APB to relaunch in 2011

Q&A: GamersFirst confirms purchase of Realtime Worlds' abandoned online multiplayer shooter, with free-to-play rollout slated for early next year.

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Earlier this month, a report emerged out of the UK that indicated that Realtime Worlds' bankruptcy administration firm, Begbies Traynor, had found a buyer for the studio's flagship project, APB. Today, that report has been confirmed, as free-to-play massively multiplayer online gaming publisher GamersFirst has announced the acquisition of the APB intellectual property.

The APB armistice will soon come to an end.
The APB armistice will soon come to an end.

GamersFirst subsidiary Reloaded Productions will now be responsible for development on the rebranded offering, APB: Reloaded. The studio expects to relaunch the game under a free-to-play model during the first half of 2011.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. However, initial reports indicated that GamersFirst parent K2 Network purchased the APB IP for £1.5 million ($2.4 million). According to Begbies Traynor, the sale of the IP allows the administration firm to pay all outstanding wages and holiday pay claims for those who lost their jobs as part of Realtime Worlds' collapse.

The large-scale online game revolves around an ongoing turf war between street gangs and law enforcement officials, with players taking to the streets with up to 79 others in individualized instanced virtual cities. It was developed by Grand Theft Auto creator Dave Jones and his Scottish studio, Realtime Worlds, which also designed 2007's Xbox 360-exclusive Crackdown.

For more on what today's deal means for past and future APB players, GameSpot caught up with Rahul Sandil, GamersFirst senior VP of Global Markets and PR.

GameSpot: How did the deal come about?
Rahul Sandil: GamersFirst heard about [APB being up for] sale when everyone else did. We came to play fairly late in the game after we had done our research to see if APB would be a good fit for the free-to-play model. When we finally decided to approach RTW regarding the sale of the APB IP, it went fairly quickly. Reloaded Productions, a subsidiary of GamersFirst, has now acquired full IP assets for APB.

GS: The game was released and it didn't get great reviews. Why did you guys want it? What made you all think it is salvageable?
RS: There are core elements to the game that work really well, more specifically the customization tools for characters, cars, guns, etc. and the player marketplace. We think that the potential for APB in the free-to-play market is much bigger and more realistic than the retail model. With some changes in the balance and dynamics of the monetization in the game, it should run much smoother.

GS: How do you plan on transitioning the game from Realtime Worlds' business model to GamersFirst's?
RS: Obviously the two models are very different. It will take some time to transition the development of the model and adjust it so that it will be suitable for the free-to-play audience. In addition, there were some fundamental issues that we hope to address in the game as well. As a developer and publisher, we hope to make the transition for the players fairly easy and quick, but we do hope that our previous APB players can be patient with us, while we get ready to relaunch the title.

GS: How do you plan on regaining the confidence of players who had previously invested in APB?
RS: With tenure as a free-to-play publisher, we are hoping that our existing community integrate well with our new APB community to discuss and share thoughts about the game. We are doing our best to make sure that there are no barriers to entry. Obviously the game is free, and with the nature of free-to-play games, we actively seek our community's participation in the development of the game. We hope that former APB players will join our community to help us grow the game in the direction that they would like to see it.

GS: Are you offering any perks to returning players?
RS: We are still figuring out exactly how we will be able to approach this issue. We realize that many of the past players have invested their time and money in the game. Obviously, we will now be offering the game to everyone for free, with the ability to upgrade through microtransactions. For previous players, we are trying to determine how we can provide possibly a premium and potentially allow them to restore some of their characters. Again, there are a lot of small things we still need to figure out, but we will be coming out with solutions in the coming months.

GS: Realtime Worlds had a major combat overhaul planned for the game. Is that still planned?
RS: There were several patches that had not gone through when Realtime Worlds ceased operations. We are currently looking through all of the content that was to be released and still really determining the initial steps of getting the game back online, transitioning, and further development. In short, we are still learning about the unreleased content, and we definitely plan to release the content that makes sense for the audience. Our primary goal now will be to get it up and running properly on the free-to-play platform and then explore the next patches in content.

GS: Will you be supporting the game with new content?
RS: Of course. There will be some changes that will need to be made for the basic dynamics to the game to make it free-to-play from the previous retail model. We will do the first patch, planned for release in the first half of 2011, and follow up with regular updates. Regular content updates are a critical part of the free-to-play business model. It allows our community to contribute comments and feedback to the existing content and for us to internally track and develop content that is in line with what our gamers are already leaning toward in-game. With that said, there will be regular content updates to the game as we do with our other titles, like War Rock, 9Dragons, and Sword 2.

GS: Did you hire anyone from Realtime Worlds to continue work on the game?
RS: By the time we got to the game, the employee count had already diminished from 270 to about five or six, who were really just maintaining the game's code for its eventual sale. We do not have anyone on staff, but we would love to hear from former employees and get their input on the game.

GS: Do you plan on making any major changes to the existing game?
RS: The first release of the game will only be some slight changes from the original and incorporate the next patch in the lineup of the game the first half of 2011. From there we would like to see how the players respond and use some of their feedback to guide the future direction of the game.

GS: What flaws do you hope to address in the short and long term?
RS: One of the main flaws that we saw in the game was the really poor balance and monetization strategies. Things like purchasing time cards didn't really work for the game. If you are playing with your buddies and they no longer have time, slowly your whole team (or clan) drops off and the game is no longer fun to play. Being that we are moving the game to a free-to-play model, it will eliminate the hurdles of time requirements and other elements that restrict friends playing together. Essentially, our goal is to get more people in the game to elevate the "fun" component of it, and then offer microtransaction options to those who would like to upgrade to a premium and unlock some of the areas that may not be reachable by a free player.

GS: Do you plan on implementing APB's technology into other releases?
RS: Yes. The developers of APB built some great customization features to the game, which gained a lot of its recognition. We definitely plan to use these in future development, but currently have no specific plans.

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