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APB, Maple Story and the future of games

Rory Cellan-Jones | 12:10 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010

In Los Angeles and then at home this week, I've had a vision of the future of the games industry - and it's not great news for the console-makers. Everything about the industry is moving online - and while the likes of XBoxLive and Sony's PS3 online service are growing rapidly, a host of other players will be promising gamers that they can deliver a better or at least cheaper experience.

People like Dave Jones, who I met at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in a room packed with screens where his team were preparing to show off the fruits of years of work. Dave is a games industry legend, and I think I first met him in 1996, when I visited a small firm in Dundee which was then working on a new title called Grand Theft Auto.

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After selling the business behind GTA, Dave set up a firm called Realtime Worlds which now has offices both in Dundee and in Boulder, Colorado, and has won significant amounts of venture capital backing from Silicon Valley. For the last five years, a team of 200 has been working on a project in line with a philosophy outlined on the company's website like this:

"As avid game players, we believe the future of video games lies in massively multiplayer on-line gaming. Constantly evolving worlds with real players and communities offer an unrivalled experience that many players have yet to enjoy."

The result is APB - All Points Bulletin - which appears to deliver a similar experience to Grand Theft Auto, but exclusively online.

APB is stored in data centres in Europe and the United States and Dave Jones says making that run smoothly has been the biggest issue:

"There's been a great technology challenge to make it possible to have a seamless experience. It allows thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of players to connect and play together in a dynamic world."

When the game launches in July, players will pay £34.99 to download it with 50 hours of online play, and can then choose to pay a monthly fee or buy extra time in one-off payments.

It sounds like the model successfully pioneered by World of Warcraft, which has proved hugely profitable for its owners Activision. Realtime Worlds says it has got a twist, enabling gamers to earn extra hours by playing skilfully and by creating virtual goods that other players want.

There seems no reason why the 18-rated game should not win plenty of customers amongst the GTA and Call of Duty crowd, but younger gamers with less money to spend are also finding plenty to entertain them online.

I got home to find an 11-year-old asking me for help in spending £10 of his pocket money in an online world called Maple Story. This is a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) created in South Korea seven years ago, which has attracted millions of players around the world who battle monsters and complete quests. It has now apparently become a craze amongst British 11-year-olds, who are abandoning their Wiis to play this and other simple but compelling online games.

Maple Story is free but its makers are generating revenue through a virtual shop where players use real money to buy items for their characters. Anyone who remembers how keen they were at 11 to buy cards, stickers and all sorts of other ephemeral goodies will understand how powerful this kind of craze can be. Nexon, the Korean firm behind Maple Story and other free casual online games, earned revenues of nearly £400m last year.

So two examples of online games which are finding new ways of getting users to spend their money. But gamers do not have unlimited cash, and every pound that goes to APB or Maple Story is money that won't be spent on games for the Wii, the Xbox 360, or the PS3.


  • Comment number 1.

    You should have told your kid to pay attention to Robert or Stephanie for a better idea what to do with their tenner.

    But seriously. The future of gaming is nickel and diming the players to death with micro-transactions for brightly coloured beads?

  • Comment number 2.

    I keep hearing about that death of console for various reasons but its something i honestly don't get

    Console gaming is such a huge thing nowadays and all the so called AAA games appear on console, there arnt many PC exclusives that make an impact to the tune of a multiformat giant like Modern Warfare.

    On the PC side of things, only the most hardcore of hardcore gamers are willing to spend there time and money on 'proper' PC gaming, a guy like me who was a PC gamer in the late 90's has now been put off by the likes of DRM and the need to upgrade constantly and im not enough of a tech head to want to bother with that when i can just put a game disc into a console and play within seconds.

    And on the casual side of PC games, the people who spend all there time and money on these things are mostly the type of people who would never buy a console anyway or if they do, they have a Wii.

    APB is of course a hardcore game, but A. will it attract console gamers to their PC's? and B. will it ever compete with WoW (and yes i know they are very different kind of games) as so many MMO's have failed to do so in the last few years?

    I admit i am no business analyst, but i honestly and personally can't see why PC would ever overtake console considering it's current position in the market...

  • Comment number 3.

    The future of gaming is simple: less bang for buck.
    In other words: milking every penny out of outdated consoles, PC-gamers will be lucky if they get a crappy port to their platform and every game will be locked and milked to death: no modding, no dedicated servers, just paying more for ever shorter games and paying for the right to even play that game that already cost you a lot in the store.

  • Comment number 4.

