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You'll Never Take Us Alive: Epic To Buy APB?

The BBC mention the possibility that the remains of APB may be purchased by Epic. This actually squares with the reports from Gamesindustry.biz where Les Able of Begbies Traynor said that despite 300 parties having interest, none of the shortlist of six were “comfortable with buying it as a live operation.” So, APB is dead and there’s certainly six places on that list for Epic. Some more information, speculation and thoughts on the APB close follows…

Epic denied to comment directly on the possibility, with Dana Cowley speaking for Epic saying that “Mark [Rein of Epic] absolutely loves APB, and everyone here loved what they saw” and noting that any discussions would be confidential.

In some ways, Epic makes a lot of sense, for a couple of reasons. Rein was actually the first person to give impression of the game in a hands-on state back in 2009, where he raved about it to VG247. Example quote: “It’s hard to describe. It’s everything you’d expect that sort of game to be. If the Rockstar guys ever made an MMO out of the best version of Grand Theft Auto, this would be it.” So he certainly liked it back then, so perhaps still sees a future for it.

However, there’s also another possible thing of interest to Epic. They’re not just a games company, of course. They’re also a technology company. There’s certainly technological aspects of APB which, I suspect. would be attractive things to add to their own engine-tech business. This may or – more likely – may not square with speculation that Jones has relocated to the US in a move-in with Epic.

In other APB related news, before the actual forums died, reader Kadayi pulled the list of goodbye messages from the team from it, republishing it in our comments threads. You can read them all there, but here’s a couple which stood out…

“I truly wish we had the chance to continue to craft APB into the vision we had for it. It has been a long & difficult journey but ultimately rewarding to have had the chance to try something bold and different. APB holds some great memories, from the last night of the beta, to the clans and individuals who amazed us with their creativity and sense of community. I am so sorry it had to end so quickly but hopefully the good memories will stay with us all for a long time. Thanks to all the team for the years of hard work, and to the players who contributed so much.” – Dave Jones

Please spare a thought to all the thousands of brave men and women of San Paro who despite knowing the odds, still dared to cross the street. They will be sorely missed.. – Johann van der Walt (Software Engineer: Living City)

“Working on APB was rewarding, frustrating, amazing, depressing, exciting, and overall, surreal. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, but I.ve enjoyed it all the way. I hope the players enjoyed the time they had despite the short comings, and will remember the game in a good light for what it was meant to be, not quite what it turned out to be. Now just to get started on that Xbox version…” – Jon McKellan (the guy who did the loading screens)

“Press F to apply for Jobseekers Allowance.”- Ben Hall (Development QA)

“In every way APB was a dichotomy. I have witnessed the project alter from a fragile and delicate entity used to show the world the depth of our vision through to the sturdy beast we released to the public. There were the unusual errors and crashes which are to be expected but it worked. Once in the hands of our community I have never seen something elicit such a polarisation of people. It was dismissed as overhyped and broken or else taken to heart to be loved and cherished, buoyed on by a fanaticism I was proud to have played a part in bringing to the world. Although still again among our players APB brought out both the poles in human behaviour. I bore witness to raw hatred and fury, arrogance and mean spirits but I was also delighted to experience the kindest side of human nature as players came to the aid of others when in a tight spot or they created works of art with the tools provided.

In all APB was a fantastic experience with an incredible team and it is one that I will always cherish and has added to who I am. Thank you everyone involved from our excellent players to our incredible dev team.”- Conor Crowley (Senior QA, System design assistant, Tech support, in-game support, Overall CS, 1 man Publishing QA team, Tea Boy, Morale Officer)

“I’m sad to see the project go. Of all the games I.ve worked on, APB was probably the one with the most potential. I genuinely believe that given more time, we could have turned APB into the game we all wanted it to be. I.d like to thank the community for all their support, the good times I.ve had playing against them, and for the amazing (and often hilarious) user-generated content that they.ve created. I’d also like to thank the rest of the team for all of their hard-work, and for generally being great people to work with. ” -Bryan Robertson (Gameplay Programmer)

I actually got enormously angry about APB last night. It’s one of those situations where everyone loses. The developers are out of work, yes, but I’m far more worried about the consumers. APB strikes me as something that needs to be talked about by the MMO industry. A standard motif in developer talks on MMOs – and even more traditional boxed games in extreme cases like Valve has been “we’re not selling boxes – we’re selling services”. As such, surely, this implies the developer has a duty to plan and design the company to operate in such terms. To run a company in such a way that it collapses so shortly after release, annihilating the game from existence is something which I’ll be happy to describe as openly immoral. And, if you want a realist capitalist spin on than, something that’s actually damaging to the long term health of the industry, in terms of undermining player trust with a purchase. Once burned in such an obvious, enormous way – a purchase simply removing itself from existence in a matter of 3-4 months – then you’re feeding (entirely justified) cynicism and suspicion. If APB’s fall doesn’t lead to an ethics-related speech at GDC/Develop, I’ll be sorely disappointed in the industry.

Another problem with APB is simply how it seemed a game which got overtaken by the times. Comparisons to Hellgate has been made, but the key similarity isn’t trying to do something in the action-MMO area. It’s trying to tie a new business model to a game which simply doesn’t seem to demand it. In the time it took to be developed, the idea of paying for this stuff seemed somewhat quaint. To pay for a box and playing time, for an experience which doesn’t seem that different than Counter-strike where you have to drive a bit when you respawn. In a world which is over-taken by Free-to-play MMOs and RPG-elements worked into more traditional team-based shooters, there wasn’t much point in APB. Whatever Unique-selling-points it had had been consumed by the competition in the time it took to make.

And this is without even getting to the quality of APB. It will be picked over for the next five years by industry minds, trying to draw lessons from it. And it should be. It’s a game which managed to be a disaster on so many levels, from marketing to pricing to consumer relations and – ultimately – a total failure to the consumers. There’s 130,000 pairs of teeth gnashing today, and I hope that if someone does pick up APB, they do something thoughtful for them.

Just as a final note, I’ve seen people still quoting this bit of the old press release…

“The figures reveal 130,000 registered players, with the average player playing for 4 hours each day, APB’s unique business model sees paying players averaging $28 per month, a combination of game time and user to user marketplace trading.”

And quoting it as “130,000 people paying 28 dollars a month”. To state the obvious, if APB had 130K people paying 28 dollars a month, it wouldn’t either be going out of business or having trouble finding a buyer. If you actually pick at the sentence, you need to see the difference between “registered players” and “paying players”. It’s particularly deceptive – and clearly deliberately so – but it doesn’t necessarily conflate the two. The paying players are paying $28 a month. It says nothing about how many paying players there are. There could have been a couple of guys who’ve paid, with the remaining 129,998 players paying nowt.

While not as clear, you may also wonder whether they’re also cheating on the “registered players” and “average player” terminology. As in, the latter is people who are actively playing the game and the former is simply the number of people who bought the game. They don’t necessarily square.

We never reported it when it broke, because it was so obviously wrong if you think about it for a second and totally falls apart if you read the press release closely. However, that people are actually still spreading this disinformation means I want to actually make it clear in case anyone picked it up from elsewhere.

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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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