4/5 years until APB realises potential

New dev to "stay connected" to Dave Jones.

Dead and buried MMO APB has a new owner and an extra life - it will rise again. But how long before we're playing the game we were once promised?

A lot longer than you think.

"Oh no [six months isn't long enough] - we think it'll take four or five years," new owner Bjorn Book-Larsson informed Eurogamer.

"We'll release the game somewhat close to the final, unreleased patch; we'll get the game out with some of the modifications, probably leased guns and some premium features.

"After that, presuming there's an interest in the game, we expect this to be a multi-year development process where we continue updating the game."

The new owner of APB is K2 Networks, and within it, online portal GamersFirst. Book-Larsson's bid beat "several" parties to APB with an offer rumoured to be $1.5 million (he couldn't confirm or deny it) - "a huge, substantial discount" on a game that cost $100 million to make.

Book-Larsson wasn't allowed to tell us who the other interested parties were. He mentioned speculation about Epic and Codemasters (Eurogamer debunked this one) and mused that they might have been interested in some of the APB tech. Book-Larsson even ran into fellow bidders even though he wasn't supposed to know who they were.

"We got around pretty late," admitted Book-Larsson. "By the time we got around to it, the company went from 270 people down to 60, and then down to just five or six to maintain the source-code to be sold. So there really wasn't a company left - they were just selling things for parts.

"In some cases people may have put in bids for just a small portion of the asset, in other words, they'd have been interested in components like the customisation system. And we were probably one of the few that considered the asset as a whole.

APB was being sold for parts - character customisation in particular.

K2 Networks' long-term goal of resurrecting APB clearly made a difference. And there's a chance that Dave Jones, creator of APB, may help.

"I talked to him around the time the deal closed and, basically, he just offered his best wishes for the continued existence and hopeful turnaround of the game.

"He seemed to be relieved that the game will continue, and I think that was the general sentiment from a lot of people who had spent so many years of their lives of this thing and would like to see it go on.

"We don't have any formal plans to work with Dave," he added, "but obviously we'll stay connected with him."

Whether Dave Jones has washed his hands of APB, Book-Larsson couldn't say - "You really would have to ask Dave that - I can't answer for him."

APB will relaunch in the first-half of 2011. Between now and then, a team of around 24 people will install a free-to-play, micro-transaction business model. In itself, that should negate the odd time-buying problem that APB had, where friends could drop off at a moment's notice because their game-meter had run out. The other big issue was game balance, but K2 will solve this with gun leasing. Rather than be killed by a player with a gun you can't earn for several hours, you will be able to pop to the game shop and lease the firearm and get your own back.

"It gives people options where they can either grind and suffer," Book-Larsson said, "or they can go and short-circuit it and go get the same gun and shoot back."

Once upon a time the future was bright for APB.

Driving, according to Book-Larsson is an "ancillary" feature and so fixing this isn't top priority. Matchmaking, on the other hand, will be looked into. "The most fun we saw people having was when they all sat in the same room and almost played it Counter-Strike-like," he revealed - and that's what he'll try to recreate.

Despite a quick turnaround, K2 has committed already to two years of game development. And sky's the limit: if gamers like it a "substantial team" could take the game anywhere.

"There's nothing stopping it from exploding into a huge amount of game choice and game content if that is where users take it," Book-Larsson said.

APB could also go off in a peculiar direction: K2 sees the game as "a platform to make more stuff on" that could involve "other releases or updates".

"Possibly [spin-offs], too - but even within the game there's potential because you have a social district you can walk around. One of the potentials is: there's nothing stopping you entering a building and enjoying a collaborative game where you have to join other people to have to do something together as opposed to going out and fighting in the big city," Book-Larsson revealed.

APB will be K2 Networks' biggest title, literally - War Rock is only a 700MB download. There's work to be done here, too. "We're considering a secondary version which would actually be a smaller client and less hardware resources required," Book-Larsson revealed.

But the essence of the game will remain the same: "If you're asking if we're becoming Zynga, the answer is no - the game will not be played by 35 year-old house-mums." There's a much stronger chance that the 15 million registered War Rock users will give it a go and, as a F2P game, there's nothing stopping them. What's more, if they don't like it, they can come back again in six months and try it again.

What this means is that APB won't be that different when it reappears next year. A F2P model may inherently fix some problems but others will still need work. And while K2 Networks has the luxury of time that a F2P game awards - a big-bang launch isn't necessary - Book-Larsson said it absolutely cannot sacrifice quality.

"We assume there will be a 6-12 month ramp-up period in which time we'll keep modifying the game until the game is liked, because we know that gamers won't pay for the game until it's fun," he acknowledged. "That model requires being out there for a long time and having backing and investors that are OK with literally seeing no sale for months while you tweak and tweak and tweak.

"We live in a model where if you don't think it's a fun game, you won't pay us."

The door's open at K2 for any Realtime Worlds staff not snapped up by CCP, by Jagex or by Crytek. "Do we think the stigma will affect us? I feel really sad for the people who lost their jobs," Book-Larsson said.

In conclusion, he added: "We're very humbled by the enormity of the task that's ahead of us. While we're feeling good about this particular purchase and putting together the right modifications, it's still a large, daunting project.

"We're going to take our time to make sure we get it right. It's important for your readers to know it's not something we're approaching flippantly, it's quite the opposite. We're realising the amount of effort and battening down the hatches in order that we make this work."

The Realtime Worlds saga serves as a warning to MMO makers industry-wide. But what was the experience like for someone on the inside? Eurogamer found out.

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