computer games design games design games industry marketing

One Hundred MEELLEON Dollar! (…wasted, on RTW/APB)

18 months ago, Scott and I described our perspectives on the fall of Tabula Rasa. I said that if you’re going to spend $100m on an MMO, you’d better be aware of MMO history and not repeat those mistakes.

It would seem that Real Time Worlds wasn’t listening – coincidentally, $100m is how much *publically announced* money just went down the pan, now they’ve gone into administration.

No-one in this industry likes to talk openly about their enormous fuck-ups – and the few that do tend to become pariahs, sued by their employers or shunned by future investors. No major company openly documents – or “allows to be documented” – anything of import. It’s a system that punishes progress in the professional field.

There’s a single public analysis on RTW/APB right now. It’s an anonymous source (oh, for god’s sake! When will we stop shooting the messengers?), but some non-anonymous sources have backed it up. So, let’s take a look…

Anonymous: ExRTW on RPS

(source is here)


“lead you to think it’s going to come right by release … You end up in this situation where you’re heads down working your ass off”

Me, 18 months ago:

“The implication being that they didn’t do anything wrong, perhaps, but that they stood by and watched the train rolling slowly towards the brick wall and didn’t try (hard enough) to stop the collision.”


“APB … came together… relatively late in its development cycle … leaving too little time for content production and polish … lacking any real quality in some of its core mechanics”

Me, 18 months ago:

It wasn’t ready for beta. I said so. Many others said so.


“it was pretty clear to me that the game was going to get a kicking at review – the gap between expectation and the reality was huge.”

Me, 18 months ago:

A survey was taken, internally, asking what people thought. The results were never published – so no-one (apart from the survey takers) knows exactly what the results were, but we were told that the *company* knew.

Incidentally … I was afraid to come clean at the time (and upset individuals), but that survey of all staff was EXTREMELY negative about the project, and I have been told (but you’ll have to take this as unsubstantiated rumour) that the reaction of the top-level execs on seeing the results was simple:

“Bury it”


“I wasn’t on the APB team, so I played it infrequently, during internal test days etc. I was genuinely shocked when I played the release candidate – I couldn’t believe Dave J would be willing to release this.”

Me, 18 months ago:

[I wasn’t on the TR dev team, but] given my position I had the luxury of a lot of insights that other people wouldn’t have had.

I played TR in the alpha, and I actually enjoyed it

it was a good pre-production prototype [but – at best – YEARS away from being a finished project – and they went to beta only 6 months later]


“The real purpose of beta is publicity, not bug fixing. We never took that lesson on board.”

[I didn’t cover this, but Scott’s post did, IIRC]

And, finally…

“MyWorld is an innocent bystander caught up in the demise of APB. Which is a real shame, because it is genuinely ground breaking, though not aimed at the traditional gamer audience. ”

…which sounds an awful lot like Scott’s team and Steve Nichols team (the former very basic playable but unreleased, the latter Dungeon Runners)

Major differences

EDIT: it’s 100k sales, not 10k.


“the real killer, IMO, is the business model. This was out of the team’s hands. The game has issues, but I think if you separate the business model from the game itself, it holds up at least a little better.”

I originally (mis-)understood
the figures that Nicholas Lovell has dug out, but apparently sales were over 100k (presumably that means practically zero sales in USA?).

By comparison, the previous big-failure MMO which went down because of the “bad business model” was Hellgate: London.

Hellgate sold 500,000 units, and estimated that even if they’d made their subscription compulsory, they’d still have sold 250,000.

So, not as strongly as I originally put it, but I’m still dubious about the business model being the cause. This stinks to me of a marketing/sales failure (unless those 100k sales are spread equally across territories)


“we should have kept our powder dry. Our PR felt tired and dragged on and on, rather than building a short, sharp crescendo of excitement pre-release.”

IMHO this is a really bad idea – unless you remove the entire “MMO” part of the game. Big Bang Marketing doesn’t work for MMOs; this is the old-school of game-marketing.

Although, given how ineffective RTW’s marketing seems to have been, I doubt a big-bank-marketing-campaign could have done any worse.