    Realtime have suggested that a PS3 port is potentially on its way - something that contradicts the outtake that MMO money isn't console bound. Isn't this something they mentioned? There seems no reason why consoles can't benefit from this trend, they're as capable as modern pcs with a keyboard or voice chat periphery.

    And whilst MMOs are one area that should see continued growth, they're certainly not gaming's sole future.

  • Comment number 5.


    A rather pessimistic outlook but one i wont completely disagree with.

    Except that i dont beleive the "milking an outdated console" is nessecerily a bad thing. The current generation is already set to out live previous ones by years and still the quality games are coming...thats good...i dont want to spend £300 on a new console just yet!

    Also the paying to play a game your already own im not sure what you mean MMO needs upkeep, hence the subsciption prices and not every game is going to be an MMO in the future...and a microtransaction is optional, i sincerely doubt we will get into a position where EVERY game requires microtransaction to be interesting, I beleive that if your not the type of person to spend a couple of quid on a lightsaber for your xbox avatar you'll be fine, even in the likes of Korea where microtransactions are so important, there are still other games to play if you wish

    As for shorter are longer than ever in previous generations, most 16 bit games lasted a few hours, if you could actually finish them,...the 6-10 hour game is standard but there are many exceptions, plus most games that are that length have a substantial multiplayer which has the potential to last a decade or more.

    Anyways, as i said, im not disagreeing with your view i just gave you mine on why im a little more optimistic of the future :)

  • Comment number 6.

    @ At 1:08pm on 17 Jun 2010, Mav wrote:

    PC do not have to be constantly upgraded and even an old PC can run preety good graphics. In fact propperly built box can last for quite some time (plenty of RAM + good GPU).

    @ At 1:31pm on 17 Jun 2010, modernJan wrote:

    Indeed consoles are outdated. Easy to use and starting price is cheap. To me also the level of game is over simplified on console (maybe with new controler types this will change?!) Either way we should not forget that even console games are not really made on consoles ;-)

    I owuld have to agree with "At 1:55pm on 17 Jun 2010, Mav wrote" that the games are getting longer and longer. In fact sometimes it seems too long for the amount of time i have available.

  • Comment number 7.

    Having played the beta of APB, and had access to the "key to the city" open beta, my opinion of this title is rather poor. It's a nice idea, but ultimately it fails to deliver.

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with modernJan with regard to some of the games being released in the last few years. Cheap console ports. In my opinion, consoles are to video games what Nirvana was to the metal/rock scene in the early 90's.

    Still, there are a few gems on the horizon. Bioware's The Old Republic being the shiniest. APB however, looked to be one, but isn't.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sometimes reading the BBC technology blogs directed at games is like being stuck in 1995 with a blindfold on, it is not what decade or even century we are in it is what millennium is it.

    Gaming is a billion dollar business and growing MP games of any genre is not the future it is “NOW” we have API’s for every platform from MS Live, Steam, Xfire etc from FPS’s like Bad Company 2 or Modern Warfare 2 through to MMORPG’S like WoW or niche titles like Eve, You claim that Gamers don’t have bottom less pockets is pointless, neither do TV viewers but they still pay for sky or cable each week in their millions.

    The Future is Cross platform titles that offer more than just a gaming experience but the all round community experience as well, “community” being the aspect that the online MP gaming has always been about, Savvy developers like Valve who when they found out people where spending more hours per week playing a mod (counter strike) for one of their titles Half life than the time spent by people worldwide watching Friends (when it was current) they developed Steam a gems delivery platform for the PC which now has about 2 million users online even in the small hours.

    Steam has now created a community platform for player to access even while playing and no if you buy a title on steam you can also ply the game on your mac and you don’t have to buy it again this is the future and it is now and Live for the XBOX offer the same integrated community platforms.

    Even your coverage of the E3 is a shambles because you don’t understand the market or the communities it supports.

    Games are now like TV channels I will subscribe happily each month until a better one comes along, which is good for the industry and gamers alike meaning titles with poor development or that are mediocre will fall away without notice.

    Games might be casual in nature , but the communities that surround them are not.

  • Comment number 9.

    If you are correct about APB's pricing model, the game will be a dead duck.

    I have been playing and paying for mmorpg's for more than a decade and the trend is towards free games with micropayments and away from a basic subscription model. New life has been breathed into Dungeons and Dragons Online by making this transition, and Lord Of The Rings Online is doing the same later this year.

