APB and the online odyssey

APB and the online odyssey

By Rob Crossley

May 26th 2010 at 9:32AM

Realtime Worlds discusses how it found new ways to play, and new ways to pay

Dundee is routinely referred to as The City of Discovery, and there’s hardly a more fitting term for one of the region’s leading studios, Realtime Worlds.

Preparing the release of its five year project, All Points Bulletin (APB), the group admits it is venturing uncharted territory.

Its game is an action-focused, GTA-esque, online PvP affair, and previous attempts at this design have provided mixed fortunes – from PlanetSide to Tabula Rasa.

If that didn’t pose enough risk, Realtime Worlds has decided to venture further, by introducing a disruptive new payment model that is neither a standard retail purchase, nor a monthly subscription system.

With the risk and rewards pitched so high, APB’s creators may be just about to discover more about the game – and its market – then they have done throughout the whole development phase.

We sit down with design lead EJ Moreland to discuss what the group has leant so far.

APB has been in development for nearly five years. Has the project evolved through a number of different ideas and iterations?
Oh absolutely, the game’s gone through several different iterations, and the earlier builds had all been about making an MMORPG in the purest sense.

At first there was much more progression and statistics involved, and we realised in the end that action games need to be action games. It’s really about the player’s ability to think on their feet and hand-eye coordination as much as it is about accruing items.

The thing is, we understood that in this type of game progression was important. Players need to evolve and grow, so we took a look at different paths. This was about two and a half years ago.

There was actually a time when we were considering making the game’s social district separate – not a separate product, but having it become its own thing. But what we ultimately decided to do was focus on the action, and as the audience comes to the game we’ll look to build up the social district to better match their tastes.

There is certainly an audience out there that just loves customising and building characters, and isn’t strictly into violence and action. APB is in essence a co-operative PvP, and we decided that later on – after the game has been released – we will start to look at ways of attracting people to the social area.

In regards to APB’s core feature of online PvP action, was there any sense of importance to use dedicated servers?
Well yeah I get the impression that the likes of Activision and Infinity Ward are coming round to the idea that using dedicated servers is important.

I get why there was an outcry about the peer-to-peer hosting on Modern Warfare 2, because it’s so unpredictable what the quality of the online experience is going to be. That can really impact your experience, and we don’t want that – we want people to have a good experience every single time.

And when we talk to the publishing partners for the Xbox Live and PS3 network versions of the game, the one thing we won’t compromise on is a guarantee that APB will always offer a reliable and hosted service.

So some philosophy changes may have to happen with the console publishers, and they’ll have to think about how they’ll work with us more and look at how to build a technical environment that’s suitable for what the game offers.

What is the strategy behind keeping some parts of the game – such as customisation editors - free to play?
We look at it like this, MMO subscriptions are like gym memberships. People don’t want the bother of cancelling them, but when they do it’s like a divorce.

What we wanted with APB was something much less of a barrier – if you want to play it for a month, but then you’re kinda tired with it and want to wait for more to come out, we’ll make that easy for you. You don’t have to unsubscribe, you can just go and come back when you want.

On top of that, we didn’t want people to think about how much time or money they’re spending when customising their avatar’s tattoos – we didn’t want to penalize people for spending a lot of time and care making their characters look just right. That’s why we decided to make it free.

And this way, you can always be part of the community even when you’re not paying us money.

You’ve previously said that gamers can purchase in-game currency that you’ve called Realtime World Points. This is game-agnostic – this isn’t APB Points – so is that being set up for future games as well?
Absolutely. Realtime Worlds is transitioning from being a developer to being an online publisher.

RTW Points is going to be the currency for all of our RTW games in the future. That doesn’t mean we’ll be monetizing all our games in this way, of course. But a huge part of our future is online-focused games.