Ex-Realtime Worlds Employee Examines APB Fiasco

Ex-Realtime Worlds Employee Examines APB Fiasco

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Former Realtime Worlds programmer Luke Halliwell has posted some interesting insights into what went wrong with APB, suggesting that the $100 million in investments the studio raised may have ultimately done more harm than good.

Failed MMOGs are a dime a dozen but APB was a particularly noteworthy disaster. Realtime Worlds spent five years on it, burning through $100 million in the process, and still managed to turn out a game that tanked with reviewers and went from launch to lights-out in less than 90 days. How could things have possibly gone that wrong, that quickly?

According to Halliwell, RTW was afflicted by deeply-rooted, systemic "cultural problems" that, rather ironically, could be traced back to the massive investments the studio had raised while working on the game. "One thing many old-timers agree on is that the investment felt like a turning point for the worse," he wrote on his blog. "Perhaps we just didn't know how to handle the investment. Perhaps the new senior managers brought in were harmful. Or perhaps our resulting growth rate simply exposed latent problems that had been there from the start. Either way, the money ended up feeling like a curse."

Complacency was another big problem for the studio, which Halliwell also blamed on the massive influx of cash. "After the investment, we lost our scrappy startup mentality and used our money to build this highly 'corporate' culture, mimicking an established, successful organization," he explained. "We lost our hunger, our fear of failure, our focus on staying lean and making do, on building the simplest thing that could possibly work."

APB was deeply flawed when it finally came out but Halliwell refused to point the finger at "specific design flaws" as responsible for RTW's downfall. "There were 300 of us, some of us there for years, and we spent over $100m," he wrote. "The problems had to run deeper than that. I believe our poor decisions (and there were plenty of them, not just in design!) are best explained as patterns of behavior within the context of a system that was not healthy."

It's not the most cheerful story you'll ever be told, although Halliwell manages to avoid sounding angry or bitter, but it is an informative and even entertaining look at just how badly, and how quickly, things went sideways for Realtime Worlds. For anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes glimpse at one of the more spectacular videogame flame-outs in recent history (or just a cautionary tale about the perils of success), it's definitely worth a read.

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I think the fact they also need to take in is, that the MMO market is so swelled too...there is so much choice in the ocean.

I do feel bad for developers though, but so much work into it for nothing ><

Jaredin:
I think the fact they also need to take in is, that the MMO market is so swelled too...there is so much choice in the ocean.

I do feel bad for developers though, but so much work into it for nothing ><

I would disagree. The MMO market, while there are many to choose from, has very little diversity. The fact that the RPG genre is dominant shows that there is still lots of opportunity for new games to come out. At the moment, we are just starting to see new genres emerging within the market such as RTS's (Age of Empires Online, Company of Heroes Online) and there hasn't been, at least to me, a successful MMOFPS since Planetside. APB was a great idea on paper, but similiar to what Halliwell said, they got too big for their ideas.

Kudos to him for having the balls to speak out.

Been there, failed that. A massive influx of outside money - and the changes that come with it - is a double-edged sword.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Microsoft had stepped up and asked them for Crackdown 2 sooner. I didn't make that up right? I'm pretty sure they had said something about being too invested in working on APB and Microsoft came too late in asking them to work on Crackdown 2.

Ironically, I heard of this MMORPG when it started to crumble. Lack of advertisement probaly played a key.

Mo' money, mo' problems.

I find it refreshing how honest he is about the issues, that they made mistakes and didnt stay as focused when they got the money. Doesnt try to blame a publisher or someone else just says they got so much money they went a bit crazy :P but not in those words

Schlagwerk:
Mo' money, mo' problems.

^^^....yes

Screw you EA, screw you.

This is quite sad. Are they not even trying to go free-to-play like Need for Speed World did? Surely the micro transactions would at least bring some money in rather than shutting it down altogether.

Cameron Wright:

Jaredin:
I think the fact they also need to take in is, that the MMO market is so swelled too...there is so much choice in the ocean.

I do feel bad for developers though, but so much work into it for nothing ><

I would disagree. The MMO market, while there are many to choose from, has very little diversity. The fact that the RPG genre is dominant shows that there is still lots of opportunity for new games to come out. At the moment, we are just starting to see new genres emerging within the market such as RTS's (Age of Empires Online, Company of Heroes Online) and there hasn't been, at least to me, a successful MMOFPS since Planetside. APB was a great idea on paper, but similiar to what Halliwell said, they got too big for their ideas.

