As one of a growing number of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games adopting a free-to-play strategy, APB Reloaded has hit a milestone of 3 million users, just one week after its relaunch. This is all the more remarkable given the  failed initial launch of the game in 2010, under the title APB, which saw developer Realtime Worlds going into the equivalent of bankruptcy.

APB was originally released in June 2010 by Electronic Arts, under a subscription model, with players purchasing game time, either by the hour, or as an unlimited 30 day access package. In addition players were required to purchase a retail copy of the game, either in boxed or digital form, which included an initial 50 hours of access.

This strategy seemed to backfire horribly, especially when Metacritic reviews started appearing, casting the game in a very bad light. Poor sales and low player numbers resulted in the game servers being closed, just 79 days after launch, and developer Realtime Worlds going into administration. After the event, a member of the development team admitted “if we’re being brutally honest, we didn’t pay enough attention to the design of the game”.

APB has now been reborn, under the title APB Reloaded, and early signs are that this revamped incarnation of the game, now published by GamersFirst, will prove to be more successful. Gone is the subscription model, and in its place is a free-to-play system, supported by micro-transactions, where players can spend real money on optional items, which can be used in-game.

GamersFirst ran a lengthy Beta testing phase for APB Reloaded, before releasing the game on Valve’s digital distribution platform Steam on Dec. 7. APB Reloaded has already gained 3 million users, and is currently the second most popular microtransaction-based game on Steam.

Vindicia chief executive officer Gene Hoffman, who has worked on payment systems for MMOs such as Star Trek Online and Rift, spoke to today, saying “Look, some of these MMOs are launching and, they’re really bad”. He went on to note that many such titles are accidentally stumbling towards a free-to-play model, which eventually ends up resuscitating the game. The original APB launch seems to be a prime example of this problem, but its fast track failure sadly ended with the closure of the original development studio. Hopefully the relaunched APB Reloaded has pro-actively hit on a business model that will prove more of a success.