Sunday, November 28, 2010

End of Week 2 Update : A New Category of Players - the Premium Ones

Another insane week, and American Thanksgiving at the same time. Not sure if the in-laws were more stressful or the job, but hey - this kind of madness is clearly what we signed up for when we took on this task.

So in the spirit of keeping everyone up to date (ie sticking to our core mission of putting gamers first) - this week I am going to share our current thinking about how we will split "Basic" vs "Premium" accounts in APB: Reloaded.

When you turn a game into a Free2Play game, we generally expect that there will be several times more players playing the game than during its original run (mostly because people want to come check the game out, and since it's free the game tends to spread like wildfire once players are having a good time in the game). This is great for the gamers in general (more new players = more cannon-fodder for the experienced players), but clearly puts stress on all our systems (which in the end costs a lot of money to operate). The goal then becomes nudging the most hardcore players into "Premium" account status, in order to help pay the bills, while also letting people lease weapons and perform micro transactions for other items (usually various consumables).

At the same time, we really mean it when we say that we want free players to also enjoy the experience, while giving everyone great perks for becoming premium players. The perks usually involve things like making larger clans (like in WarRock), creating and controlling clans, or otherwise giving you various unique options and rewards (though they have to be meaningful in order to make sense).

For APB we have another great feature (and challenge) that we have to take into account as we design the new Basic vs Premium accounts - the customization system. The customization system can generate incredibly complex objects that at runtime get pushed to all the other players in a session, which means that the more complex the customization, the more stuff has to be pushed to everyone in a particular game.

Therefore one of the original RTW guys (now contracting with us) Johann, came up with what we think is a really elegant solution to the problem of getting flooded with complex content; instead of limiting what you can customize as a free player, you will be allowed to customize almost anything, but you will not be able to store (and share) complex customizations above a certain complexity level unless you are a Premium player AT THE TIME OF CUSTOMIZATION. This has several benefits, first it would limit the amount of content pushed to everyone else in the game from free players (which would reduce the amount of loading required), but it would also let you be Premium for just one month, create a lot of customizations that month, and then use those items later on (even if your Premium membership has lapsed).

There are other issues to consider (for example; we clearly do want people to still make content for the marketplace, and also to be able to buy things from the marketplace, without circumventing the limitations set by the Basic/Premium structure). The solution to that issue might be to make customized items have some automatic price correlation to the complexity of the item, but if you are a Premium player you get a discount when buying complex items (non-Premium players would pay more for complex items).

What does it all mean in practice; we presume that some incredibly talented artists will squeeze the living daylights out of the Basic complexity cap no matter what we set this at. In other words, whatever we set this cap at, we expect people to make some fantastic designs using every possible trick in the book, and then those who are really focused on their characters will clearly be very compelled to get Premium status (also for all the other perks we have not discussed yet). And the benefit to the whole game will be less complex characters in the game all around (unless you happen to be playing majority Premium players, which seems very unlikely).

Now I have to go back to eating Thanksgiving Left Overs, so this discussion (specifically what ELSE we will give to Premium accounts) will continue next week. But until then - very interested in hearing your opinions. I do expect there to be both intense Love and intense Anger at these types of suggestions, so keep in mind during the discussion that in the end the game has to actually make money, while being the best and most engaging experience possible for everyone.

 Looking forward to all your opinions!

Friday, November 19, 2010

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).

Game Balance
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.

Final thoughts
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...


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The APB resurrection
Welcome to the APB Reloaded blog.

Over the next several months as we work hard to resurrect APB: All Points Bulletin under the new name APB: Reloaded, I will use this blog to discuss several of the changes and enhancements we are planning to implement in the game, introduce key team members, take feedback from former gamers, even hopefully reconnect with former RTW staff, and also share some of our experiences working with some of the original material as we convert the game form a retail/subscription game to a free-to-play experience.

I will also share some of the wider plans we have as a company for several different development efforts underway that we have not previously shared.

The team clearly realizes the immense scope of the task ahead with APB, so I am sure this blog will cover the many of ups and downs we are likely to run in to over the next several months.

I will update this blog at the end of each week with all major developments, so check back shortly for our "week 1 updates."