t held you back, and the company will often go bankrupt before anyone gets around to firing you for incompetence.
Why yes, the game industry DOES make you that bitter and jaded. Especially when you watch $100,000,000.00 go circling down the drain.