The hypocrisy of gamers

So it looks like RealTime Worlds is going belly up. And everyone seems so sad about it. I’m sad about it. I really had fun playing APB and was looking forward to playing it some more once they got a few patches into it.

Sure, the game wasn’t perfect…what game is? But it was fun, which at the end of the day is all that matters to me.

Of course when it launched, gamers and gaming journalists were gleefully taking all kinds of dumps on it, treating it like some kind of Daikatana-style train wreck. Gamers, as a breed (there are of course exceptions) take an immense amount of joy from tearing a game apart, spreading it’s entrails all over the internet, then posting pics of the mayhem to Facebook.

So that’s cool and all. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, even if it’s a horribly uninformed opinion. Like all the people who bitched about the payment model without stopping to think about it. How many games do you spend $50-$60 dollars on and then play for 15-20 hours? APB gave you 50 game-play hours with the box. That’s not time spent socializing, that’s essentially time in combat. Imaging what your WoW character’s /played time would be if you didn’t count time spent traveling to quest locations, fiddling at the bank, searching the auction house, talking to your guildies, waiting for a raid to form… 50 hours of actual combat is probably 200 hours of playtime. The fact is, most users would never hit that 50 hour limit in APB. It never was a game you were going to play as a replacement for your MMO of choice. It was just a game, not a lifestyle.

Anyway I digress, but that’s an important point. So many people reviled the game, without even trying it, due to the payment model…it just seemed unfair to me.

“So yay! APB sucks! RealTime Worlds can’t make a game that isn’t total crap! We’ve hardly even played it but we know it sucks, and if someone tells you they had any fun playing, it’s just because there [sic] a noob who doesn’t know what’s good! Let’s kick its corpse all over the internet!”

And now RealTime Worlds is going under and what do we hear?

“Oh, what a shame!” “I feel bad for those affected.” “Hope those guys land of their feet!” “Wow, the gaming business sure is brutal!”

When the same person that was ‘piling on’ to the flaws in APB turns around and tries to act all sympathetic about these guys losing their jobs… wow, I just find it an unbelievable display of hypocrisy.

People need to learn that their words have consequences. If you hated APB that much then you should be glad these people won’t be making another game; you should be happy they’ll now get a chance to go into a line of work they’re better at.

Now if you tried APB and didn’t enjoy it and said as much, while listing real reasons that you didn’t like it… I’m not talking about you! Quite the opposite…constructive negative criticism can help a development team get better. You gave the game a fair shot, didn’t like it and moved on. I totally respect that and again, I’m not talking about you in this post!!

I’m talking about the people who played for 10-15 minutes, didn’t take any time to learn what was going on, and then used their influence with their friends, or worse, with their readers/listening audience, to trash the game to an extent that the people they have influence over were never going to even take a look at APB.

All I’m asking is for people to stand behind their words, and stop being so wishy-washy. When a developer has 1 current game out, trashing the game is trashing the developer. You helped put RTW where they are today. At least take ownership of that fact.

APB vs GiantBomb

I was listening to GiantBomb’s podcast, the BombCast, yesterday, and Jeff Gerstmann was talking about APB. He did a real hatchet job on the game, talking at length about things he didn’t like about the game. In some cases, things that don’t actually exist in APB.

Now in all fairness he said “I’m reserving judgement” but by the time he was done he’d convinced at least one of his cohorts (Ryan Davis) to not give the game a try. And I’m sure that same applies to some percentage of his listenership.

And even this wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t basing his experience totally on playing “for about an hour” during the pre-launch event.

Now APB most definitely has some flaws and I myself am still undecided about it. But I’m not a professional game journalist talking to thousands of listeners to my podcast and conveying mis-information about the game.

I’m going from memory, but here were some of his issues:

Point 1: the first ten minutes of him playing the game was chugging as it struggled to load textures.

OK, maybe that happened to him on his system. I haven’t seen that problem but APB is a beast that brings high-end systems to their knees. Should a journalist slag a game because it won’t run on their system? Virtually every PC game won’t run on someone’s system, somewhere. If this is a systemic problem then it’s fair game. If it only happens on his PC, then it isn’t.

Point 2: He went on and on about the payment model. He made it sound more confusing than doing your taxes when you’ve worked 2 jobs, owned a business, made half a million gambling and gotten married all in the same year. In fact this was his main focus: that the payment model is too hard.

Here is the payment model: The game comes with 50 hours of playing time. When you use that up, you can either go to a $10/month unlimited subscription, or you can spent $7 and get 20 more hours. For 99% of the players, that’s the whole payment model.

There are other things you can do if you really get into the game, but most players won’t ever touch them (I haven’t). Gerstmann focused on them. Here they are:

A) When you use the in-game voice chat you’ll get an ad once every 3 hours when you change zones. If that really bothers you (I almost never change zones in a single play session) you can pay some small fee to remove the ads.

