APB Goes Free-To-Play The Hard WayS

In September, Realtime Worlds' cops and robbers MMO APB: All Points Bulletin closed its doors. In early 2011, free-to-play MMO publisher GamersFirst launches APB: Reloaded. GamersFirst CTO and COO Bjorn Book-Larsson tells Kotaku how the resurrection is going down.

Developer Realtime Worlds launched APB in June, and while the Grand Theft Auto-flavored online game met with a modestly favorable reception from fans, the company's financial troubles led to the game's closure a mere two and a half months after launch.

While fans attempted to get their money back for APB with varied results, Realtime Worlds joint administrators Ken Pattullo and Paul Dounis from business and restructuring specialist Begbies Traynor tried to salvage the company. Their efforts were unsuccessful, so they moved on to selling the intellectual property rights.

Rumors came and went regarding which company would purchase the failed MMO property, but when the smoke finally cleared, GamersFirst came out on top.

"We are obviously very happy to have concluded the sale but at the same time very much regret the loss of jobs as a result of the closure of Realtime Worlds," said Paul Dounis of Begbies Traynor. "As a consequence of the IPR asset sale all outstanding wages and holiday pay claims will be met in full. GamersFirst is a pioneer in the free-to-play space, thus APB will be re-launched as a free-to-play model game rather than the previous retail model. People who previously bought the game can now look forward to playing it again once it's back online."

GamersFirst, formerly known as K2Networks, is a North American MMO publisher that runs a wide variety of free-to-play MMO titles, from the shooter War Rock to casual MMO OurWorld.

GamersFirst CTO and COO Bjorn Book-Larsson tells us that the experience the company has had with those games will be invaluable for the impending relaunch of APB.

"What we try to do is find out what people like to play and make that work," Book-Larsson says. The company gathers data from the players of their games and uses that to shape the way the games evolve. "It's about building a long-term community and then modifying the game into something they want to play.

"First off you have to make a fun game, and then you get paid for it," he continues, speaking of the free-to-play model, GamesFirst bread and butter.

The first step in APB's evolution is making it a completely free-to-play experience. He says the original payment model, a strange hybrid of retail plus subscription, didn't fit the game at all. Players were purchasing the game at retail, and then paying for chunks of playtime. "If your friends didn't pay up, they disappeared," explains Book-Larsson.

Book-Larsson explains that previously gaining power in APB was an uphill struggle against players with more powerful gear. The new model will help players bypass the danger-riddled grinding of the original by purchasing or leasing weapons that put them on par with more advanced players right off the bat.

Some players will still welcome the difficulty. Book-Larrson says that they only expect 10-20 percent of the player base to buy or rent premium items.

GamersFirst's North American development house Reloaded Productions, also headed by Book-Larsson, will be handling the development of the game. The original APB development team has scattered, and with most of those former Realtime Worlds employees located in the UK, Book-Larsson says it isn't likely they'd be available to help out. Still, he doesn't rule out hiring on former devs for contracting work on the game.

The first version of APB: Reloaded will be very much like what the game was when Realtime Worlds closed it down. The first premium content should hit later in the year in the first update. Book-Larsson says they'll be taking player preferences into consideration from the first beta tests on. This will be the players' game.

"Have patience while we bring the game back again," Book-Larsson urges lapsed APB players. "We want to follow what players do and design games around the activities they want to play, so we're very much looking forward to using your feedback to build something great."