It’s never a happy occasion when a game and company are beset by hard times due to a failing product. And while I recently gave their sophomore title a 6.5 rating, I have repeatedly stated that I actually find APB to be a lot of fun despite its flaws. With the recent news surrounding Realtime Worlds’ insolvency and entrance into the dreaded administration stage, I can’t help but wonder just what went wrong with the promising game of cops and robbers they recently released. And while I’m certainly no expert in the “what’s and why for’s” of videogame design and videogame business, I do have my theories as to why APB and Realtime Worlds now find themselves at the end of the line praying for a miracle. I really hope they get another chance too. The original Crackdown was an absolute riot. APB’s not a bad game, and I’m also not going to say “it’s dead”. In fact I hope it keeps on keeping on. With the following list I may be entirely off base, but from a player’s perspective this is the best I could come up with. Feel free to discuss and give your own hypothesis in the comments below.
5.) Taxing System Requirements
Whenever you’re releasing a game that needs to sell a lot of copies, not to mention run extremely smooth on one’s system for gameplay reasons, it’s probably in your best interest to keep your requirements down. But RTW decided to shirk that creed, and aim for what I like to expertly call the “super-shiny” looks. This creates the opposite effect, and raised the minimum system requirements for their game. Sure a player can run APB on modest settings and keep the action fluid, but then it winds up looking like dog poo, and all the time and effort you spent on creating your avatar’s appearance is then flushed down the drain. APB looks good (minus some fairly stiff animations), but at the cost of performance. That’s a no-no when it comes to capturing a large user-base for your MMO, as past entries into the genre have proven. But therein lays another potential misstep… APB’s not easily categorized.
4.) What Exactly Is It?
I can’t help but wonder if the consumer’s confusion over just what APB really is isn’t part of the reason for its struggling sales. Sure there are plenty more pressing concerns that we’ll get to soon enough, but I believe that the social/shooter/MMO/user-generated content masterwork APB wanted so much to be wound up hurting it more than helping it. It targeted MMO gamers, competitive shooter gamers, modders and artists, but each piece of that puzzle wound up undercooked and unattractive to each sect of players. I know that’s a broad and generalizing statement, but this is just an editorial so bear with me. My point is that APB isn’t quite sure what sort of game it is, and neither are the gamers and that bodes well for no one. Ask Hellgate: London if you don’t believe me.
3.) Antiquated Gameplay
All the while RTW was trying to cram so many different experiences into APB, it forgot the most important part: the gameplay. APB is fun, but it’s also lacking in terms of variety, antiquated control schemes, and in general there is a lack of “stuff” to do in San Paro. Perhaps unfairly, APB was billed by many as an online GTA and instead wound up as little more than a mediocre team-based shooter with good character creation tools. Considering that most of the fun of APB is derived from the running and gunning, it needed to be extremely solid in order to get players to front money for a subscription. And also taking into account that some of the industry’s best competitive shooters are wholly free after the initial purpose, APB was given a very tough sell.
2.) The Pay-to-Play Model
Hybrid payment models aren’t really a new thing anymore with the burgeoning success of DDO leading a pack of games that hope to ape Turbine’s new model. But APB is a different case, perhaps because of reason #3. The easiest way to categorize APB is as a persistent online shooter. And in today’s gaming world, the vast majority of competitive shooters are free to play. Asking for the citizens of San Paro then to pay for their right to frag comes off as incredibly shortsighted, and only more so when you take into account that the gameplay is most certainly lacking in comparison to other AAA shooters on the market. Advertising, optional paid features, or even a GW-esque model much like the one Global Agenda has recently taken up would have made much more sense. But maybe that’s just me.
1.) Just Not Good Enough
I feel a bit like a pompous arse for saying this, but what all of the above reasons boil down to is a relatively simple explanation: APB as a whole just isn’t good enough to garner the continual income RTW needs. It could be, and with any luck the company will get a chance to take it to that level, but like so many attempts before it APB was released to market too soon. But in reality even that will only work if they rethink their pricing model and ditch the subscription method altogether. And I’m just not sure that EA will allow them that freedom. So get your kicks in San Paro while you still can folks, for who knows how long the city will still be standing.