An All-Points Bulletin for MMOs

For years, massively multiplayer online games have failed to suck me in like the virtual crack cocaine that they are meant to be. This isn’t because I have supernatural powers to resist addiction or that I even dislike these games’ content; it is primarily a matter of philosophical disagreement with the payment models a large majority of these games have chosen to adopt, and my own lack of desire to commit to playing enough to make the expense worthwhile.

The idea of paying continuously to access a game that I have already purchased once is ridiculous and annoying. This is especially a problem when the game’s design makes me want to take frequent breaks and spread the game out over a long period of time. Using EverCrack and World of WarCrack as examples, there is only so much time I’m willing to sit and slay X number of whatever-you-call-its to bring back to Mr. Do-this-for-me in order to get experience points and items I usually don’t need, want, or use. Gamers and critics often complain of filler in games, junk added to lengthen the overall game time, but in many MMORPGs, the majority of gameplay is exactly that crap I don’t want in a game. The more I see this type of gameplay, the shorter I want my sessions to be, and the longer the gap of time before I want to jump back in. It’s rather unfortunate, then, that these games make players pay by the month for access. So here’s a game whose design forces me to progress slowly, and a pricing structure that takes my money in real time. Great. That’s EXACTLY what I wanted!

There is far more value in a game that offers 40-50 hours of play, but doesn’t charge me if I take too long to reach that time investment. Playing bits and pieces of Oblivion or Fallout 3 over the course of four months costs exactly the games’ retail price — around $60 — but playing WoW for that same period costs the $40 initial investment and four subsequent $15 charges, totalling $100. I don’t think “bang-for-your-buck” applies in this case.

It’s true that there are a multitude of free-to-play MMOs out there now, and their increasing popularity is difficult to ignore. I also feel that they are on their way to being a proven new branch in the evolution of the industry, here to stay for quite some time. However, many of these games simply take the EverCraft quest structure and apply it to a virtual world for cheapskates, which makes little sense from one perspective, and is just not very interesting from another perspective. If the point of this type of design is to make character-building a slow process that forces players to spend more time paying into the system, then it doesn’t belong in a free-to-play game, even if it is there to play a traditional filler role and lengthen the total game time for other reasons. This type of gameplay just isn’t very much fun, and I’m sure a bit of play-testing would reveal that better-presented quests and story-driven adventure segments would do far more to pique interest in these mostly fantasy-RPG settings.


This is where Realtime Worlds’ All Points Bulletin comes in. First, it changes the game in terms of genre by putting players in a modern world, in an urban setting, where the only wandering monsters are other players seeking to exploit the fair city with their criminal behavior, or those who seek to oppress and incarcerate the free actions of the lawfully unbound, depending on what side you’re on. Stale fetch quests and odd-job-style goals are not expected to be a big part of APB, which will instead use a dynamic matchmaking/mission system to pit players against one another as they vie for those dangling experience carrots, ever-present in MMOs.

But unlike traditional pay-to-play MMOs, APB is using a payment structure that is for once actually fair to a variety of different types of players. First off, playing in the game’s “social districts” — where one can customize characters, chat with other players, create original car art, tattoos, or clothing, and trade on the in-game marketplace — is completely free with a player’s initial purchase. Only diving into the action districts will ever cost extra money, and it is all available at each player’s own pace.

The first 50 hours are free, approximating the length of a hefty offline game, and already validating APB‘s retail price. After that, monthly subscriptions of $10 per month (or less for long-term deals) are available for players who have the intestinal fortitude to play extended hours on a consistent basis, which is right in line with traditional MMO models — but still on the cheap end. Finally — and this is the big innovation — APB will let players top up like a prepaid cellular phone, in increments starting at 20 hours for $7, and use that time AT THEIR LEISURE. Finally, someone who can’t stand being compelled to play a game just to avoid feeling swindled when the VISA statement arrives can enjoy an MMO on his or her own time. Playing intermittently will actually be a viable option, and that same $15 WoW charge for one month of play can instead be used by a two-hour-per-week APB player to stay in the game for five months. (Great for game journos who have to play new games every week, I might add.)

The important thing is that APB accommodates any level of commitment at a fair price, for something that is shaping up to be a top-quality title. Realtime Worlds is innovating not only in the game’s content, but also in its delivery to the consumer. Other MMO studios would be smart to pay attention.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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