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APB Reloaded: Interview With Producer

01. April, 2013Tags: APB Reloaded, Interview, MMO Blog

APB Reloaded interviewAPB : All Points Bulletin was originally created by David Jones the man behind the original Grand Theft Auto game. Following the sale of the IP by Realtime Worlds to Gamersfirst, the game continued its development by Reloaded Productions. In 2011, Gamersfirst released the title as a free to play MMO game. Last week, we had the chance to talk to APB Reloaded's producer Myra Widodo about APB's past and future including next month's update "Settling the Score". Continue reading for this insightful interview.

 

APB Reloaded interview 
with producer Myra Widodo

March 23, 2013

DevilsMMO: In your latest blog post, you call 2013 the "Year of Delivery." How difficult is it to balance fan expectation - a lot of people wanted Grand Theft Auto Online - with what's actually possible on your budget and time frame?

Widodo: Well, to answer that, you really have to ask what a “GTA online” game would look like. Keep in mind GTA is known for being a very story-driven game. So imagine millions of players looking to experience an open-world MMO, but finding themselves in a game with a predominantly singular narrative vision. That combination doesn’t match. We think that the game delivers the closest experience to a GTA online that you could possibly get. The most fan-appealing parts of that gaming experience are what we try to encapsulate in APB Reloaded. We have a modern urban adventure married to solid shooter mechanics and a creative player community that’s active 24/7. Instead of making a “GTA online” game, we stuck to what we saw is the core of APB Reloaded: the PvP element and individualization. As far as budget and time are concerned, sometimes we have grand ideas that end up having to take a back seat (like the racing district) to focus on things like server optimization, anti-hack systems, and offering new contacts and rewards. But we have managed to expand the core game with our Fight Club districts, and are expanding our holiday events, mostly because the community loves them. We feel that we must be giving the community most of what they want, given that we’ve been on Steam’s top five most popular downloads for free2play titles.

APB Reloaded screenshot

DevilsMMO: In that same blog post, you talk about the importance of communication. At a time when developers of all sorts of games are being both praised and criticized for giving in to a vocal minority, how do you filter out what is important and what is just someone venting? How many of the complaints and suggestions do you already know about before the forum posts already begin?

Widodo: As any game developer will tell you, you’re never going to please everyone who plays your game, nor should you, in our opinion. For example, for every player that says the game is too hard, we have two that say it’s too easy. Or shotgun “A” sucks, yet our numbers show that it’s acquired by players at an exceedingly high rate. Or silencers are OP; yet only a small percent of players use them. The key is to deliver what the players ALMOST want. Give them something that works in a different manner than expected; or something that encourages players to use the item/vehicle/weapon in a different way. We want players to be talking about the pros and cons of our items and weapons. We like to see passionate arguments about what’s underpowered or overpowered. It’s when our community gets quiet that we start to be concerned.  Apathy for a game means failure.  At the same time we’re not looking to become some generic hodgepodge for everyone and yet no one.

APB Reloaded giveaway

APB Reloaded giveaway : Get a free gun!

Filtering the sheer volume of requests, complaints and sometimes trolling is a massive task that our team takes very seriously on a daily and constant basis. We tend to segregate the communications into several buckets: hacking accusations, possible weapon balance issues, bugs & exploits and suggestions. For the complaints side, it becomes a numbers game; if we see the same weapons, players or items popping up with similar questions and/or concerns, then we flag it/them and take a closer look using our GM’s and testers, sometimes even player clans that we’ve built relationships with. The suggestions side is funneled differently, and reviewed to see how possible the idea may be. Then the teams look at the compiled “wish lists” segregated into short-term easy, short-term difficult and long-term difficult in development.

DevilsMMO: "Settling the Score" is coming next month. Just how big a difference is the new score system going to make to regular players?
 

Widodo: “Settling the Score” will not only introduce a new score system, but it will also include an improved District instancing system.  All of which in a nutshell will keep players actively engaged; the idea is constant gameplay.

We already calculate player score to an extent with our MVP system by considering Arrests, Completed Targets, Deaths, Kills, Assists and Medals. Using this existing system in game and exposing it to players motivates legitimately competitive gameplay, while giving reasons for players to earn what they do. A post-game breakdown of how their score works will make it clear how rewards are determined. “Objective Assists” is another motivator for players to drive better coordination with their teams as they’ll be rewarded for participation and effort on that end as well. We’ve basically given players something else to want to work towards outside of Mission win/losses or completions; we’re rewarding not only team results but individual performance further.

To compliment the added motivation from the new scoring system, District instancing is another improved feature with “Settling the Score.” The new system will implement hard skill rating's for district server so that it is no longer representative of the players but rather a dedicated server for a specified threat. The world server will spin up Districts based on which skill ratings have full servers and always have a minimum number of servers up for each skill rating.

APB Reloaded Dark Gun skins

DevilsMMO: You've been praised for your holiday events and you're constantly adding new content to the game. As APB continues to improve and new content becomes the main focus, might we see a few city-changing events?