B) There’s something called RTW Points that you can optionally purchase for real money and spend on a cash-shop to buy items. Same as almost every other MMO. This seemed incredibly confusing to Gerstmann; I guess he doesn’t play many MMOs.

He went on and on about the payment model to the point where he had Ryan Davis saying APB sounded like an accounting program and talking about roll-over minutes. WTF??

Point 3: The single player missions were dull and the PvP too infrequent.

This is where my jaw really dropped. There ARE NO SINGLE PLAY MISSIONS IN APB! Every mission has 2 sides. When you get invited to a mission you’re either initializing the mission, or you’re responding to a mission.

If you initialize the mission, the game will start asking people from the other side to respond to that mission. Until someone accepts the invite to respond, you will be playing unopposed. And its true that sometimes no one responds and you never encounter opposition. During pre-launch that happened a lot more than it does now.

If you respond to a mission in progress, you’ll immediately be in conflict with another team.

The point is, there are no dedicated solo missions and now that the game has launched you’re doing PvP pretty constantly. When you do end up running a mission unopposed it feels more like a breather than a problem.

OK I’ve rambled on enough about this. Like I said, APB has legitimate issues and if Gerstmann had gone after those (semi-broken matchmaking, lack of a manual, high system requirements) I wouldn’t have a problem with his comments.

But if you’re talking to a huge audience who, by the looks of the comments on Giant Bomb, idolizes you for some reason, I think you should be a bit more careful when it comes to talking trash about a game that you’ve barely played. RTW has enough of a challenge in front of them without high-profile gaming journalists tearing them apart over imagined issues.

APB: Cops vs Robbers

In APB every character has to choose a faction: Enforcer (cops) or Criminal.

I almost always play “good” characters when gaming; I really don’t like doing bad things to people, even pretend people. But in APB I choose Criminal because, well, I’ve played GTA IV (at least, until Niko’s forced actions became too unsavory for me) and I know that when I drive through a city, I tend to accidentally run over people. In APB, Criminals don’t get penalized for doing this but Enforcers do. So for practical reasons I went Criminal.

In APB, Criminals sow chaos and it can be a lot of fun just to cruise around the city making mischief. A lot of the times you’ll get missions that turn into car chases (with you the one being chased) and careening around corners, sliding into buildings, crashing through gates, destroying one car to the point where you have to bail out and steal another…it can be a ton of fun even if you eventually get caught.

But a bunch of Twitter friends who’re just started playing chose to go Enforcer, so last night I created an Enforcer character. Enforcers are penalized for committing crimes. Run over a mailbox in sight of a pedestrian and you’ve committed a crime. You can commandeer cars from people but, at least from my understanding, that’s going to cost you prestige, and the lower your prestige the lower your mission rewards will be. [Melmothulhu says I’m wrong and there’s no prestige cost of commandeering vehicles…I need to test this tonight. It would change playing as Enforcer a lot!] (This might be a good time to point out that RealTimeWorlds has NOT produced any kind of a manual for the game, lending to its “Paid Beta” status.)

So instead of madcap mayhem, I found myself doing a lot of running, or a lot of scratching my head wondering where I’d parked my car.

Those chase missions that are so fun as a Criminal are something of a pain in the neck as an Enforcer. You can’t drive with wild abandon; you have to be constantly wary of hitting things. And the missions I was drawing (on the Zombie server) tended to be small 1vs1 or at most 2v2 affairs.

The other problem, being a new character with low-level gear, is that you die constantly unless you’re a very skilled player. I’ll be the first to admit I am NOT a skilled player, but on my Criminal I at least have a modicum of success. My Enforcer was pure fail. After an hour of playing my newbie Enforcer I quit the game in frustration and declared that I was done with APB.

After cooling down a bit, I jumped back in on my Criminal, and the fun flooded back in. I’d get calls for backup constantly and when I said “Yes” to those would get dumped in as team member #4 fighting against 3-4 man teams of Enforcers. Once you get that many people even an unskilled player can have fun as they can help distract the other side, or finish off wounded opponents, or even just be the driver.

And when not on a mission, the joy of spreading chaos returns. Bottom line: for me, playing a Criminal in APB is an activity that is full of laughs and grinning cringes and fist pumps from a lucky shot. Somehow when I die as a Criminal, it’s no biggie. I laughed out loud when I was breaking into a car and suddenly an Enforcer rammed me going full speed, squishing me against the car I was trying to steal. Well, first I jumped out of my chair (had no idea he was coming) and then I laughed.

