278: The Rise and Fall of Realtime Worlds

 Pages PREV 1 2
 

"Setting up offices in the small Scottish town of Dundee, Jones had a great vision for the game that would end up being APB."

Hmmm. Last time I looked out my window Dundee looked like the 4th largest City in Scotland. not to get too picky.

Why is it titled "Designer Shines a Light" when the guy speaking is a software engineer? Just curious.

People can look into the whys and wherefores of APB and Realtimes failure all they want, but at the end of the day, I don't think it would have made a difference if they had been managed well. The game was fundamentally flawed in that it was only fun for about 5-6 hours (in 2 hour stints) and there was no point to it.

There was no motivation for the police to go and stop criminals. Its not like stopping them mattered at all, they didn't go to prison, it didn't make the city safe for other citizans, it didn't do anything. Likewise for the criminals, their only reason to exist was to shoot police and give them something to shoot at. The whole game revolved around getting more money to get a bigger gun to get more money to... oh, now i'm bored!

Sure, a lot of MMO's have this problem, but at least they have challenging, team based end game content that gives a point to all the leveling before it (if there is a challenge to overcome, especially as a team, people will try it) but APB had nothing. You just did the same thing over and over and over for no reason whatsoever.

Anyone who wants to see a police vs criminals system implemented well should go and play Face of Mankind. In many ways its a terrible game, but if you give it a chance to get into it, some of the coolest things can happen to you in that game. Any game that allows players to send other players to prison, and then another group of players to try and break the criminals out of prison, while the police have to always man and defend to prison to ensure that doesn't happen, is pretty cool.

Xennon:
People can look into the whys and wherefores of APB and Realtimes failure all they want, but at the end of the day, I don't think it would have made a difference if they had been managed well. The game was fundamentally flawed in that it was only fun for about 5-6 hours (in 2 hour stints) and there was no point to it.

There was no motivation for the police to go and stop criminals. Its not like stopping them mattered at all, they didn't go to prison, it didn't make the city safe for other citizans, it didn't do anything. Likewise for the criminals, their only reason to exist was to shoot police and give them something to shoot at. The whole game revolved around getting more money to get a bigger gun to get more money to... oh, now i'm bored!

Sure, a lot of MMO's have this problem, but at least they have challenging, team based end game content that gives a point to all the leveling before it (if there is a challenge to overcome, especially as a team, people will try it) but APB had nothing. You just did the same thing over and over and over for no reason whatsoever.

Anyone who wants to see a police vs criminals system implemented well should go and play Face of Mankind. In many ways its a terrible game, but if you give it a chance to get into it, some of the coolest things can happen to you in that game. Any game that allows players to send other players to prison, and then another group of players to try and break the criminals out of prison, while the police have to always man and defend to prison to ensure that doesn't happen, is pretty cool.

So you believe that if the game was built with a group that managed things well like Obsidion or Valve, the game would have still ended up like shit because the whole game concept was shit.

That is an interesting viewpoint.

"The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy"

SomeUnregPunk:

Xennon:
People can look into the whys and wherefores of APB and Realtimes failure all they want, but at the end of the day, I don't think it would have made a difference if they had been managed well. The game was fundamentally flawed in that it was only fun for about 5-6 hours (in 2 hour stints) and there was no point to it.

There was no motivation for the police to go and stop criminals. Its not like stopping them mattered at all, they didn't go to prison, it didn't make the city safe for other citizans, it didn't do anything. Likewise for the criminals, their only reason to exist was to shoot police and give them something to shoot at. The whole game revolved around getting more money to get a bigger gun to get more money to... oh, now i'm bored!

Sure, a lot of MMO's have this problem, but at least they have challenging, team based end game content that gives a point to all the leveling before it (if there is a challenge to overcome, especially as a team, people will try it) but APB had nothing. You just did the same thing over and over and over for no reason whatsoever.

Anyone who wants to see a police vs criminals system implemented well should go and play Face of Mankind. In many ways its a terrible game, but if you give it a chance to get into it, some of the coolest things can happen to you in that game. Any game that allows players to send other players to prison, and then another group of players to try and break the criminals out of prison, while the police have to always man and defend to prison to ensure that doesn't happen, is pretty cool.