    But what will kill APB stone dead, is the 50 hours gameplay limit. Most avid gamers will hit this within the first 7-10 days. You cannot charge full price for a game and limit people so severely, the market as it stands allows 30+ days for the original purchase price before a subscription kicks in. Players will not accept it and I expect a slew of bad reviews to arrive in advance of it's release, forcing it's rating down to 1 star on player-review sites.

    I can only imagine that they have opted for this double-whammy because they need to recoup costs from a game they know is doomed to fail. My own son, a hardcore gamer, participated in the APB beta-testing and found it badly implemented and no fun to play, so I strongly suspect that this is the case.

    Caveat emptor!

  • Comment number 10.

    Subscription MMORPGs usual charge between £10 and £15 for a month's gaming and give you a free month when you purchase the game for around (£20-£25). Some even offer free trials so you can decide if it's worth paying for.

    To get players to keep paying monthly APB's subscription fee should be around the above mark, if not then it'll will die out rather rapidly. And charging £35 for the game with only 50 hours free is very bit steep.

    Also releasing APB only a couple of months before Bioware release The Old Republic is a bit of a error on their part as a large chunk of their starting playerbase will also want to play The Old Republic, and if the reviews in the above comments are right they will more than likely not return.

  • Comment number 11.

    I disagree with the view that gaming on PCs is dead. Why else would Valve have released their games for Mac as well as Windows? A huge number of games (particularly strategy ones) are better suited to PCs, and no matter what a console fan says, fps games are better with a keyboard and mouse. In fact PC gaming is easier now unless you absolutely require (which you do not) to have every setting turned to maximum. Face it, every house that has a console will have a PC as well, and the change from a basic PC to a half decent gaming PC that will last for a good few years is 'only' a couple of hundred pounds. About the price of a console. Plus having a gaming PC makes it good for other things as well, such as running all your programmes (iTunes, browser, MSN, Office etc) that you have on constantly more smoothly. Basically, its all down to choice, and as long as people buy, companies will sell.

    Consoles have the advantages of being 'easier' to set up, PCs can often boast better frame rates/graphical detail as well as more custom content. 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

  • Comment number 12.

    If you really want to understand the power of the online games network go talk to Hello Games down in Guildford.

    They'be just released a highly acclaimed game called Joe Danger on Sony's Playstation Network after deciding they didn't want to go via a big publisher.

    It's a story of how online networks enable four guys in a shed to release a blockbuster to the masses.

  • Comment number 13.

    "5. At 1:55pm on 17 Jun 2010, Mav wrote:

    Also the paying to play a game your already own im not sure what you mean MMO needs upkeep, hence the subsciption prices and not every game is going to be an MMO in the future...and a microtransaction is optional, i sincerely doubt we will get into a position where EVERY game requires microtransaction to be interesting, I beleive that if your not the type of person to spend a couple of quid on a lightsaber for your xbox avatar you'll be fine, even in the likes of Korea where microtransactions are so important, there are still other games to play if you wish"

    MMO's make hundreds of millions a year, far more than their upkeep costs, if a WoW subscription cost only 10% of what it does now Activision-Blizzard would still make a profit. On the Xbox you need Xbox live for every game, a paid for subscription to play online. Activision has stated they want people to start paying for playing Call of Duty games online, even though the upkeep costs are negligible for games like Call of Duty. It is already becoming standard practice to ask money for mappacks and other trivial add-ons that used to be free and their prices are in no way justifiable considering their low production costs.

    "Except that i dont beleive the "milking an outdated console" is nessecerily a bad thing. The current generation is already set to out live previous ones by years and still the quality games are coming...thats good...i dont want to spend £300 on a new console just yet!"

    Their are already PC-games that an Xbox 360 or PS3 cannot handle and they have made programmers lazy: technical innovation has come to a standstill because the same old consoles keep being used.

    What we need is more niche companies devoted to produce high-quality games for desktop computers, continually pushing the envelop, instead we have nearly every (with the exception of Blizzard maybe) developer diving into the casual/console market. It's true the casual market is the biggest but their are plenty of people who like something more challenging, with more freedom (thus desktop games). I like to compare it with TV: American Idol or Dancing With the Stars are non-cerebral popcorn programs with huge audiences but if every network started producing tons of those programs the market would overheat and collapse. That's why it's good to also produce a few cerebral programs for another part of the market, TV networks figured this out long ago, game developers have yet to learn.

  • Comment number 14.

    Only the games industry could convince itself that it's going to get rich by selling the customer fresh air.

    At least the music and film industry are still offering to give you something tangible for your money.

  • Comment number 15.

