Tobold's Blog
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Ganking killed APB

Readers were asking me about what was so bad about All Points Bulletin as game that it failed so miserably, and I didn't have an answer. I never played the game, which shouldn't surprise anybody, given that APB is a PvP shooter game. But I kept an eye out on reports which could shine some lights on that question. And I found this interesting analysis at MMO Tidbits which basically says that ganking killed APB.

Apparently by playing the game hardcore you would get your "rating" level up, which would make you deal 30% more damage and withstand 30% more hits than a new player. And some players used various hacks to make themselves even stronger. And then APB paired new players against those hardcore players, who would just mercilessly gank them over and over. Thus the newer players gained rating levels only very slowly, and pretty much lost every fight. As a result the server the author was playing on went from 2,334 players on a Sunday evening to 1,221 players on the Sunday evening two weeks later.

It is extremely hard to get somebody to pay for the privilege of constantly losing in a PvP game. And especially new players that start a game and always lose will often give up very quickly. This is why successful PvP games have safe spaces in which new players are completely or at least mostly safe from being ganked. APB didn't have that. It died of the fundamental incompatibility of MMORPGs with free-for-all PvP, where the "making your character stronger" part of the MMORPG clashes with the "only fair PvP is fun" principle. If you set up a PvP MMORPG in which players are actually rewarded for ganking newbies, you are doomed.
While it should be considered that this is second-hand information, I generally agree that game design that makes new pllayers being killed over and over is bad game design.

Now, there are better ways to prevent it, than to use the developer's hand-of-god. EVE is certainly a well known example: Veteran players could easily kill newbies and the philosophy of the game doesn't even stand against this. Still, it practically doesn't happen, due a relatively immersive game mechanism.
This would only be on a free-for-all server though, because the normal servers don't allow this, unless people are hacking, which that is then cheating and not the same issue.

The entire point of the free-for-all is that you can kill any one. The normal game isn't like that at all, you can only kill those who are part of your APB alert.
As far as I understood that article, the problem was that the APB alerts paired the newbies against the veterans, so even if it wasn't a free-for-all server, the only thing the newbies could do was to accept missions in which they would lose to much stronger players.

If what your analysis details is true, then a badly designed game imparts blame on everyone involved in the original design process. At this point no amount of big-name management or content creation artists/programmers can correct this.

In the beginning stages of a games design there is a vision had by everyone involved with creating the design document, and somewhere along the line key figures are responsible for signing off on this design document before work even begins. So if key features of gameplay are lacking in scope from the git-go, then culpability rests squarely on the shoulders of the design team. Period.
While i haven't played APB and don't know how the PvP part panned out [i did however read about a few forum rants on this issue long before RTW was going down] , i do agree a game with a design like that without any type of structure or "governance" will pretty much turn into anarchy [human nature?]. The game will head right into niche,obscure territory.

Either way, in APB's case it sounds like they have a 10 vs 10 kind of "arena" system [with the arena disguised as a GTA instance], and there is a very poorly thought out [or designed] matchmaking system in place when determining who the players in the match will be.

Now matchmaking systems are not easy to design, i've been playing Global Agenda which is technically the same type of game as APB..except i believe their matchmaking system is top notch [not perfect, but good]. It even takes into account your win/loss history [regardless of your skill] , which definitely frustrates the really good players who play to win [because they will eventually end up in a losing team despite them being 5-star players]....but then again if you are that good you should not be PUGGING if there are competitive premade options available.
From what I hear it was basically cheating that killed APB.

Possibly people could have tolerated fighting their way up the pecking order but if you can see other people using hacks that you don't have access to it's hopeless.
I think its less that new players get killed over and over again, and more the fact that they know it isn't a fair fight. The reason shooters are a popular PvP genre in my opinion is that they offer a level playing field (though some games have gotten away with this with tons of unlockables, some of which are unbalanced). Even then though, the limiting factor is far more often skill that it is unlocks.

Personally, when I start a new PvP game, I don't mind losing all the time as I feel like the fight is generally fair from a game mechanics point of view, and I feel like the experience I am having is generally increasing my skill at the game. When a game like APB comes along (or PvP is most MMOs for that matter, which I've never been able to get legitimately into except in a few specific well designed games), it just doesn't replicate that experience, and I don't really care for it.
They should make a game where the more successful you are, the more gimped you get.
Like maybe you start Warcraft arenas with full Tier 10 and as you win you slowly lose more and more armor. It'd be a badge of honor to fight nekkid, and scary as hell to your opponent.

so the review author
- Hates Big Box software dev/launch/business model
- Has it in for outside pitchmen/women who get investors to give money

What this guy does not seem to realize is that investors DO care about the mechanics of all this.

Investors are not going to give money for a $3 subscription science experiment. They just aren't so his premise of "fixing" or "go back in time" is a non-starter.

Investors in software development in general (and in gaming dev particularly) ARE extremely speculative. You will not see any pensions or wealth funds here. No, the only reason to invest in any game with an online component is to buy a piece of the next World of Warcraft.

So go out big or go home is the idea now. I have talked with a few in the industry and compared it to the Movie Industry like say 10 years ago. EVERYONE was gambling BIG then on Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings they knew it was risky (because you know LOTR had SO many TV and Movie successes before the last movie threesome). Anyway people wanted to get in BIG with BIG projects and let other projects starve.