Playing an Enforcer, on the other hand, was an exercise in frustration. No one responded to my own calls for backup, no calls for backup popped from other players. All the missions I fought were 1v1 or at most 2v2. I spent way too much time running around and not enough time driving with reckless abandon. It just wasn’t fun.

Part of this is in the nature of the two roles each side plays. Part of it is because the Enforcer was new and poorly equipped.

But part of it, I suspect, is that the Enforcer side is populated by organized gamers who’re already in Clans and regular groups. When I’d get into a good fight as a Criminal, I’d often see everyone on the other side who killed me (which was pretty much everyone on the other side) was part of the same clan. Criminals, in contrast, are just a bunch of crazy-assed gamers having fun. The Criminal side has lots of open groups and lots of calls for backup going on.

If you, like me, are someone who doesn’t have a regular group of gaming friends to play with, and you’re finding the Enforcer side of APB to be not-very-fun, I strongly urge you to roll a Criminal before you give up on the game. Spend some time stealing vehicles and taking them to the drop off points to earn a bit of $$. Hit Yes to Calls for Backup. Join one of the many open groups. Just have fun. Criminals are easy-going fun-lovers. Enforcers…. aren’t.

APB, Day 2

So back I went to APB today, and continued my love/hate relationship with the game.

I’ve found, as someone who solos as a rule, that accepting “Call for Backup” missions is my favorite way to go. When you accept one of these you get thrown into the group that called for backup and can help them complete their mission. Once the mission ends, the group dissolves. I love that mechanic as I hate being shackled to a group.

When the matchmaking works, it can be great fun. I got into some great 3vs3, 3vs4, & 4vs4 fights where our team worked together and they were awesome. I also got into a lot of 2vs4 fights where the dude that called for backup apparently sat in a garage somewhere the whole time.

And even with the numbers, missions can be really one-sided. I finally figured out how to pay attention to a player’s Threat Level. As you gain threat levels you gain access to better gear. You don’t have stats that go up, so they aren’t really ‘levels’ in the traditional sense. A player who is threat level 9 who has never upgraded his gear isn’t going to have a more powerful character than a player who is threat level 1. And player skill factors in heavily.

But generally speaking, a Threat level 9 is going to be more lethal than a Threat level 1. And I was in missions where one side had Threat Levels of 1, 3 & 4 vs a team with 2, 4, 7 & 8. That wasn’t pretty.

But at the end of the day, teamwork is what matters even more than threat level. Focusing fire, flanking, watching all ingress vectors.. that’s all going to help a bunch. So as a solo player who hasn’t used a mike yet, I’m going to be at a huge disadvantage, but that’s my choice so I’m not really complaining about it… just noting it.

I did also find something I’m pretty good at: driving. Whenever I get an Evade mission I tend to do pretty well since I can drive around the city pretty much flat out, making me hard to catch, unless the Enforcers have enough cars to cut me off.

Still, the funnest thing in the game for me is just messing around, mostly in cars. Since you can smash into anyone you can help out, sorta, even if you aren’t part of a mission. If I see an Enforcer cruising along with his lights on and siren blaring, I’ll do everything I can to run him off the road… 🙂

My other favorite thing is people who haven’t yet figured out that voice chat is heard by everyone in proximity. So they’ll be ‘sneaking up’ on you and chatting about what they’re doing the whole time. Before too long people will start using that as deliberate misdirection.

Oh, and I tried the Enforcer side a bit too. It didn’t feel all that much different from a gameplay point of view, except you can’t jack any car you see without consequences. If I end up playing over the long run I might switch. There’s a lot of stuff the Criminals do that is a bit harsh for my weird tastes. So I come flying around a corner and slide sideways through a crowd of pedestrians, it doesn’t really bother me, but mugging, for instance, isn’t my thing. When you mug someone you punch them in the face a bunch of times even though they’re quaking with fear. I just don’t like doing that.

And actually they’ve managed to make the Enforcer side seem kind of cool. Nice job with that.

I’ll be very surprised indeed if I use up my 50 hours of play time and find myself wanting more of APB. I’m pretty sure it’ll be a short-term interest for me. Once the game launches and people who play 40 hours a week hone their skills, it’s going to be nothing but frustration for casual players like me.

APB, Day 1

Today started “Early Access” in APB. I logged in this morning and spent some time making a character and a shirt that looks like it came from Woot and putting decals on a car. I didn’t get to actually play until later this evening.

APB is a pretty humbling experience, and I think Real Time Worlds is going to have trouble pulling in people once the initial sales taper off. The problem is that there’s no real way to balance things. When I started playing tonight, with my default gun and it’s very deliberate rate of fire, I was being cut down left and right by people with machine guns. I played for a while and earned enough cash to get a machine gun… and then started running into people with shot guns. Basically all night I felt like I was out-matched in the weapons department. And that’s after people I’m up against have been playing for 1 day. What’ll it be like for a newbie in 3 weeks?

