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APB - A Third Look/Aftermath

JCXanirus's Blog; Aug. 18, 2010; By Jenner David Cauton
Type: Commentary
And hopefully not the last.

As if I didn't talk about this game enough already.  With the recent news of RTW dwindling down from a team of hard working people to a small group of clueless employees no doubt thinking just what the @#$! went wrong, it's definitely no surprise people are in a stir.  I sure am, because I'm tired of writing negative thoughts on an otherwise great game. 

Despite the doubt, RealTime Worlds IS working on the game, make no mistake about it.  I do have to credit them, for being one of very few companies that actively inform their players just what exactly they are working on, and in detail too, starting by stating the problem, what the different opinions are according to the players, (and not them, proving to us that they actually read our complaints) and their proposed solution(s). One update that HAS gone in is a balance fix to the two most commonly used (and argued over) guns in the game, the OCA SMG and N-Tech Assault Rifle.  Whether this works in practice or just on paper, I have no idea, I haven't played much to find out.

So here's what "I" think are the reasons for poor sales, and thus, the extreme lay off:

Matchmaking
To be honest, I've been saving my playtime hours for some real fixes.  And the real fix everyone is waiting for, is the matchmaking.  As I have stated before, the main problem with the matchmaking is that it is often unfair.  The current system is a bit botched many would say.  After so many consecutive wins, your current session ranking will go up and when an APB is called against you, other players will see your rank and can just simply not accept the call, leaving you with no opposition (minimal rewards) or no back up if you're the losing team calling for some.

Upgrades
Many have complained that the upgrades make matches one sided while others say it's all based on skill.  If removed however, it means removing the whole "RPG" aspect of the game.  Again, like I said before, what people tend to forget is that this is a third person shooter, as well as there's sometimes a beacon on your head telling your opponent where you are from time to time.  Frontal assaults are all too common unlike FPS games where you can't magically see around corners (or through walls) and in this case the person with the upgraded gun (compared to one with no upgrades at all) will win.  This is not a skill based scenario, it's just common sense.  With the help of the game's third person camera, both sides often seem to know exactly where their opponent is well ahead of time before the actual encounter.  With the weaker gun, you're only saving grace is IF you just happen to flank your opponent or if he's distracted by another teammate, which is why I always say to play in a group.  I also found out that lot of idiotic players never wait for teammates and just charge in by themselves, so also general idiocy can be a factor.

Teams and Groups
Part of this is what causes the matchmaking to be so problematic.  The game has a distinction between groups and teams.  A group can have any number of teams.  You can join anyone's group, but if that group happens to be already in a mission, you won't be able to help them, as the game will lock you into a different team.  (To prevent unbalancing)  At the same time, if you happen to start another mission (either by yourself or with other players who have joined the same group,) you will lock your team out from the other team should THAT team finish theirs.  A vicious cycle that often causes group members to quit.

It's because of this overly strict team balance system that makes it very hard to ever get into a group.  As if grouping wasn't hard enough, if you manage to join a group via a backup call, (which happens more often than the system actually finding a group manually) the game feels that it needs to drop whoever wasn't part of the original team before the mission started (the backups) when the mission is over, Gears of War 2 style.  I don't see how leaving the team alone makes it unbalanced, considering the team is not currently on a mission!  Plus, players are often too lazy to try and join the same group again manually.  Was convienece ever part of their plan?

So what's being done about all this?  The current proposed solution from RTW, as far as matchmaking goes, is instead of giving the player a choice to accept an APB, is to give them no choice at all.  Players can opt to go "off duty" and prepare themselves, and when they're ready, go to work.  Players will then be literally forced into missions whether they like it or not.  If implemented correctly, this can make do for larger matches closer to the 80 player mark that was so highly touted as opposed to the 3-6 at an average people end up playing in.  From my experience, this alone should make upgrades more tolerable.  For upgrades themselves, they plan to add drawbacks, forcing highly upgraded characters to make careful decisions instead of just mindlessly putting on the best gear and start cremating everyone with less play time.

Of course, all of these problems are really only apparent for people who have actually paid for the game.  The reason for the downfall of RTW was due to the game not selling at all.  This, I might have to say, can somewhat be in due to the player's fault.  A lot of players are stubborn, and just because they don't find one aspect of a game they don't like, they usually give up on it on the spot.  Many players were expecting a GTA like expereince from the game.  This typical way of thinking that a game is supposed to be like something just because of one's preference was exactly what RTW was predicting and more than announced it to the public, prior to release. (A way of thinking that I tried to ignore in my review.)  An announcement made in hopes players would wise up to, but failed to do so.

Another possible reason was because they scrapped the console version of APB.  Despite player's requests, RTW stated that the type of game did not fit well as a console game.  This is something I would have to agree to some point.  Player's are already paying for Xbox Live, why have to make them pay more?  Also, 80 people on a server would probably drive the Xbox Live servers to hell and back.  Even if they did make a console version, it would of just keep RTW in business.  It wouldn't of helped the game anymore if players had remained just as impaitent for fixes, canceling their subscription too early for RTW to make enough money to pay their employees to patch it up.   The game still probably would of sold poorly due to bad word of mouth.

My final say?  The same thing that all badly released games suffer from; released too soon.  I wouldn't of released the game with it's current lack of content.  There usually isn't that much in mission variety when it comes to shooters, but the point is this game is marketed as an MMO, a game with a subscription fee.  It's understandable that some kind of income is needed to keep servers running, but it's also these kinds of fees that warrant a large amount of content.  Content, that this game does not have enough of.  RTW released their game with a core concept of shooting, very little content to play through, but expected players to pay anyway.  There are only three areas in the game, two of which any action really goes on.  The cities are complex, but the game is just begging for at least one or two more districts, and more activities to do in them.  Personally, I'm hoping for a Chinatown.  At the very least, the proposed balance fixes mentioned above should of been there from release.  I don't know how many times developers need to realize you need to get the game's core concept done right first, THEN you fill it up with missions and storyline for filler.

I'd also say that the beta testing was probably screwy as well, that, or the testers themselves were too daft to realize that a lot of the game was unbalanced.  When the beta came to it's "Key To The City" point where it was easy for anyone to get in, RTW felt content to only give players 5 hours of playtime to use in a week's time before the launch.  This, I can whole heartly say, is not enough time to give players a decision on whether they want the game or not.  The whole point of beta testing is to give players what you have developed so far and leave them open for feedback.  Why bother if you're going to limit their time to play the game?  Of course, many websites have called it the Key to The City Beta, while RTW called it an event.  Miscommunication?  Who knows.

There are many possible factors for the reasoning behind RTW's huge lay off, but it's safe to say their own game didn't help.  Let's hope the UK and US's interest in the company can do better.

I also could of sworn I read somewhere that RTW stated "We just wanted to get a workable game at release."  Yeah, "workable" is the key word here.  Because it needs a lot of it.

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