The Industry's Seedy Underbelly

The Industry's Seedy Underbelly
The Rise and Fall of Realtime Worlds

Greg Tito | 2 Nov 2010 11:48
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Despite the huge investment of venture capital, it was fantastically difficult for Halliwell to get permission to spend money when it was actually warranted. "We cut all conference visits for my last 18 months there - a paltry amount next to our salary bill. I spent three months arguing to upgrade some of the APB developers' PCs in the name of working more efficiently," Halliwell wrote. He couldn't even get a bulletin board without getting the CFO's opinion. "I had to wait two months for a pinboard because everything went for approval to the very top level for a while, apparently to help get a grip on our spending."

The finance team even wanted to cut the complimentary bowls of fruit in the company pantry in the name of saving money, all while justifying their own ballooning salaries. "We had a problematic relationship between 'business' and 'development,' for sure," Halliwell says.

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By 2010, buzz was building around APB, and Realtime Worlds felt that it needed to ride that train as far as it could. Instead of spending time to fix any niggling design problems, the developers forged ahead, betting instead the game would be a massive hit and that whatever problems existed could be fixed after launch. "We spent excessive amounts on the APB server setup, in anticipation of large player numbers," Halliwell explains. "I guess we'd spent so much that our only chance of success was a huge launch, so we just planned for that."

The huge launch didn't happen. After five years of development, APB launched on June 29th, 2010. Critics generally panned it and players complained of its incredible imbalance and horrible exploits that broke the economy. People bought it though, and there was a population that logged in everyday, but it was not enough to save its creator. Six weeks after the launch, Realtime Worlds entered administration, and began shopping itself around. Unfortunately, no buyer wanted to purchase Realtime Worlds while APB was still running, and the servers shut down completely on September 16th. Everyone at Realtime Worlds lost their jobs, either to relocate as Luke Halliwell did by joining Dreamworks Animation as a software engineer or to attempt to form new game studios in Dundee. Realtime Worlds still languishes in administration, hoping for an angel to save it.

The great tragedians of the Classical era wrote plays in which the gifted and successful hero possesses a tragic flaw that ultimately leads to his or her demise. Chief among these flaws is that of hubris, or arrogance and pride. While Dave Jones was undoubtedly gifted, as Crackdown proved, he apparently let the success infect him, surrounding himself with sycophants who told him what he wanted to hear. All the while, his company grew fat on a huge influx of cash and lost the exact qualities of experimentation and hunger that made Crackdown successful in the first place. As Greek chorus, Luke Halliwell was able to see the drama unfold first hand and his commentary gives us, the audience, a sense of what the tragic fall of Dave Jones and Realtime Worlds looked like from onstage. And like any tragedy, from the collapse of a game studio to a car wreck to a well-acted rendition of Oedipus Rex, it's impossible for us to stop watching the fall. We just can't look away.

Greg Tito has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to use all of the knowledge he gained from the theater history classes he slept through in college.

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