So you believe that if the game was built with a group that managed things well like Obsidion or Valve, the game would have still ended up like shit because the whole game concept was shit.

That is an interesting viewpoint.

Sort of, because the core game concepts as defined by the games primary designer, weren't good :-/ Tho I think you have slightly missunderstood my meaning

If you're saying 'Take a similar concept game and give it to a top studio to do what they want with' then that's a different story. In that case, it almost certainly would have turned out to be a better game, but it would have been a totally different game.

When talking about management here, i'm talking about how the guys creating the game were managed. Even if they had been super efficient and under budget and made some great technology, the game still would have been boring. Expanding too fast and hiring too many managers is not what killed this game. Its core concepts are, and those were never going to be changed by anyone other than Dave Jones because this game was his dream (bad management would not have caused the core concept of the game to deviate from his view). It just wasn't a well designed game full stop :-/

Don't get me wrong, i'm not a hater of the game or Realtime. I played it and for a while it was great fun. Unfortunately the while was about 6-8 hours (in 2 hour stints) and after that I realised there really was no point to what I was doing (i wasn't affecting anything in this massive world) so why didn't I just go and play a better core shooter in a smaller setting? It was sad because being in the UK, I would have loved to have seen this succeed.

Xennon:

SomeUnregPunk:
snip

snip

I actually agree with you. But I think there is something missing. I think that when the partnership that created Crackdown fell apart then the company suffered more than the mangement errors.

Actually your not missing it, you seem to be hinting that Mr. Jones lost his focus and replaced it with yes men. Sort of like when anyone compares the Star Wars Trilogies against each other based on how they were made and who were involved during the process.

Would you say that what happened at GearBox while they were making their "Borderlands" game is sort of what should have happened with Realtime worlds or Silicon Knights while they making "Too Human." In that they realized their flaws in their game's design while late in the production, they still took the time and money to change their product to create a success as versus steam rolling ahead.

I understand that Realtime put out a Beta of their game but they didn't do anything to fix the the complaints. It is almost as if people were afraid to tell Mr. Jones that he had a flop and they really need to change things if they wanted a success.

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.

Agree with both the above posts. Good to get some more 'inside knowledge' too (assuming you're on the level 'dabulldog'. Everything you wrote sounds informed so I have no reason to believe otherwise :-) ).

Yes, the concept was a good idea. Cops and Robbers is something everyone can relate to and the fact that there was a lot of hype and interest around the game proves the concept was solid. Unfortunatley, as you say, it was implemented poorly. My personal opinion is if you are making an MMO (especially a PVP MMO) you HAVE to make the user feel like they are having some impact on the world, otherwise there will be no lastability to the game. Thats why the popular games with PVP elements (DAOC, Face of Mankind, Planetside etc) are enjoyable, because there is a point to PVP. You can't just go 'lets take Modern Warfare and make the matches bigger' and expect it to hold anyones interest for as long as an MMO needs to.

This would have been a completely different game if there had been some systems like district control, but police controlling a district means that local businesses are able operate which somehow translates to funding for the police. Or vice versa the criminals can extort money out of local businesses. Then expand those systems in lots of ways so that every action you take has an effect on the world around you and your team. Something like that would have kept me playing :-)

Heck, in Face of Mankind, I wanted to log in just to make sure no lawbreakers were messing up my beat in New York City. I would also spend hours just standing on the front prison gate, sometimes quashing trouble, sometimes doing nothing. Just the fact that I was serving a purpose made it fun and worthwhile.

To all the people saying that Dave Jones could run a small company but not a big one, and that he should have taken a step back and hired someone who could...

HE DID!

He stepped back as CEO, took the title of Creative Director, and hired Gary Dale to be CEO. It was Gary's job to run the company, and him that ran it into the ground. As someone who worked at the company, I lay the blame firmly at the feet of two entities. APB, and Gary Dale.

so he went the road of george lucas, designing by committees and committees of committees in a sterile, cookie-cutter development cycle and getting rid of everyone who challenged him creatively just because he was now popular and rich enough to do it.

it may be a bit harsh, considering most of the developers were apparently against the changes...but im kind of glad SOMEONE in the world has paid the price for their corporate hubris.

 Pages PREV 1 2

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Registered for a free account here