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APB's Second Life

GamersFirst's CCO talks why, how and when for the APB relaunch

Project My World would live, but APB would die. That seemed to be the final legacy of Realtime World's sad, sudden collapse this summer. Then, last week, unexpected news broke that K2 Network, the company behind free-to-play service GamersFirst, had picked up the MMO's technology and intellectual property.

The company has traditionally specialised in converting Korean MMOs for the Western market, but with APB the challenge is transitioning a retail and subscription-based game into the free to play model - as well as assuaging public doubts about the game following a critical mauling. spoke to GamersFirst CCO and CTO Bjorn Book-Larsson about plans for the game, the obstacles yet to be faced, and the possibility of working with former Real Time Worlds staff. What's the response been like since the news came out?
Bjorn Book-Larsson

I think the biggest response has been our inboxes have been crashed... Overwhelmingly though it's been positive. There's been a lot of people, including my own friends in various companies, who have reached out and said 'woo hoo' and 'good luck.' They're all behaving, I think, like we're sitting on top of a rollercoaster and that's a very exciting but at the same time kinda of scary ride. Obviously this was a very large and complicated title, and to modify it is itself a large task. It's a big job. On the other hand, we do have about seven years of free to play publishing experience, we have all the data on how users behave in these games. We think the modifications we are initially proposing are relatively low complexity, and they will be in line with things that we've seen in other games that we publish.

So as our whole business is driven by looking at the user feedback and modifying the games accordingly, this isn't actually that far from what we do anyway. Do you have a sense of the man hours this will take, given you've got both the engine and the free to play infrastructure to hand already?
Bjorn Book-Larsson

It's still a long job. And that's on top of the users - we have about 30 million registered users, so half of them roughly have been registering for shooter-type games. So we have an audience too. It's still a complex job, partly because the game and the engine are complex enough that the risk is that we break something far deeper into the original code when we make some of these modifications. So it's more of an issue with trying to figure out how to not do that - it will get quite a bit of time to get the point where we can freely modify something, where we essentially know all the dependencies.

So realistically we hope to release the game in the first half of 2011, leaving it sort of open-ended, and then after we first release it we then anticipate that we'll have a 6 - 12 month ramp up time when the game is out to the public. We will of course continue to work on it extensively during that period. And even the sales cycle will work in similar ways. During this ramp-up period we expect that we will make initially no sales, but then they will increase over the following 12 months.

If you look at the other games we have, they tend to live almost forever. War Rock has been around since 2006 in Korea and 2007 in the West, and we have games like Knight Online which has really been around for about 10 years, at least in Korea, and we have modified and published it since about 2005. And it still gets 50,000 simultaneous players very often. It's an interesting business, where in free to play we tend to build something that's more of a solid platform for games, then you tweak and add game modes and modify the game - essentially forever, as long as you have that initial user base. How confident are you on that happening for APB: Reloaded? How much do you think of it as a foregone conclusion based on prior experiences?
Bjorn Book-Larsson

Well, every game venture has an element of risk. It's like trying to manufacture a hit movie - some people are better at it than others, but I don't think any of us claim to be Steven Spielberg. I think it's a risky business - we as a company have probably tried to de-risk it as much as possible, for not just this title but all the titles we work from. Even as a company we're very low-cost structured - we have about half the staff in the US and half the staff in Bangalore, India. We also have offices in Turkey and other parts of the world. As a general philosophy, we're trying to be the most efficient company we can be. So you're not banking the entire company on APB, as Realtime Worlds did?
Bjorn Book-Larsson

Well, our biggest investor is Intel Capital, so if at some point we needed to add more capital I'm sure they could consider it, though obviously I can't speak for them. But in general... somebody told me once that every game company is by its nature fly-by-night, because the industry is somewhat similar to the movie industry, so I don't ever want to say that there's no risk to the company. But I do think, fundamentally, we should have more longevity than the predecessor company. And in fact we have, we've been around for seven years.

I want to be super-cautious when we're talking about risk and games. This requires far beyond that actual purchase of this title: it requires a huge amount of commitment and investment for the next year, and we have been willing to make it. It's a gamble that, based on that amount of effort, we count on it paying out but there's no way we guarantee it.

Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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