Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 30, 2010
Why discuss APB?

The best number on APB players I could find was that All Points Bulletin has 130,000 "registered users". Note that this isn't "subscribers", but basically represents the box sales, each box coming with 50 hours of play time, and extra play time has to be bought and paid extra. While it was revealed that paying players spend on average $28 per month on APB, it wasn't said how many of the 130,000 buyers are "paying players". Free2Play games usually convert only 5% to 10% of players to "paying players", but as APB wasn't free to start with, the people who bought it might already have been more invested in the game, so maybe 10% to 20% of the buyers got converted into "paying players". So for all we know there aren't all that many people playing All Points Bulletin. So why does APB get so much discussion in the MMO blogosphere? Isn't that a waste of breath, talking about the failure of some insignificant game nobody plays?

The significance of the fate of All Points Bulletin comes from another leaked number: The development cost of $100 million. As much as we like seeing hyper-enthusiastic game developers giving interviews on how much their games are a labor of love, deep down we know that making games, and especially MMORPGs, is big business. Nobody invests $100 million because he loves games. Big investments are done in an expectation of big profits. And the great successes or catastrophic failures of previous games influence the expectations of investors. What games succeeded or failed determines not only how many, but also what games will be produced in the future.

Imagine you were the boss of a independant game development studio, and you were talking to investors, asking them to invest $100 million into that great MMOFPS you are planning. The investors will have done their research, and ask you questions on why you think that your game will be a success. What previous shooter MMOs have made their investors filthy rich? With a list of games like Hellgate London, Tabula Rasa, Auto Assault, and All Points Bulletin you are unlikely to persuade any investor to give you money. Even the shooter MMOs that are still up and running, like Fallen Earth or Global Agenda, don't look as they were extremely profitable. Global Agenda, which by all accounts is quite a good shooter MMO, went subscription-free this summer, and is sold for half the price of a regular PC game on Steam.

On any single game it is possible that other factors, e.g. the widely cited "bad management" is responsible for the game's lack of success. But if there are lots of similar games all in the range of failure to middling success, the question whether it is at all possible to make a game like that a success certainly pops up.

MMOFPS have some serious fundamental obstacles to overcome. One is competition from non-MMO first-person-shooter games: Nearly every shooter you can buy comes with some sort of multiplayer mode, and usually that multiplayer part of the game has no additional cost. What can you offer players in a MMOFPS that would make them want to pay more to play online? The usual answer to that is the same answer as for fantasy MMORPGs: You offer a persistent world with continuous character development. But that is jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire: There is a strong clash of cultures between the fundamental rules of a MMO and the fundamental rules of a multiplayer shooter game. People who buy shooter games are very much used to their success in the game being determined by their skill at aiming. People who play MMOs are very much used to their success in combat being determined by their level and stats. It would be *extremely* hard to create a MMOFPS in which these two are perfectly balanced, so that success is both determined by skill and by character progress, if that is even possible at all. While it might be possible to make a good MMOFPS PvE part of the game, the moment you make a PvP part you run into huge problems. And the more open and free-for-all the PvP part is, the more likely it is that a lack of balance between skill and time spent causes players to leave the game. You can always make a PvE game in which the player always wins, gets rewards, and is happy. But in PvP by definition half of the players must lose, and any cry of "not fair!" can have serious consequences on long-term profitability of the game.

So, some investors lost $100 million of their money on All Points Bulletin, creating a game with a Metacritic score of a measly 58%. It would be surprising if that doesn't give others investors reason to think twice when asked to invest in some "GTA Online" or other shooter MMO. So even if not many of us played APB, we will be affected by the repercussions of its failure. And the question of "will there ever be a highly profitable shooter MMO?" remains open.
Well, matching players by gear/level is a good start.

Let the guys in epic duke it out between themselves and let the newbies fight in their their own, separate battlefields;
I don't believe that the use of a targetting reticule and the presence of guns as one of the available weapon types automatically makes a game a "shooter". Fallen Earth is mainly a crafting-focused sandbox MMO with some PvP elements.

I didn't play Auto Assault, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't an FPS either.
I never said Auto Assault was a first person shooter, I just said it was a shooter. You definitely did a lot of shooting in that game, even if most of the time the shots were fired by the vehicle you controlled. FVS = First-Vehicle-Shooter?
"And the question of "will there ever be a highly profitable shooter MMO?" remains open."

The answer is yes - World of Tanks.
Well, matching players by gear/level is a good start.

That works relatively well in games with a large player base, like WoW. But if there are just a few thousand players online at at a given time and you can't do cross-server battlegrounds how often do you think that will happen?

And I still think that WoW has to turn up the dial on the matching system. It's still way too low since you end up with top geared players just as well as newly dinged 80s.

Still I think the correct solution would be where the gear upgrades would be very very limited. Like say in WoW that a gear upgrade would mean +1 or +2 extra strength on something instead of +100 or +200 as it is now. That would level the field a bit. It shouldn't be that gear should decide your win/loss up to 80-90%.

