Ok - so first off - I want to cautiously remind everyone that we launched APB Reloaded "Open Beta" only six (6!) days ago.
Open Beta means primarily that there will be no more character wipes, and while the game is getting very close to final production quality, and it's certainly already a blast to play APB Reloaded in it's current form, the game still needs some key changes, fixes and upgrades before it is fully production grade. There are code improvements to be released for matchmaking, more purchasable items to be completed for the item shop, and key upcoming infrastructure changes to be rolled out. In short - the game is still in Beta, and every week it will continue improving.
This is also why Premium accounts (ie upgraded accounts that accelerate game progression, unlock customizations, increase drop rates and gives players item purchase discounts) are only priced at $9.99 to start, and $7.99 for renewals. This rock bottom "beta pricing" includes a good 33%-50% discount compared to other MMOs.
Now don't get me wrong - while still a little rough around some edges (such as a few pesky sound bugs for some specific sound cards, some occasional district DC issues, and the fact that the large map size dislikes 32-bit Windows, but LOVES 64-bit Windows, as well as more cheat related changes still to be made, and the fact that we are working to add more things for people to do, game modes to use and districts to explore after they get really high level) - APB Reloaded even in Beta is STILL a really great game, with a ton of wild fun to be had in the city of San Paro.
Premium holders getting a leg up, because they are doing their part to help rebuild San Paro
Getting a premium account supports the development team, and also ensures updates are rolled out even faster since more support means we can invest more in speeding up the development effort. And - best of all - if you don't want to upgrade, you still don't have to. You can still play the game for free. But I do want to take a moment to THANK all the thousands who have already jumped on board and gotten premium accounts! Your support is invaluable. And therefore, we are of course going to let you "cut in line" when things get into a capacity squeeze.
Having a huge volume of free players means that free players will occasionally have to queue for slots at peak times, since it's important we provide priority access to paying players. Even so, our explicit long-term strategy is actually to make sure that everyone (include all free2play players AND all paid players) get basic game access without major game queues, especially when the game goes "Live" after the current Beta phase is over.
But during the massive growth phase we are in right now, or during large upcoming game changes, priority certainly always goes to Premium members, and others will be placed in queues only when network conditions require it, to make sure the game experience is not destroyed for everyone else trying to play the game.
Records set during the 6 days since start of Open Beta, and a blog post "Stat Scoop"
The purpose of the Open Beta is to test the limits of all the equipment and systems. On that score, the Reloaded Open Beta has been a smashing success so far :) !
The good news is that today we again set new records for beta players in the game, and the bad news is that during the beta phase there are some limits on network capacity, with increased capacity originally scheduled to be ramped up over time (which of course - given the response for the game, will now be sped up - a lot).
To give you some inside stats (we can call this the exclusive blog post "stat scoop") even though I will not expect to normally share many (if any) realtime stats. But given the week we have had I will certainly share some of that; at peak today, after only six (6!) days in Open Beta, we had just under 24,000 peak concurrent players connecting to the game globally (aka "Peak CCU") with a somewhat larger number of players logging in to the game in Europe than in the US, with more than four times that number of unique players logging in to the game during the last 24 hours, each player with an average playtime well over 3 hours per game session (average!). This load also meant the system automatically fired up over 200 district server instances around the globe to handle the load from the gamers.
To put that in some perspective with some of the great games out there (some F2P, some subscription); Eve Online announced back in 2007 that they had reached 35,000 peak CCU, which was 4 years after the game was released. World of Tanks announced in April this year that their PCCU reached 25,000 after a year of Beta testing. Nexon announced that Combat Arms beta had reached 12,000 PCCU in Europe in their open beta running for 10 months from December 2008 to September 2009.
So for us to get to 24,000 PCCU in six days (and WELL over 12,000 PCCU in Europe) is certainly a very good start, especially when you consider its still only Beta, and it has not yet been a week :) (and we have now also capped our servers to boot).
