Realtime Worlds' creative director Dave Jones kicked off Newcastle, UK's GameHorizon conference with a look back at the influences behind the formation of the Dundee development studio -- and the challenges involved in creating highly anticipated online shooter All Points Bulletin (APB).
He said Dark Age of Camelot was the game that "stirred his emotions" to realize the potential of persistent online games in terms of creating new experiences for players.
"It was something I wasn't expecting. Like drinking a fine wine for the first time," recalled Jones. He's currently putting the finishing touches to APB, which is due in early 2010.
"For film and music, online is a problem. We have to change the way we make games, but the benefits are the new experiences we can create for players, as well as having a direct one-to-one relationship with him," he said.
Indeed, the creator of the original Grand Theft Auto games revealed multiplayer games have always been his passion.
Thinking Early About Online
"I played Populous and Stuntcar Racer much more as two-player head-to-head games than in single player," said Jones. Back in the day, he added, he set up a game room with 8 PCs purely to play multiplayer Command & Conquer.
"Were we jumping on the online bandwagon when we launched Realtime Worlds in 2002? Not really. That was before WoW, remember."
Prior to Realtime Worlds, and having run DMA Design for ten years, Jones said he had become jaded when it came to making predominantly single-player games.
"I think games are a social culture and it's hard to keep innovating in single player games," he explained. Equally, from a business point of view, he said it's very difficult to build a successful company on the basis of making hit game after hit game.
"I want to build a big, successful, global UK-based company. The super-developer model doesn't work anymore," he said. "You can't create a global publisher. But you can do it with online."
Crackdown: Just The Stepping Stone
So before setting up Realtime Worlds, he took time off -- particularly traveling in Korea to see how its online-only, microtransaction gaming environment worked.
The result was the formation of the Dundee-based studio, which cut its teeth with Xbox 360 title Crackdown. "We had to learn with what we knew, as well as cutting our teeth on the new technology," Jones said.
Yet, as the company's name underlines, Crackdown was only ever going to be a stepping stone to games such as All Points Bulletin. Surprisingly, Jones revealed the first game Realtime Worlds worked on, and raised cash for, is still to be announced. "It's even more ambitious than APB," he said. "We'll enjoy talking about that in 2010."
As for raising the cash required to take Realtime Worlds to that level, he made the process sound straightforward.
"We were arrogant, because we said we can't make a game for less than $30 million," he said. "It was easy to raise money because we had a strong story. And I think it was our honesty that got us the money. We got that $30 million with our first meeting with our funders."
Breaking The Mold With APB
As for APB, Jones argued that it's not a traditional MMOG, because of the way that it replaces AI characters with real players.
"Players are our content," he explained of the game, which pits 100 players in small sandbox areas where they play out highly-customized incidents of Cops versus Robbers over an entire urban environment.
Certain aspects of the game, which previewed well at E3, are yet to be announced, however: most notably its business model. It won't be a traditional subscription.
"From a business point of view, what we focus on is our concurrent connection cost per player per hour," Jones argued. "Once you work that out, you can work out your model. You can't do it the other way round."
He did reveal that he would be content -- and the mathematics would balance out -- with a growing user base of 100,000 to 200,000 players.
And considering the level of character and vehicle customization that will available in the game - everything from character bodies, shape, color and tattoos, to the detailing and trim of clothes, plus a music tool so players can customize what their kills hear as they die.
It seems likely microtransactions will play a large part in the monetisation process, and overall: "We want APB's players to become celebrities," Jones concluded.