And regarding AA I believe the correct version would be TPVS (Third Person Vehicle Shooter). ;p

You don't realize the half of it.

There are deals and deals within getting an MMO going.

What about hosting of servers?
What about maintenance of servers?
What about routers/switches to servers?
What about backup and recovery?
What about system management?
What about databases and Op Systems?
What about security?
What about Admin staff?

It takes a village to raise an MMO.

For example when Wow launched there were a large number of realms waiting to handle all the online gamers. Who paid for that? Blizzard? NOT

Someone took a gamble that revenue would meet the outlay for all the IT capital expense.

Someone paid MS, Cisco to get Azeroth up and running AND had resouces to pay for all the Sys Mangers. (if memory servers it was IBM btw)

ABP's implosion in spectacular fashion may well have been caused by a BIG bill from their hosting comany. After all most people would prudently say with Tabula Rasa et al my host co does not want to gamble. ABP went back to investors who fronted money they said no thanks... 100 mil is enough.

Big Bill comes ABP can't pay "Administration".

So it could easily be a situation that Management IS the problem here.
@Winged: World of Tanks has got to be the worst mesh between RPG and shooter I have ever seen.
@Drilski - I take it you haven't played in the Beta then?

It's a fantastic, innovative, and most importantly, fun title that has many (including myself) waiting impatiently for the EU/US release. People are literally chomping at the bit for the opportunity to throw wads of cash at the devs.

I agree with your analysis and the business logic that should go into a decision to invest in the development of a game like this.

However, you'd be amazed at how frivolously people are prepared to spend $100m. In the industry I have the most insight into, they do it all the time. Some win, some lose. Most people in the industry appear to be in agreement that most lose, most of the time.

Also, I don't have any details on who these investors are, the ones that put in the alleged $100m. But chances are they were significantly more than one. I'm not recommending anyone to invest even a paltry $10m without asking the kind of relevant questions you proposed, but many of RTW's investors may have been persuaded by the preexisting capital, rather than the quality of the product.
I don't know how you make a matching mistake like that with a $100 M game.

I have always liked PlanetSide and I think that did well enough. And it seems that your arguments are limited to PC MMOG shooters--I am not sure where Boderlands would fall on your analysis (though its probably more Diablo like than MMOG like) and the up coming Dust 514 from CCP--who do understand PVP and maybe even shooters well enough to do a PVP MMOG FPS...though I think they are limited to 64 v 64 (opposed to PS's 300+).
I guess we'll have to wait some more for a good MMOFPS. APB fail will not encourage investors but someone will try to make a succesful MMOFPS and I believe it can be made.
Also, besides what you have already mentioned, MMO offer crafting, economy, conquest...
Personally, I'd love to see a FFA PVP MMOFPS, in the vein of Darkfall, and even if it's clearly a tough bet, I believe it can be done.
Do you guys even check your facts? Tobold, you didn't even verify those figures from a valid source, the "100mil" figure is in no way accurate, and has zero relation to the actual APB MMO.

Actual verified losses from the APB unit are 3-5mil currently.

Actual losses from the company were in the 50mil or so range due to investment and over a hundred employees working on the social game title (MyWorld) that never launched before they ran out of funds.

Obviously APB wasn't a success, it was released too early, it's anti-cheat system wasn't working properly, gameplay hadn't been nailed down 100%, and there was absolutely zero marketing due to politics with EA.

If they can fix the issue with with cheating via radar and aiming hacks the game is a solid and fun MMO version of Grand Theft Auto. The most recent patch brought it up to where it should have been at release.

However with all the poor mis-management and execution, whether it survives administration to cover the 3+ mil in debt that's due to keep it running is the big question.
I'm sorry, I smell another Infinium Labs here. They did not spend $100 million on this game. Not even close.

Maybe investors managed to pull out and take their money with them, which would explain why "emergency investment" was necessary. Maybe they intentionally gave a half-assed effort, paying themselves large salaries while not actually working on the game most of the time. Or maybe, like Infinium Labs, they spent most of their budget on "consulting," another way to funnel investor money directly into the pockets of your associates.

The point is, this game is not a fraction of the game WoW launched with, which originally cost a fraction of that $100 million. APB is not a game that had $100 put into it in any legitimate way. It is the side-product that popped out of an investor bilking scheme.
Here is the source from which I got the $100 million from. If you don't believe that number, I challenge you to link me a more reliable source with a better number. Just saying "I don't believe that" doesn't cut it.

Furthermore I was talking here about investor expectations. So even if the real picture is a bit more detailed and part of the money was lost on another game, the very fact that the headlines everywhere were that "APB lost $100 million" is sufficient to change the perception of future investors.
Please understand Tobold, I'm not calling you a liar. If you read my full comment (and I'm not sure you did), I'm not arguing the investment number of $100 million. I'm only saying I don't think $100 million of that investment money really went into making APB.

The $100 million is investment in the company Realtime Worlds, not in APB specifically. As Scott and I both alluded to, there are plenty of places that money could go that have nothing to do with improving APB.
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