There are only 2 combat zones in APB and there’s no sense of ‘levels’ in them, so you’re just thrown into the shark tank. In theory, I guess, the game will assign relatively equivalent firepower against you. Wait, let me back up…

Y’see, it’s full PvP (really it’s just a shooter). So I, as a Criminal, get a mission from a contact. Say it’s “Spray graffiti at these locations” and I get waypoints to head to. At this point there’s no opposition and no one can shoot me. But after the few seconds I’ll get a message that Enforcers (cops) have been dispatched to stop me. I *assume* the game is offering the mission of stopping me to someone relatively close to me in terms of gear, but I’m not sure.

Now what the game doesn’t know is that I suck at online shooters. It’d be nice to know there’s some kind of matchmaking that looks at my cumulative win/lose score and finds an opponent who’ll be an even match. It’s really too early to see if this exists or not. I hope it does.

My other concern is that defending seems a lot easier than attacking. So often, as a Criminal, I’ll be tasked with occupying a particular area. There’s a lit circle I have to stand in while a timer counts down. The Enforcers, if they get there first, will invariably get up on a roof. So in order to control this circle, I first have to get up onto the roof and kill the Enforcer. To get up onto a roof you climb ladders. To climb a ladder you hit a single key and your character ‘auto-pilots’ up the latter. And when you get to the top you immediately get a face full of shotgun or SMG before you’ve really reestablished control of your character.

I think the ‘right’ way of taking out someone on a roof is by getting up onto another roof and sniping him. If I had a sniper rifle. Long range gunplay is normally pretty ineffective in APB since if you start taking fire you just duck behind something and auto-heal back up. Of course while you do that, the other dude is healing back up as well.

Further on the ‘right’ way to play… get a team. That way while one of you is playing cat and mouse with the Enforcers, the other can occupy the target area.

Now for all that whining, there are moments when the game is really fun, too. And sometimes it’s fun just watching others play. You see these crazy firefights break out and can just spectate since you aren’t part of the mission, so their bullets won’t harm you (though explosions will still kill you, and anyone can shoot a car and make it explode).

So far my favorite missions have been those where I get called in as backup. If you accept one of these, you get stuck into a group with whomever is working on the mission you’re backing up. Then you can run in and help. Even if you suck (like I do) you can at least distract the other side.

I have a lot of fun just driving around causing chaos, too. The zones are pretty full today, which means you’ll get caught in the midst of plenty of chases and running firefights.

I’m liking APB so far, but mostly in short sessions. I get frustrated pretty quickly and need to learn to recognize that in myself and bail out before the game stops being fun.

APB Review Embargo: What kind of a message are they sending?

First, I should state that I’ve dabbled in the beta of APB. I got into the closed beta the night before it ended, and I’m in the current short-term beta, though haven’t had a lot of time to play. I’m under NDA (I think? RPS implies it has been lifted. I didn’t really play enough to speak intelligently about the game in any case.) so can’t get into specifics, but suffice to say that based on a total of maybe 1 hour of playing the beta, I was considering pre-ordering the game. I certainly hadn’t made up my mind to do it, but I was rolling the idea around in my head.

Then this news of a review embargo came out. According to Rock, Papers, Shotgun, Realtime Worlds is attempting to impose a review embargo until a week after launch. It’s a ludicrous thing to attempt, telling someone they can’t talk about a game they bought until a week later.

But besides being dumb and unenforceable, it’s horrible marketing. As soon as I read this I made up my mind NOT to pre-order APB. If Realtime Worlds has so little confidence in their product, I certainly am not going to risk my $50.

I have to assume they ran the numbers and decided that they’d lose more business to early bad reviews than to sending loss-of-confidence marketing messages, but I think in the end they’ll lose in both ways. There’s no reason for a publication to adhere to their request: this isn’t EA or Activision where the company can use other IPs as leverage to enforce their will (and even so, that’d be abhorrent behavior). So reviews are still going to come out when pubs have done due diligence in playing. If those reviews are bad, it’ll hurt sales. In addition to that, folks like me are going to shy away due to this marketing message.

I can’t understand what they were thinking.

I enjoyed my short time in APB. My reservations were built around trying to understand why there was a subscription model attached to it, and trying to decide if it was something I’d enjoy over a long period. But now I can only think I missed some major short-comings in my time playing. So I’ll wait and see what the reviews say.

[UPDATE: Realtime Worlds has responded to Rock, Paper, Shotgun with an explanation. Basically it boils down to them not wanting reviewers to review the game based on the current “Keys to the City” beta event. Fair enough, but if that’s what you’re asking, ask it. Don’t try to deliver an ultimatum in the form of an embargo. Thanks to Brent for bringing this to my attention!]