I'm over RTW, but I'm unhappy with a couple of points.
Whilst I agree with most of what Luke is saying, I disagree with points that I was directly involved and/or witness to.
With the organization being massive and attempting to be as corporate as it could, it brought a lot of segregation.
Yes, we did hire a 'Live Production' team to manage the relationship between Dev and Ops and I agree it seemed like a bureaucratic exercise that didn't make a lot of sense. My 6 years at RTW led me to the conclusion that this probably took place because Dev were quite difficult to communicate with, and everyone seemed to be a decision maker with their list of tasks to complete. Dev certainly were difficult to communicate with from my initial department and we lived without a management 'team' for many years. Sometimes Dev would make a decision and it would be authorized for my department PURELY because they were Dev.
We too had problems getting approval for funding on fundamental issues to assist the developers yet we'd spend $xxxxx on useless things because someone thought it was a great idea. Protecting the company's intellectual property and assets were difficult to get priority or funding - long before we were trying to curb spending and/or even had a CFO.
It was always considered that the architecture and support teams (whichever discipline) were 'below' Dev. I accepted this rather arrogant view and got on with my job, safe in the knowledge that if the Development team wants to have an input on everything, surely they must have a good handle on their own kitchen.
Dev existed before Operations and pretty much no-one in Dev had worked on an MMO let alone designed and built one from scratch - this is why industry veterans who have successfully launched multiple successful MMO and persistent games were brought in. It was generally agreed that the talent pool for thinking enterprise service delivery and to think scalability did not exist either in the organization or even the United Kingdom.
Across the entire organisation, the company was full of 'celebrities' who had 'worked with Dave Jones' and so on.
Dave Jones himself was a really nice guy and easy to communicate with, but did we really need the tens of middle managers (some who are not video games fanatics and some who were from outside the industry).
Luke initially worked on an internal team developing technology for the organization. This team was really well run and had a lot of success in creating new and innovative tools and tech. Luke was one of the few key people who I had a lot of respect for, but in no way does he have the top down 10,000ft view of the business.
I personally remember having an argument with one of the key decision makers for APB's architecture about why we should have head shots in the game. This was 'shot down' because the 'developers' knew best. I play games, I've always played games.
I get what Dave Jones was trying to do, I still get it. I think it's a great concept. I think the 'University-Project' style of the company and the ultimate misguided direction of Development only proves that Dave Jones is but one man. It just clearly outlines how important it is to have trusted and talented people around you at key positions. Look at his idea that Rockstar/2K now own. They are still pushing out successful games based on the evolution of his idea.
Spending excessive amounts on the APB server setup was quite clearly not true. The build out was designed to be scalable to multiple products for multiple organizations. Realtime Worlds was well placed globally in both technology and capability to join the top quartet of online entertainment publishers. The actual user base build-out for APB was kept quite conservative, relatively. This is especially true once you look at the original estimations and Operations fought quite hard to be realistic about the build-out numbers. Operations blazed the trail with some creative and potentially game changing ways of doing business with hardware providers both in leasing and scaling abilities - and each one of these team members has gone on to do something exciting within new growth areas of the industry.
The product itself was very expensive from a technology standpoint. It had a feel of never being designed to be played as a distributed persistent game. The original publisher Webzen also had these concerns, and as such RTW decided to self publish.
Each system had to be vertically scaled and didn't operate a high concurrent user base. This was the architectural design of the software.
APB had one of the most flawless technical launches of any MMO and could have handled so much more from a user count. I find it disgusting that it's used as an excuse for the overspending which mostly happened from the game being X years over budget in time and cost. That's the reason why the company failed. Aggressive funding was required to stay afloat and launch the game. People like Joshua Howard were brought in to organize the chaos and to launch a product, it wasn't Joshua's job to fix the donkey, but he did launch the product. I really wonder if that would have happened without his team; regardless of what people may think of him.
Salaries were the highest burn rate, and it certainly wasn't the salaries of the support groups. From the administrative teams, to Operations to IT: these teams were kept to minimum required numbers.
We did operate like Google, Microsoft and the EA businesses of the world. We were acting like a successful company without the revenue stream or the hit product. I've still yet to see a successful industry organization that has the sheer quantity of staff that we do - with only one product to market and two in development.
Crackdown felt like an accidental hit. In no way was that game finished. Even still, it was over budget on time and had a massive crunch push to complete the product and involved bringing in external development assistance. Thanks to Microsoft's hard attitude as a publisher to keep dates on track, and their massive resource in bringing superstars in to help finish the game, it was launched. It was supposed to be a launch catalog title for the 360, can you remember how far back after 360 launch this actually came out?
In turn, 90% of the key Crackdown development team left RTW to form a new company: Ruffian Games. Retrospectively, I'm wondering if the working practices (which were VERY different) of the APB team and the overall direction of the product was the cause of this - I will never know for sure.
Project: MyWorld laid all of the blame upon APB, but they too had their own growing pains and not only the product direction but the technical architecture of this product changed MAJOR direction multiple times. Somehow if we were being published in the traditional way, and run as a business not as a technical exercise, we may be looking at a very different, albeit less profitable situation.
Now, you may ask if I felt this way about APB, why did I stay? I loved the company, I had biblical faith in Dave Jones to turn things around. Maybe not in the last 6 weeks like Crackdown, but definitely over the next 12 months whilst it was a live service. I knew the game wasn't the next Grand Theft Auto but it certainly had potential. It had that magic, whilst shrouded in awfulness and incompleteness it certainly had little isolated bursts of magic. I didn't want to stay up till 7am playing APB like I did with Crackdown, though.
Whilst my experiences and time at RTW will be fondly remembered, my own career came to real fruition because of RTW. I still think that fundamentally, regardless of the problems from the top down, we would not be here reflecting on the problems of the company if the product was a hit product.
Ultimately, RTW would have been a success story if the product delivered on what it promised. How many other companies in the industry are run by people who have progressed through time-served and attrition with no real skill sets to progress from chosen discipline to management? More than you think. It ULTIMATELY comes down to the quality of the product. I couldn't care less if Infinity Ward or Blizzard were run badly, it's all about what ships out of the door.
I'm getting fed up of everyone's reflection on the company, it was a bad implementation of a good idea and someone will do it better. I promised myself I would stay quiet, but it seems as time goes by, everyone has their little piece to add and they make sweeping assumptions of how the rest of the business was operated. Let it live or die. Leave the legacy alone and move on.
o. Creating a new genre is good, but if your product is quite clearly going to be received as a shooter, regardless of how you feel about it - it has to be a good shooter. It was average. I'd still rather play MW2 or CS.
o. If it's going to be seen as the next big thing to Grand Theft Auto, then it has to be at least as good as Grand Theft Auto. The combat system in GTA was extremely poor too, but it wasn't a multiplayer game.
o. Alpha/Beta phases should be utilized completely to test your system and act on feedback from the public. The economy and progression systems were broken at an implementation and design level and ultimately led to skewed player experiences - even the UI had problems that I have no real understanding why it wasn't fixed.
o. Launch felt like beta, but by now it was too late to zero everything and fix the problems.
o. Market yourself correctly. Know your market, know your customers and ACT on their feedback.
o. Fire people if they do not perform. If people have a sense of self entitlement and importance, hold them to it on a results driven basis.