Two months to the day after Dundee, Scotland-based Realtime Worlds announced the closure of its embattled MMO All Points Bulletin, another game company has emerged to give the cops vs. robbers game a new lease on life.
Irvine, CA-based GamersFirst said today that its wholly-owned subsidiary Reloaded Productions has acquired the intellectual property rights for APB.
Reloaded will relaunch APB as the free-to-play, microtransactions-supported game APB: Reloaded, due sometime in the first half of 2011.
"For us, APB is quite a good fit," GamersFirst COO and CTO Bjorn Book-Larsson told Gamasutra. "We already have a pre-made shooter audience, they're just quite Western-global. And we're excited to bring them a game of the APB caliber."
Realtime launched the original APB in late June in North America, and early July in the UK and Europe.
After years of development and tens of millions of dollars invested, the online game was a commercial bust and shut down in dramatic fashion in mid-September as Realtime went into administration, shedding nearly 300 jobs. Administrators Begbies Traynor wanted to find a buyer for Realtime, but did not meet that goal.
Book-Larsson said that GamersFirst initiated discussions with Realtime, and after testing the game "extensively" decided that there was enough substance and opportunity "to modify the gameplay and balancing so that it would work as a free-to-play game."
Intel Capital-backed GamersFirst didn't disclose the amount of the transaction. Book-Larsson said that Reloaded has ample staff to support development of APB, but is open to talking to prior staff for contracting, although most of those people have moved on.
GamersFirst has been around for about seven years and is affiliated with online game service K2 Network, which has become known for bringing Asian MMOs to Western audiences. GamersFirst has 30 million registered players worldwide across games including Knight Online, Sword2, War Rock and 9Dragons.
About half of GamersFirst's userbase play online RPGs, the other half play the company's shooter titles, according to Larsson, who said APB's hybrid shooter and MMO elements can offer something for fans of both genres.
APB: Reloaded will relaunch with some basic patches to the original game next year, but it will continue to evolve under GamerFirst's free-to-play focus as time goes on. The gameplay and the highly-touted customization features of the game will remain intact, but parts of the game will be closed off to non-paying players.
"Only about 10-20 percent of all players will actually become microtransaction-paying players. So we have to change the balance of the game so that free-to-play players have a good time, and [paying] players have certain benefits," Book-Larsson told Gamasutra.
When APB originally launched, the game adopted a controversial business model that mixed subscription, hourly and retail fees. The unusual business model had a profound negative effect on APB, Book-Larsson believes.
"The most critical change, of course, is that we think when [Realtime] launched the game they had kind of a weird, hybrid retail/MMO model," he said. "I think that almost killed the game on its own, partly. For us it seemed like the monetization method they chose was problematic."
The executive believes that his company's free-to-play model could remedy the conflict between monetization and gameplay. In GamersFirst's War Rock, for example, players can either earn a gun through gameplay, or "lease" a weapon for anywhere between 30 cents and $9 for 30 days. Book-Larsson did not give details on how exactly APB will implement microtransactions.
As for APB's extensive marketplace, he said the feature is one of the reasons GamersFirst was so interested in the title. But player-to-player user-generated content sales -- originally one of the game's defining features -- will be tricky to support due to balancing issues. "As a model, it makes sense, but it's a bit harder to make sure the game looks and stays balanced."
But does GamersFirst have reservations about acquiring a game that went to market and fell short of success? "It just amounted to [Realtime's] expectations," said Book-Larsson. "They had their sights set on selling the volume that Grand Theft Auto did. So I think that with the right tweaks, this will be a very successful game. I think the difference is that it may take 6-12 months for it to ramp up to that success."