You Won't Respawn Tomorrow

Written by Phil Hartup

September 28, 2010 | 07:28

Tags: #all-points-bulletin #apb #bankruptcy #mmo #real-time-worlds #rtw

Companies: #realtime-worlds

You Won't Respawn Tomorrow

APB will probably be remembered by most people as the most unsuccessful game ever made. It cost a fortune to produce, it bankrupted the company that made it, sold very badly and many people, including most reviewers, hated it. But not everybody did, thousands of players, myself included, sank hundreds of hours into the game. Some are even a little saddened to see it gone.

Or maybe saddened is too strong a word. See, the thing with APB is that you either love it or hate it, and even if you love it you’re still going to hate it a lot of the time. While the demises of Matrix Online and Tabula Rasa were met with sadness from their players, the reaction to the death of APB, even from hardcore players, was not one of surprise or even particular disappointment. The writing had been on the wall from very early on, so the prevailing mood was one of bitter fatalism.

Playing the game in the beta and in the early days of launch, there was never much of a sense of optimism from the players. It’s a strange thing to play a game with such a strong sense of impending doom about it. Most MMO players are, at some level at least, aware that their adventures must come to an end and the world will eventually be destroyed, but it’s a consideration that’s usually pushed to the back of their minds. Nobody plays WoW under pressure to finish the main quests before Blizzard shuts up shop. APB was different, because there really was quite a tangible sense, particularly when Realtime Worlds entered administration, that it was time to 'eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we don’t respawn'.

That nihilism took different manifestations among different players. A lot of people simply saw it as an opportunity to cheat like crazy, and so APB will sadly be remembered as a game that, if not completely overrun with cheats, at least felt like it was a lot of the time. Others either went into denial, or else couldn’t see the writing on the wall. Many players engaged in cash-generating exploits, running bot programs to amass fortunes and repeatedly steal cars even quite late in the games existence, as if those goods would still retain their value come the end of the week. The world was coming to an end, and people were still trying to make virtual money to spend in limbo.

You Won't Respawn Tomorrow
Tomorrow we dine in hell, today we make sure we'll have plenty of company

For myself the last hours in APB were surprisingly dispassionate. I imagined I’d miss the game, the old crew, the streets of San Paro and my trusty and long suffering car, so was shocked that my last cruise through the streets left me cold. MMOs, particularly ones that rely on a single main instance, can feel really empty and soulless if there’s anything less than the maximum number of players on a server at once; you might expect to type in the chatbox and hear your keystrokes echo. APB didn’t feel like that, partly because empty streets are not a new phenomena in the game, but also because the few remaining players were so concentrated in certain areas. There were only two action districts to choose from, so it wasn’t like there was anywhere else to go. Things were almost like they had always been.

Sure enough, even at the end of days there were a few dozen people in my instance, though there wasn’t much interest in actually doing the missions. The new matchmaking system, one of many potentially game-saving improvements implemented too late on in APB’s development, didn’t offer up any opposition at all.

Despite the lack of activity though, I still managed to get one last hurrah out of APB. After having pulled over to indiscriminately gun down some passersby (‘what does it matter anyway?’), I heard the familiar siren of pursuing Enforcers. Even with the world ending and nothing to play for, the simple joys of a high speed car chase were still enough to keep things interesting, at least for a few minutes. At their best the car chases in APB are some of the most fun you can have, but like so much of the game they are really only fun if you are winning. Eating a criminals dust, or getting chased down and brutalised by a bunch of Enforcers, is spectacularly infuriating.

Moving away from ad-hoc enjoyment, perhaps the saddest part of an MMO folding is the end of the clans and groups that grew within it. Many clans will start in one game and then move onto another, but the game that draws a team together is always special – when it closes it’s like losing your local pub in a small town. Trying to maintain an active clan in a dying game is never easy and even clans that are usually stable and self-sustaining can be infected by the sense of futility. It’s like using a running machine you spend ages running, but you never really get anywhere; there’s no destination to work towards.

You Won't Respawn Tomorrow
The long, empty road to nowhere

The closure of the game is especially painful for fans because APB’s closure was structured in such a way that it was difficult for many to vocalise their grief – the official forums were the first casualty of Realtime Worlds’ collapse. Fans were left with no central hub to gather around – a fact which didn’t surprise some players, who’d had bad experiences with RTW even when the studio was at full strength.

The customer support was quite possibly the worst I've ever seen,” said Buzz, a member of the Rezistance clan who had accumulated 800+ hours in APB since the closed beta. “It would take them weeks to answer, and when they finally did, it was usually useless responses that had nothing to do with your problem whatsoever.

Other players in the Rezistance clan, which once dominated the non-Russian parts of the Patriot server, aired similar complaints at how the game had been supported. “The fact that the bad matchmaking was already addressed during beta and nothing was done was crazy,” said Asmeroth, another long-time player with hundreds of hours under his belt. “Ignoring your community in terms of suggestions to improve the game is one of the biggest mistakes a company can do while running an online game.

APB was a game that had huge potential that unfortunately was never fulfilled,” said Noodz, a beta player with a claimed 700 hours of playtime to his name, summing up the bitterness felt by the community pretty clearly. Without even a central forum to gather around most players had either been left to gossip and bitch within the game itself, or had spread their opinions thinly over the internet in other forums and communities. 130,000 pissed off fans isn’t something to be taken lightly.

Personally, APB’s biggest let down was the fact that it went down with more of a tired sigh than a big bang. I’d hoped to be in the game at the last moments, preserving the event for posterity and talking to other players who’d defiantly kept playing even as the world died by inches. Sadly, the patching servers were taken offline before that event and I was therefore unable to get back into San Paro in time for the closure. Armageddon would roll out without me – only under the careful eyes of RTW’s bankers could the end of the world be so well organised.

"APB had the most potential of any MMO seen in years,” sympathised Rezistance’s clan leader, Revenant. “Unfortunately, s*** happens."
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