The failure of All Points Bulletin is a current hot topic, especially since it looks to have pretty much destroyed the generally well-regarded developer Real Time Worlds. A great look at this toppling can be seen at GameBrief – the only thing that appears wrong are claims that APB only sold around 10k copies, whereas the true figure appears closer to 100k units (including digital downloads). Regardless, RTW appears to have burned over $US104m on its way to administration and APB has to bear the lion’s share of that cost.
Lining Up To Say, “I Told You So”
The first thing I’d add to the GameBrief article is that the business model that RTW picked actually worked against them earning regular revenue – you could play with your free hours, then muck around in the social area for as long as you liked while you waited for the next update. I’m sure there are plenty a number of APB players out there with the free hours left from their copy purchase who were waiting to see what the next update brought. Yes, there is an argument for giving away some things for free in order to get money elsewhere, but usually not be giving away what was considered the best part of the game.
The second thing I’d add is that pay-to-play player vs player titles face a massive obstacle in keeping players: PvP sees a lot of players lose regularly. There is a very small group of people out there who want to pay for the experience of losing to other players who then taunt them with custom death music. APB had no real training area, no abilty for players to learn the game before they started playing – it was sink or swim from the tutorial onwards. Now, this is true of titles like CounterStrike as well, but 1) it doesn’t cost to play CounterStrike (or equivalent) and 2) you can pick your difficulty level by choosing a server. For PvP games that do require you to pay a subscription, the path to success is offering players safe areas where they can still do things and feel like they are progressing their character.
APB / RTW will not be the last time the video games industry sees a big budget title flop hard, especially in the MMO space. There is just too much money around MMOs for investors not to be convinced that if only they spend up big, they are certain to see the money roll in at the back end. Hell, as has been pointed out, APB / RTW echoes Tabula Rasa / NCsoft West in terms of both process and outcome, with TR’s demise not being that long ago.
However, it certainly is a warning sign about the difficulties of succeeding in the Western MMO market at this point in time, as well as again indicating the importance of getting the business model – y’know, the way the company actually generates revenue to keep the servers active and employees paid – right.