Conclusions … and “moving forwards from here”

Two parts of this industry need to talk, one part doesn’t. As I said in 2009: “We need to talk [about failure]; when will we talk [about failure]?”

The professionals: you’re getting burned out, chewed up, and spat out. Your lives are being wasted.

The investors: you’re getting screwed. You write it off as random failure, and you can afford it, but you’re shying away from “games” as a result, leaving good profits behind on the table.

The inexperienced, the mediocre, and all those people who don’t actually MAKE the game, but do get to ruin the process (rockstar-designers, producers, marketers, directors, managers, etc) : you’re doing great. Your lack of skill hasn’t held you back, and the company will often go bankrupt before anyone gets around to firing you for incompetence.

…Can we actually move forwards, though?

When I left NCsoft, I was cold-contacted with some new job offers.

A typical example: “make a success of” a project that had already spent several years and many millions of dollars and was about to launch. But I wasn’t allowed to move said launch, and they had “infinite” funding (I kid you not).

There was a fat salary for anyone willing to shepherd that disaster (and, I suspect, become the public fall-guy). The game itself launched as they insisted, and was a laughable failure. I doubted it could have been fixed without another 12-18 months of development.

And me, personally? Nowadays, I run a freeform studio developing mobile apps and games for corporate clients. Each employee is responsible for themself and for their own decisions. If you need a project-manager to mollycoddle you every day, you can’t work here.

Personal responsibility, and personal authority; so far, it’s working pretty well…

9 replies on “One Hundred MEELLEON Dollar! (…wasted, on RTW/APB)”

“The inexperienced, the mediocre, and all those people who don’t actually MAKE the game, but do get to ruin the process (rockstar-designers, producers, marketers, directors, managers, etc) : you’re doing great. Your lack of skill hasn’t held you back, and the company will often go bankrupt before anyone gets around to firing you for incompetence.”

I think you hit the nail on the head. This (in my opinion) is the core reason why APB ended up what it is.
You can see, simply by looking at the product, what happened : a bunch of talented individuals were told : “make an online GTA”.
They all went their own way and produced a collection of cool techs and tools they wanted to do (and perhaps genuinely thought it made sense at their individual level)

You can see there was no direction. The core gameplay experience is… An afterthought, at best.

It feels (and I could tell from insider feedback) that there was nobody to hold the different bits together, and drive the project “somewhere”.

And, funnily enough, this ties to you last blog entry.

Originally – as per Nicholas Lovell’s post (linked above)

Modified – according to rumour and hearsay that I trust to be fairly accurate

If you want correct figures, any publisher should have pretty decent estimates based on chart rankings

I worked for RTW, the 100k is correct.

The reason Nicholas Lovell got it so wrong is that APB sold much stronger in direct download. I think his USA sales figures are correct, and traditional retail in EU sold a similar amount again. Most of the sales were on Steam and other download channels.

abp looked very cool to me when i first discovered the trailers on youtube and i even recommended it a friend of mine who became beta tester.
At that time he had a quite well working notebook even if it wasnt a high-end gaming pc but apb already sucked a lot with its impressive ressource hunger, he couldn’t play the game.

The main problem beneath the hardware ressources was the bad hud and lots of missing functioniality at beta stadium but what i got was that “The real purpose of beta is publicity, not bug fixing. We never took that lesson on board.”
So even if they had lots of bugs and at least the same amount of work to do to get a real playable game they didn’t anything in this directions – something i m quite sad because after there isn’t a real persistent MMO shooter out there which could attract a completly different user group

Good article and I also agree with GamesBrief’s comments that money ultimately became the problem – RTW had so much of it it probably helped in taking their eyes off the end goal of creating a game that would attract and keep players (especially a PvP game). My biggest surprise was that it fell over so soon – I was sure they’d move to a F2P model before collapsing.

As a query: is there a good place to find out PC game sales, either boxed and / or digital downloads? VGChartz is fine for console titles, but ever since NPD stopped reporting PC title sales publicly it can be very hard to find out PC title sales. There probably isn’t one that doesn’t cost money to use, but I thought I’d ask.

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