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Management shakeup at  APB: Reloaded  publisher GamersFirst

Management shakeup at APB: Reloaded publisher GamersFirst Exclusive

February 16, 2012 | By Kris Graft

As changes continue to sweep the game industry at large, including the free-to-play sector, Irvine, CA-headquartered GamersFirst parent K2 Network confirmed with Gamasutra a management shakeup and a business realignment.

Joshua Hong, co-founder and CEO of the APB: Reloaded and Fallen Earth publisher has stepped down from his position within the company, chief marketing officer Rahul Sandil said in an exclusive phone interview on Thursday.

The restructuring marks perhaps the most significant change in the decade-long history of the company, which was one of the first to start bringing the free-to-play business model to the West from Asian territories.

The company's board appointed Bjorn Book-Larsson as CEO to take Hong's place. Book-Larsson had been serving as CTO and COO of K2.

"[The board] decided that it was time to bring a new perspective to the company," said Sandil, "given the fact that the industry is changing very significantly."

Sandil had no comment on Hong's future plans, other than he will take some time off following the restructuring. Hong remains an investor in K2 and a board member.

"This was a very amicable and planned management transition," said Sandil.

Book-Larsson will be appointing a new management team, as the company refocuses on developing and possibly licensing its GamersFirst Connect free-to-play platform.

The company is also focusing on development of new IP, including the upcoming internally-developed MMORPG Hailan Rising, a Unity 3D-based game that will launch across PC, iOS and Android later this year.

While Sandil said the shakeup was "very amicable and planned," there were signs that all was not well at K2 and GamersFirst in the months leading up to this transition. K2 had employed around 215 workers in October across locations in California, North Carolina, Scotland and India, but layoffs that month and in January brought worldwide headcount to about 180. Sandil said the current plan is that all four GamersFirst offices will remain operational.

Gamasutra had also received anonymous emails from a source close to K2 and GamersFirst, detailing a power struggle at the management level. Sandil and Hong both flatly denied those rumors.

As an early proponent of the free-to-play model, most of K2's early titles were developed in countries such as Korea. K2 would then localize them and release them in the U.S., South America and Europe.

But that is an aging strategy in a fast-moving market, Sandil said. The company has since realized the importance of owned IP, and had also created a useful tool with the GamersFirst Connect platform, which facilitates customer service, business analytics and monetization.

"The focus is now going to be on the platform, which was developed under Bjorn's leadership over the last three-and-a-half or four years," said Sandil.

K2 acquired the cops and criminals MMO APB in 2010, and announced plans to make it a free-to-play game after the original developer, Realtime Worlds, folded. K2 acquired the MMO Fallen Earth and converted that game to free-to-play last year. Both games operate under K2 and GamersFirst's Reloaded Productions subsidiary.

Information obtained by Gamasutra a month ago showed that APB: Reloaded had 1 million players and generated $300,000 of revenue per month. Sandil said the game, which is one of the top free-to-play titles on Steam, "now has close to 2 million players."

As for the revenue figure, Sandil said, "we are far over that number."

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