(Real)time has run out

So Scottish developer Realtime Worlds has gone into administration, following the poor response to its online game APB, leaving ambitious future project MyWorld hanging in the balance. What has gone wrong for founder David Jones, and what impact will it have on the British software industry?

In the wake of Crackdown – its appeal no doubt helped by the Halo 3 beta that Microsoft “attached” to the game – there were plans for a sequel, and for work to commence on Jones’ ambitious “crime MMO”. Somewhere along the line new developer Ruffian – also based in Dundee – got the Crackdown 2 contract and Realtime were concentrating on APB.

There was hype certainly, much of it centring on Realtime’s pedigree and David Jones himself as one of the creators of the GTA franchise. But were expectations raised too high? Fans were expecting a persistent game world populated with many people. What they got was small groups on isolated servers. Players were expecting more sandbox style gameplay, the ability to go anywhere and do anything. The result was disappointing, with only certain vehicles able to be hijacked and gunfights limited to current rivals.

The final strike had to be the pricing model. The talk before the launch was of a new way of doing things, but what it amounted to was either a monthly subscription (nothing new for MMO players) or a pay-as-you-go scheme. This seemed to be a sticking point for many reviewers. With poor feedback, poor sales and poor prospects – even with hints of a patch/upgrade promising more action in “chaos zones” – it was almost inevitable that it would affect Realtime Worlds and its future. But the sudden announcement of layoffs on the MyWorld team was followed by the administrators being called in, even after extra funding for MyWorld had been secured.

Where does this leave the people who worked there? There are several other Scottish developers, and a good chance that many will find jobs there. The Scottish Parliament is also looking into tax breaks for games firms, going against the policy south of the border. But there is a real risk that many of the team will move overseas, hitting the development prospects here. Events have moved quickly, with three major developers (including the UK’s own Blitz) setting up recruitment events in Dundee to attract former Realtime staff. Project MyWorld has apparently seen many of its staff re-hired – at last count 23 – with every intention of that project being finished. Eutechnyx is looking to establish a new studio in Dundee, and there are still other companies there hoping to continue. The views of staff at the company have emerged, often critical of how the projects were managed and whether the lack of firm deadlines meant that time and investment were badly handled.

For me, the name APB will always mean the 1980s Atari coin-op (and its subsequent home conversion). That took a comedy cops & robbers style chase game and earned a lot of money. Realtime’s APB was always going to be a difficult sell, and it fell a long way short of expectations.

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