Yeah, I agree. I don't care about MMOs, but if I was forced at gunpoint to play one I'd stay away from any one with magical elves. APB is the only MMO I considered playing, very briefly.

You know, this is a very interesting situation. I think I'll go around and find out just how exactly it failed so hard. I mean, couldn't they have gone free as the gent above me said, did they lose that much money? Is it possible that they overestimated server costs and/or underestimated player interest that hard?

Pretty sad, though.

EA is the death of any MMORPG. Never, never, never let their money go anywhere near your MMO project. The strings that are attached will pull your entire organization under.

New players were forced to fight players who were much higher level and on a team that outnumbered them by the matchmaking software. The developer's solution to this problem? Take away most/all bonuses for gaining levels, instead of simply writing a matchmaking software that pitted you against people in roughly the same level. Writing such a patch for the matchmaking software would have taken less than a week. Forcing all players to be roughly level one is an idiotic move.

There was horrific imbalance between weapons-the coolest looking guns, like the revolver magnum, were often the most useless. Newbie players were often given timed fetch missions that required them to pick up an item, hidden on/in a building, and the only way to get there was to use a secret entrance several blocks away that was not listed on your map or otherwise shown to you. When you are on an assassination mission, the other player can prevent you from having any chance at winning one-on-one, whatsoever, by simply getting in a car and driving away. You can try to chase after him, but without a partner you can't kill him. This means you need at least two people to do an assassination mission, even if you are only killing one guy.

The game would often assign you missions that were very far away, with a timer countdown too short for you to have any hope whatsoever for reaching it in time. People would often run into the street when you are driving at high speeds, forcing you to run them over. As an enforcer, you lose prestige for this. There are so many flaws with this game I have actually forgotten some of them since I played. The game was a mess.

AcacianLeaves:
EA is the death of any MMORPG. Never, never, never let their money go anywhere near your MMO project. The strings that are attached will pull your entire organization under.

Could you flesh that out some?

Starke:

AcacianLeaves:
EA is the death of any MMORPG. Never, never, never let their money go anywhere near your MMO project. The strings that are attached will pull your entire organization under.

Could you flesh that out some?

I am mostly referring to Warhammer Online/Mythic Entertainment here. By all accounts the pre-EA alpha of Warhammer Online was the kind of game that everyone wanted to play. It had 3-6 unique factions with unique classes, each faction had their own capital city, sieges were more organic and resembled Dark Age of Camelot much more closely, etc, etc. Then EA money came in and all of a sudden the game becomes a bad WoW clone. The game then doesn't reach WoW levels of success and everyone from Mythic Entertainment (including the founder Mark Jacobs, original staff, etc) gets canned and a skeleton crew is left behind.

Now it seems like the same kind of thing occurred with APB. I don't think they directly demand things from the developer, but I do think they suggest that if you want to keep your jobs and their money then you'd better develop the kind of game they want you to.

It makes me have very little hope for The Old Republic.

AcacianLeaves:

Starke:

AcacianLeaves:
EA is the death of any MMORPG. Never, never, never let their money go anywhere near your MMO project. The strings that are attached will pull your entire organization under.

Could you flesh that out some?

I am mostly referring to Warhammer Online/Mythic Entertainment here. By all accounts the pre-EA alpha of Warhammer Online was the kind of game that everyone wanted to play. It had 3-6 unique factions with unique classes, each faction had their own capital city, sieges were more organic and resembled Dark Age of Camelot much more closely, etc, etc. Then EA money came in and all of a sudden the game becomes a bad WoW clone. The game then doesn't reach WoW levels of success and everyone from Mythic Entertainment (including the founder Mark Jacobs, original staff, etc) gets canned and a skeleton crew is left behind.

Now it seems like the same kind of thing occurred with APB. I don't think they directly demand things from the developer, but I do think they suggest that if you want to keep your jobs and their money then you'd better develop the kind of game they want you to.

It makes me have very little hope for The Old Republic.

Go back even further to Earth and Beyond: EA acquired Westwood in order to get the C&C franchise, and as part of the deal, the contract required them to launch and support Westwood's new MMO, E&B, for two years. "Support" came down to a bare minimum (3 individuals for the whole game), and EA promptly killed the servers once the contractual obligation was complete, with no explanation other than that they wanted to divert server resources to other games. Remember, this was early on in the existence of MMOs (post Everquest, pre-WoW), and EA basically just didn't see the potential.

Short version: EA killed the game not because it was performing poorly, but simply because they didn't care about it and were no longer legally required to keep it going.

 

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