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Free for All: Why Both a Success and a Failure Went Free

What does an immensely popular first-person shooter from 2007 have in common with one of 2010's biggest failures? The gameplay, setting, and genre of Valve's Team Fortress 2 are a stark contrast to Realtime Worlds' APB. What they do share is an economy entirely based on selling goofy hats, powerful guns, and strange items. These two very different games started at full retail price but have since become free games supported by cash shops. So how can two games head down divergent paths but lead to the same result? During GDC 2012 we went to two lectures within hours of each other and learned why both games went free-to-play.
Changes were made to classes to attract new blood while keeping current players happy.
For most games, switching from a paid business model to a model based on handing out free copies and solely monetized through cash shops is a sign of desperation. Such was the case with APB, the Realtime Worlds-developed massive multiplayer third-person shooter. Issues with the gameplay and a lack of focus hindered the game's popularity and revenue. Just four months after APB's 2010 release, Realtime Worlds was out of business, the servers were shut down, and all game properties were sold off to K2 Networks.
The original development of ABP sans marketing cost over $70 million, while K2 Networks acquired the game for a mere $5 million. To further help K2 reestablish the game as its own, new development is being handled by the company's in-house studio Reloaded Productions, and the game has been rebranded as APB: Reloaded. K2 hopes to earn $60 million minus upkeep by using its free business model. While going free as APB has is the typical story of recovering from failure, Team Fortress 2 became free from its success.

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