    Just a small point and sorry to be nit-picky; Vivendi owns Activision and Blizzard - and Blizzard produced and runs World of Warcraft. Also, this idea was not pioneered by World of Warcraft, it was pioneered on a large scale graphical game by EverQuest back in 1997/98 (or before if you take the date that it made the decision to use this model of subscription). So for accurateness sake (and pedantry!) the following paragraph in your message is in fact incorrect:

    "It sounds like the model successfully pioneered by World of Warcraft, which has proved hugely profitable for its owners Activision."

  • Comment number 16.

    @ modernjan

    I enjoyed reading your counter arguments, but i have more of my own ;)

    You say MMO's make hundreds of millions a year, if your speaking about the west i think you should say ONE MMO makes hundreds of millions a year, i.e. WoW, NO MMO has ever come close to making the money WoW has, i have said before that i am no business analisyst (i cant even spell the word) but i have seen rough figures. It would be nice for Blizzard to lower the subscription price due to the sheer amount of subscirbers they have but thats not really usual business practice unfortunately. Your point about Xbox live is a good one though i dont tend to put the £40 a year model in the 'evil' category, Xbox Live isnt essential, but considering how much it adds to your games for the price of £40 surely that means its value for money? As for trivial dlc, another good point, except that this is all optional, only the consumer can decide if its good value and as i said previous, if you consider a lightsaber for your avatar for £2 is worth it then yeh...good luck to you in life ;) If microtransactions are the future, it will take a long while before every game requires them to be even functional...

    The debate on 'milking consoles' continues to be an interesting one. When you said 'technical innovation has come to a standstill because the same old consoles keep being used' I cant agree with that, graphically yes i suppose you are but its my beleif that if you are a hardcore gamer, graphics are the last on your list of requirements as gameplay is always king. And also dont you consider the use of Natal, Move, the PS3's addition of 3D graphics innovations? This is the generation of getting the most out of exsisting hardware and i for one think this is great! A new console means developers need time to be able to make top quality games, launch titles are rarely as good as the games that comea after it, but 4 years down the line they know the ropes and what the consoles can do and they can do amazing things with old tech, if you don't beleive me, keep an eye on Crytek, we know what they can do on PC, now they're going to do it on 360 and PS3 in Crysis 2 and quite possibly the rently announced Codename: Kingdoms.

    And as for your final comment...the money is on consoles and thats business unfortunately, almost all of the PC centric developers have realised this like Valve and's unfortunate but true and in the cut throat world of games development when even the best quality studios can bomb they need ever buck they can get...not every developer is an EA ;)

  • Comment number 17.

    You don't need xBox Live to play games jan, it adds a extra element to it, but I had been playing many games for the last 2 years or so without live and was more than happy with all the content that I had anyway, and then a couple of months ago I purchased Live and am even happier now. I see the point that you're making but I don't see it happening where everything is going to need a microtransaction to play. I'd like to see the price come down slightly for mappacks and all that as yes I feel they are a bit over priced, but when its 5 quid for a whole new couple of missions that will keep me occupied again and again, I see that as damn good value.

  • Comment number 18.

    MMO's are not new and they not soley exclusive to PC's either, so console fates are not in the balance at all.

    Are MMO's and other online-only games the future of gaming? Perhaps, but if that is the case then clearly companies like Sony and Microsoft will ensure those games are adopted on their consoles which, as stated above, is something that they are both actively already working on.

    Sony, for example, are working with Vivid to get Steam onto the PS3. Obviously thats not an online game, but it is a depository of games that can be purchased online as 3rd party, completly bypassing Sony's PSN,. which is clearly a very big step for consoles and one that Sony's rivals seem reluctant to embrace.

    Rory if you want to do another piece on an MMO, go check out Star Wars: The Old Republic. It is undoubtedly the most anticipated MMO currently in development.

  • Comment number 19.


    Thank you for this delightfully civil debate, rare on the internet and I think we do agree on lots of points.

    The jest of what I'm saying is that bit by bit (pun intended) we are getting less for more: you say Xbox Live adds to the experience because it allows you to play online, but I'm asking why don't PS3 or PC players need monthly subscriptions to play online? Hell, even the original Xbox didn't need it, but now the Xbox 360 suddenly does, what else could this be than an outright scam?