So we have the same thing now in gaming. There is no middle now. You have Sony, Blizz etc doing big name stuff and a bunch of indies doing facebook games... Anyone left in the middle like "stardock" is just going to be crushed like all the mid-level studios did in the late 90s.

I think it's funny how this "expert" reviewer actually proposes a solution that would get ZERO play in a meeting with investors. Yeah great idea I'll spend 30 million for something that is a "Pilot" episode game that "just might" catch on.

Hey propeller head hows about you like make a "big kid game" that will make "big bucks" so I can get my investor group off my back about "Yields" Mkay?

Nils no offense dear boy but you need to self edit yourself... anytime you say "In EVE you have...." Just stop - EVE is a disaster if Cisco and Oracle were not propping it up to get onboard with Sony... your little universe would implode like the Icelandic Banking system.
What killed APB for me personally, even though I found the idea intriguing at first, was the demos that I saw. It looked like a very boring game and the driving mechanic felt like a joke.
9 comments with possibly one commenter having played the game, all based on a post about a game that the poster hasn't even played based on something he read second hand about said game. Awesome. FOX news may pay for this though.

But what you read can only happen on the FFA PvP servers as a commenter noted. Criminals cannot attack Enforcers (and visa versa) outside of a mission period on the normal servers. You can run into there cars, but can't harm them in any way otherwise.
...and further, regarding the mismatched players, this did happen. The matched were based on player threat level, not ranking (character level), so highly ranked players were matched against low ranked ones in missions.

But this has been addressed in a patch. And there are ways to deal with it:
1)Switch servers (there are 40+ at all times), which is as easy as switching city instances in Guild Wars
2)Let the opponent win that mission, and hope your next mission is more evenly matched. If lopsided matches keep happening, see 1.
The poor matchmaking was certainly a part of APB's demise. There were many, many, many other things wrong with it, however. I never played the final version, but from the Keys to the City pre-release "beta" event (hype and stress-testing were the purposes of this event) I got some impressions of how the thing played. It doesn't help that the Keys to the City event was widely distributed and anyone with any desire could have obtained a code to get in.

Here's my list of problems: The UI was bad for an MMORPG and this was an MMOFPS, which made it even more unbearable. The driving was handled server-side creating upwards of a second of latency in steering, accelerating and braking. The map designs and shooting mechanics heavily favoured camping making it insanely frustrating to impossible dislodging players when they'd reached the objective before you. Compounding this, certain mission types put big red markers over the players of one team and not the other so that one team would always know where their opponents were while the other was blind. With only two city districts to play the actual cops and robbers part of the game in, it was very short on content. The missions nearly all involved one team going to a place, interacting with an object, waiting a minute, going to another place, interacting with another object, waiting a minute and so on until they'd reached all the objectives while the other team simply had to go and kill them a whole bunch of times. The gunplay was a bit sloppy, with aiming being a slow, absolutely no skillshots, firearms being wimpy and with low rates of fire, ammunition supply mechanics were baffling and grenade throwing was laborious. Leaning to the right and then leaning to the left meant waiting for your character to change which hands he or she held the gun in, slowing things down. The third person viewpoint invoked the optical illusion of travelling slowly. Matchmaking was hampered by the fact that the districts could contain up to 80 players (maybe 100? I forget) and then had to choose from that tiny pool to assign missions to players.

All the technologies were there for an insanely awesome multiplayer shooter, but someone got greedy and wanted to make an MMO and then forgot to make a good shooter. A cops and robbers shooter would have stood out and done well even if it didn't quite stand up completely to the teamplay of games like BFBC2 or TF2 or the gunplay of a Modern Warfare.

Every aspect of APB, save the customization, was crap. The. Game. Sucked. Ultimately, the customization, unlike the free and open worlds of games like Darkfall or EVE, is not enough to keep people heavily invested in their actions and coming back to a game with severe problems. But the coffin was really the $100 million price tag. All those problems were just the nails used to put it together.
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jeff, so in your opinion only somebody who was on the Titanic would be allowed to discuss why it sank? In any case, the author of the article I linked to certainly played APB, and this is discussing his post.
The developers published a piece on matchmaking six weeks ago ( ); the system attempts to balance threat levels (which govern access to weapon and character upgrades) with numbers, but because players are given a choice over whether to accept missions or not it doesn't always work out (and then you have to factor in intangibles, like PUGs vs an organised team using voice comms). Zones with a maximum of 50 vs 50 don't offer much wiggle room either, it's not going to be a very large pool of available players to try and match up.

Difficult thing to test as well, because player behaviour changes from beta when they don't care so much, have less time invested etc.
Yup I'd have to agree with you Tobold. APB seems to have a lot of worst features of both Sport PvP (lack of persistence or general over-arching "meaning" to the fights) and War PvP (mismatched sides).
Last time I read this game has plenty of players. The problem is the people that run it are horrible with money.
Lol. You know what killed APB?- piece of shit gameplay. I would never play GTA for its combat nor driving. As they are simply mediocre at best.

Now APB managed to make the core gameplay even worse. If its third person shooting was like in Max Payne and driving at least like in NFS, then maybe.

Now they had "MMO" (what with 100 players per sector? indy mount and blade medieval tps has servers with 200 ppl). Shitty gameplay , shitty game , insane buisiness model ( not only you had to buy box you also had to purchase time). If they game was f2p it would fare better. Still it was shitty game and no idea where 100 million went
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