That also means the game is consuming A LOT of servers and network capacity to handle the growth, since unlike games that are super-low-server-impact-per-player (FarmVille, Kingdoms of Camelot etc), APB Reloaded consumes an insane amount of processing resources to keep track of 100 players, 250 cars and over 1000 NPCs real-time per district, and performing a large-scale physics simulated district at 30 frames per second server side. To continue the comparison with Eve, the sever side frame rate of APB is an order of magnitude higher than the server side framerate of Eve. Granted, it's not a fair comparison (Eve is a viscous liquid equation system with click to move mechanics that update rather infrequently, and APB is a frame-rate dependent shooter, so both are great games - just of course doing it very differently, even though CCP's upcoming games might change that). But you guys get the point; there are a LOT of sensitive computations going on in this game at a rather massive scale in our datacenters, which also makes the game somewhat "fragile" to large network issues.
Game Signups and Social Media Growth
The game has also settled into a steady growth pace by adding an average of nearly 1,000 new signed-up game accounts PER HOUR for the past several days, and our Facebook page is getting an average of 6,000 new likes PER DAY (which is great, since we now are using Facebook to post all key game status alerts, which gets info out much faster about game status than just using email, forums and other old skool formats). The page has grown from 48,000 on May 17 to 120,000 on May 29. In fact our facebook page has now surpassed the pages of other great games out there, or is heading toward the same like counts as other games that we all admire. Clearly that increases the pressure many-fold on our teams to live up to the qualities of the games that we are now going to be compared with.
Growth Strategy and Issues
The strategy on the GamersFirst side has been to roll out the game with a large but reasonable amount of investment to avoid starting the project from a big financial hole during the redevelopment phase (since this game certainly had a VERY bad history of not doing too well previously), in particular because this game has massive server side hardware requirements, far beyond most normal MMOs, with several hundred servers to execute the district logic for this volume of players.
But interestingly enough, we actually have plenty of server capacity to spare on hand. In fact right now we have sufficient server capacity on standby that we could power up that will give us 40,000 Peak CCU capacity if not more for the game.
Instead the issues we have seen for the last 6 days in Europe have all been firewall related. Even though the best firewall sales people on the planet will tell you that THEIR firewalls (Ciscos, Junipers, you name them) can handle XX Gbps of traffic, as soon as we throw millions of packets per second of encrypted UDP at any firewall, chances are that the "specs" go out the window. This resulted in the theoretical 7Gbps firewall pair we had in the EU croaking at 737Mb/sec (or less than 15% of the "theoretical" limit) and at much fewer pps than ever "rated."
So, alternatively, we COULD run the servers without any firewalls (that would actually solve the packet loss and firewall congestion issue instantly (!) ). But that would be religiously a pretty bad move. And certainly other game companies have shown that would be a rather bad idea. But, that's often the way this type of issue gets solved (throw the servers out on the net without firewalls). The network performance would surely go up. Be so would the risks to the game and the players.
Therefore, what we are doing instead is a measured increase over time, and also rolling out various changes to our core systems that will permit us to slowly increase all the server caps.
Also, we are cognizant that players can come and go, so we are going to continue performing somewhat deliberate growth during the beta phase and plan to pull out all the stops when all final changes, updates, fixes and features are fully in place.
See you on the streets of San Paro!
Bjorn / TechMech
(updated: Sun May 29 11:59pm to add):
Sidenote to clear up minor mis-information on the interwebs?
One of our forum members pointed out a video segment by some random reviewer that got a lot of things wrong about APB, and to top it off referred to Gamersfirst as an Asian company "doing mostly things in the Asian markets." Let me quickly clear that up; Gamersfirst was created in California originally under the name K2 Network, is based in Irvine, and its largest investor is Intel Capital. While we have global operations all over the planet, we only publish games in the regions of North America, South America, Europe and the Middle East. So while that maybe "touches" Asia a little bit, we are actually an entirely a western market focused company and currently do not publish any titles in East Asia. Hope that clears it up (if anyone were to ask :) ). Also - all this information is easily google-able too (for example google: k2 network investment), but I think that would be too much trouble for some people.