Widodo: We certainly want to, that’s for sure! We’re still working on new districts (Asylum as an example) and possibly expanding the Fight Club districts as well. We still want to deliver a bank heist and turf war game mechanic as well, but as you can imagine, they’re on the “long-term” wish list of improvements. We’ve also looked at thematically changing parts of the city for holidays and such, but again, we are always focused on the main gameplay first. Our player’s experience cannot be sacrificed for some new gimmick or fad-like game feature.

We have our Easter Egg Hunt in-game event this week, which will have some city- changing additions.  Specifically, you’ll be seeing a few characters strolling about the streets and let’s just say they’re furry, have long ears, and are a perfect target for mugging.

How difficult is it to balance the good guys and the bad guys, while making sure that neither can have more "fun" than the other?

Widodo: At first it was a challenge. As an example, it’s so much harder to arrest a Criminal as an Enforcer than to just shoot and kill them.  So we have to up the ante and make the less-than-lethal weapons fun and offer more reputation and/or reward. We found out early when put the Criminal-only ‘Shift’ Espacio 94 van on ARMAS. It was fast, had high maneuverability and could have four people, three of which could shoot while on the move. We got flooded by Enforcer-players wanting something similar to “make it fair.” So we released the Pioneer N54C ‘Inside-out’ SUV. Hundreds of balancing changes like this happen weekly, and most of them are all but invisible to the players.  I’ll probably get flamed for this, but we find that most players start as Criminal then transition to Enforcer because of the elevated challenge of arresting versus killing other players. Plus, it’s a bit humiliating to be arrested.

APB anniversary

DevilsMMO: APB had a very rough start, both in terms of its closure, but also in its critical reception. How difficult was it to work on bringing back a game that garnered mainly 5/10 scores, and what do you feel you've done differently with Reloaded to push that score higher?

Widodo: To say that the project was daunting is an understatement. I mean, we were really in new territories for an MMO. No one had ever tried resurrecting a failed/shut-down MMO before, and there weren’t a lot of guarantees that it would be successful once we’d re-launched it. But the game code showed so much potential, and deep down we knew as a company that we could make it better, viable and fun. We took the game back to the basics, and changed the original MMO experience to better fit the type of game it is. In its old incarnation, it was designed like a traditional MMO; you start with low stats and crappy equipment and grind your way to the good stuff. The only problem with that in a shooter is that new players are basically chum for the veteran players. So it drives away new players. So we scrapped that, and gave it more of a shooter ideology. New players were given decent, generalized primary and secondary weapons and a car that was quick and handled well, but couldn’t outrun anyone. This basically made them more survivable as they learned the ropes. Then we changed the progression from power to specialization. So now as you progress, you can pick the weapons and player role you like, and get bonuses to that weapon or role. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be ROLF stomped, but it rewards players for playing the way they want, not the way we think they should play.  Then we focused on the core mechanics, making the weapons deadlier, placing limitations on modifications and creating new contacts, missions and rewards. All of these changes, while challenging, resulted in major improvements for the game for the community.

APB style car

DevilsMMO: APB is often given as an example of a title that struggled under the subscription model but has thrived as a free-to-play game. A lot of other games have followed suit in recent months. Has the subscription model died?

Widodo: One thing I’ve learned in this industry is to never proclaim the death of anything! I can say that the industry is changing to find better audience numbers in a crowded space, and free2play seems to be the dominate model for now. I still believe that subscriptions work for players that want to keep their “all you can eat” gameplay, but they’re less likely to try something new these days if they have to pay $50 or more for a box on top of $15 a month subscription.  Our free2play model has worked well of us, and I think that’s due to it giving players so many different options. The player that has less time, and wants items a la carte can get that with our ARMAS shop. If they want to speed things up a bit with more experience and in-game rewards, they can get a premium subscription and choose how long they keep it for. Other games have has a great amount of success with the buy-to-play model, forgoing subscriptions all together. I’m sure that there are a few that forgo the box cost and only has a subscription as well. Ultimately, any type of free2play option simply removes the cost barrier that keeps many players from trying new games. But until the 800 pound gorilla that is WoW makes a huge change, I don’t think you can claim the death of the subscription model. 

DevilsMMO: How important was Steam in the revival of APB and how useful was it in connecting with an audience that wouldn't have played otherwise?

Widodo: Our debut on Steam was a pretty pivotal moment leaving open beta and going into commercial launch. Our working relationship with Valve has been extremely beneficial in getting exposure for the game to the right audience. Not only are we talking about a platform that exposes the game to more than 30 million users, we’re being reunited with players that remember the IP in addition to being introduced to new players. It was a very exciting time and we’ve seen great momentum carry on from that moment onwards.

DevilsMMO: With next-gen consoles on the horizon, and Sony having announced both self-publishing and free-to-play for the PS4, might APB ever make it into the hands of consoles gamers?

Widodo: I can say that APB Reloaded won’t be found on consoles in the near future. The game experience just doesn’t lend itself to a console platform.  As far as the APB universe goes, well, I could tell you what’s cooking, but then my PR manager may revoke my license to interview ever again! All I can say is to keep an eye out for us while we’re at GDC this year. 

Once again, we would like to take the opportunity and thank Myra Widodo of Reloaded Productions and Darek Connole for this APB Reloaded interview.

APB Reloaded

APB Review

Publisher: Gamersfirst

Free to Play

Released: 2011

Play APB for free

 

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