    You do have a point when you say not every MMO is as profitable as WoW, but if the standard price for a full video game is 50euros in the store, with 20-30euros being standard for expansion packs then bare with me for my example of a typical MMO: a player pays 50euros for the original game, this covers all the original development costs (after all hugely complex and costly non-MMO games also earn back their costs this way entirely), then you need a subscription of 10euros a month, then after 1 year an expansion pack is released. Now you will have to pay 30euros for the expansion pack as with a non-MMO game, remember every development penny has been earned back, that leaves the developer with 120euros per player per year which is far more than the cost of keeping servers and developing patches, far, far more, so no matter how small the userbase is any commercially viable MMO will bring in big bucks and rip off the players.
    And no, 5bucks for a mappack isn't a great value when you consider how little effort it took the developers to make those maps, they'd make a profit if they charged 5pennies, hell, they probably made those mappacks during the original development and so have earned back the costs by selling the game in the stores. The proof? Mappacks used to be free for years and are a hell of a lot easier to make than patches which are, and always have been, free.
    Developers make you believe that they suddenly have all these new costs you never knew about and that you have to pay for that. I mean you wouldn't like it movie tickets got twice as expensive every year, would you?

    On the consoles I don't think we'll be seeing much technical progress: 3D and Natal don't count because they are separate technologies, you could, in theory hook them up to an old Super Nintendo. Crytek pushed the boundaries with Crysis, which could never run properly on a console, their upcoming Crysis 2 will be adjusted for the consoles which probably means severely reduced graphics and physics and loooooooong loading times. Graphics aren't the only thing challenging the consoles: physics and AI have also outgrown them. There's no way a console could process my 500 units, plus the 1500 units of the other players in a game of Supreme Commander. Of course not everyone needs that but I'd like developers to dive into the niche market: develop games that can run exclusively on desktop computers because their graphics, physics and AI are too advanced for consoles or just because dumbing down the controls for consoles would ruin the game. That would be better than drowning the market in console games that, if we are lucky enough, get a port for the desktop where they don't live up to their potential.

  • Comment number 20.

    @19, I fully agree with what you say. However I do not believe that Crysis 2 will suffer, as Crytek have already stated that it will be Dx11, which is more advanced than what consoles use. I believe the 360 is Dx9. If you want a good PC only game look at Shattered Horizon. It is made by Future Mark who design the benchmarking software 3dMark and all its derivations. Software designed to push computer hardware to the absolute limit. Plus it is a fantastic game!

  • Comment number 21.

    This reads more like an advert for Dave's new game rather than a discussion about the future technology. What is happening on the BBC lately?

  • Comment number 22.

    crysis will not suffer as Crytek already said pc version will be superior of all console versions . and it will have best graphics u ever seen
    but now a days Information Technology Services are so good that optimized games are very good and even in old age consoles games look good just like killzone 3 it supports even 3d tv. Nice post, by the way.

  • Comment number 23.

    Consoles have a place in gaming, for example I have not upgraded my PC for about 18months due to getting married so I have made do with an Xbox360 and a directX9 PC. however with no good games coming out as far as I can see on the consoles and the age of them now its back to PC until the next generation.

    IF the next console generation is really 5 years+ away then it might be awhile till I look at replacing my current one(when it breaks I will buy a blu-ray player maybe even a PS3 but it won't be for games).

    Crysis 2 and Shattered Horizon are enough for me to justify my upgrade and considering neither will run on any console for at least 5+ years by which time PC gaming will be even better it seems as the only sensible option. besides FPS games need a mouse and the consoles stubbornly refuse to add this incredibly popular control system.

    If you want a way to judge the difference between console and Pc games look up Deus Ex and its PS2 port. the original had a full inventory system and great level design. The port has levels cut in half literally and the inventory removed only to be replaced by item/weapon slots. less thinking, less engrossing and generally second rate in comparison.

  • Comment number 24.

    To all those commenting about APB price structure. Your fundamentally incorrect in what your saying.

    It is cheaper than most MMO's. They are usually £10-£15 a month after initial purchase and one free month.

    APB offers no restriction access for £8 a month. Or you can purchase 20 hours in blocks.Once your 20 hours is up, you can buy more, or stick to the social district which is always free to access. Social is where you tinker with your character, car, clothing, music etc

    Instead of one free month you get 50 hours free. After those 50 hours you choose what to buy depending on your use. A "normal" no restriction plan for £8 or buy in blocks of hours.

    It gives the gamer cheaper monthly access than a lot of MMO, offers you a choice to buy in blocks of hours if you only play casually, and those hours are only used when in the Action districts.

    For £8 a month unlimited 30 day access, that is a great price structure.

    If your talented at creating you can even sell your designs to other players for RTW. RTW can be exchanged for hours in gametime. So once purchased, if your talented enough that people will pay RTW for your designs, you could theoretically play the game for free as your talent in creation, which is used in the free social district will pay for your hours of Action time.


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