End of Week 1 Update : The Crazy Cat Lady of MMO Publishers?
Wow. What a week.
From the moment we announced on Tuesday morning that we are taking over the IP for the game, and are planning to rebuild and relaunch it, until now (so just about four days) we have been crushed by email, interviews, suggestions and attention. Our leaders in PR (Rahul and Ronjini) have done a great job fending off the mad rush of items coming in through the chute. This is great, though in the short term has been a little hard to manage. We are excited too. Now we just need to focus on getting everything set up to put us firmly on the road to relaunch.
Here are some topics I wanted to respond to from the last post's comments (and keep the comments coming, we all read them to help drive where we are heading with this thing) and some of the new things that have happened this week:
Funny Post? Probably?
The funniest post someone put up this past week may have been the one saying GamersFirst is becoming the crazy cat lady of MMO publishers, picking up all the lonely strays along the road and making a new home for them (9Dragons and now APB). Not sure we agree with that statement as a mental picture, but, sure - we certainly think these are great games that for one reason or another were left orphaned and still have phenomenal potential. I guess the comparison breaks down a bit when you consider that very few stray cats come with multi-million dollar pricetags and big teams to rehabilitate them. But that aside, ok, fine - we might be the crazy cat lady now that I think of it...
Clearly in the case of APB we certainly feel it is much more than an orphaned game, since the game actually had some truly innovative and exciting components, and from our view, it's a great platform to use to launch a lot of new game play features and game modes from over the next several years. But more on that next week (when I will start sharing the design goals for the re-launch).
Making the game Free2Play does not inherently destroy the game balance (if there was proper "balance" in APB to begin with that is) as some comments seem to have worried about. But balance is one of the key things we worry about ourselves (and one of those things that keep us up at night).
Balance is in fact one of the hardest items to manage in any game in general, and in a F2P game in particular, since in F2P it is literally the balance between "grinding" items and "leasing/buying" items. If it's too hard to grind for stuff, then free players give up and leave which reduces the playing population. If it's too expensive or non-motivational to buy things, people don't buy (and in spite of it being free-to-play, we clearly do need devoted fans of the game to find purchases to be a valuable enhancement of the game experience, if not - then the game would risk dying a second time, something we clearly will work to avoid).
There are two types of "balances" that we have to worry about as we go forward; game balance as determined by what can or cannot be bought or earned through progression over time (things related to feeling accomplishment after hundreds of hours of play), and game balance as used to describe matchmaking or team dominance in each individual game session (will I get slaughtered today?). Those two are very different beasts, though related since one deals with the reasons for a person to stay with the game over the very long term, and the other deals with the reasons for a person to play a quick session right now. Sometimes they are opposing forces; if you gave everyone all top weapons from the start, that might be fun for 30 minutes, and then the game loses its long-term purpose (or things might just be so chaotic as to be unplayable). The opposite is also true; we stopped publishing one of our prior RPG games quite some time ago because the grinding factor was so brutal that Western audiences found the game unplayable (the game had hundreds of levels, and really no way to speed up the process). So all the user data we have built up over time in all the games we publish will certainly come in very handy when it comes to setting up the new grind vs buy system for APB.
Anyway, those are the overall parameters. What we will do with them are actually the topic of an entire future blogpost. However the general idea is that we will offer items for grinding (progression) that are almost the same as those for sale, but still different enough that it will appeal to two different audiences. Not better or worse in some cases, just different. In WarRock the same is done with guns like AK47, TAR21 and the AUG on one hand (which are generally earned/grinded-for in game) and the Famas and G36 on the other (which are most often directly leased, or only earned if you have a premium account while grinding). Of course there are a lot more nuances to that design in WarRock, with multiple levels of premium accounts and leased weapon slots (for example; slot 3 and 5 can have the Famas, but if you didn't outright buy the gun but grinded for it while using a $5 bronze premium account, you cannot place the gun in slot 5 etc.), but that's the general idea. For APB we are looking for a similar system where Free players will have fun but will have to grind a lot to be competitive, and paid players will have a slightly different progression path altogether. Much more detail to come on this topic in the future (and when we open that can of worms for public discussion, I will be ducking behind sturdy office furniture to avoid angry snipers).
QA Offers from Gamers
One big category of communications has certainly been offers from former clans and teams to help us QA the game going forward. This is great, and specifically the way we normally handle that is by letting people apply through the community boards once those are up and running to be part of the test patrol. But in the meantime we are happy to build a database of everyone who might be interested in helping out with Closed Beta testing, as well as upcoming feature testing. If you convince us through your passionate and reasoned arguments that you are an awesome tester, we are likely to let you try to be one. So argue away about details and features you were passionately for or against, and we will likely give you a shot.
Our Team and Former Contractors
Our team actually deserves an entire blog update on their own. So this post won't cover the things going on with the team. That will come in due time, since as we get closer to launch I actually want people to know the individuals involved in this effort, given the influence key people will have on the title.
But the exciting update this week is that we have been talking to several former APB people that worked on the title, and now have worked out deals with some of those former team members that will be doing some work as independent contractors during the transition. Since we do not yet have a UK entity or UK company, we might be working toward setting that up in the future. We currently have offices in the US, Turkey, Brazil and India, and have been looking to add a European office as well. So certainly the location of some team members is something we will consider going forward (though of course the weather in California beats Scotland any day :).
Overall, we are still interested in talking to additional people that had an affiliation with the original title, so if you are such a person, or know such a person, certainly feel free to spread the word and send us a line.
Next week should be just as crazy as this one, and in the next round I expect we will start sharing "real" details about the actual game edits and changes currently underway. We want to vet them a little bit more internally but after that our goal is to have quite a bit of public discussion about upcoming changes as part of the relaunch process. I expect passions to run high on all sides, but that in the end the game will be that much better for it. So stay tuned for Week 2's update...