Cops-and-crooks MMO APB: All Points Bulletin wasn't a critical success and developer Realtime Worlds went bankrupt six weeks after launch. Will making it free-to-play make it better?

This morning, free-to-play multiplayer online game publisher GamersFirst announced it bought the rights to the APB intellectual property. The game goes back online as a free-to-play massively multiplayer online game in the first half of 2011.

Here's how we got to this point: Over a period of five years, Realtime Worlds secured a hefty chunk of venture capitalist money to fund development on APB. The company even enticed Take Two COO Gary Dale to join its ranks as CEO in 2009. Then the game came out in June 2010, didn't do too well with critics, and Realtime Worlds entered administration in August. In September, Realtime Worlds said it would shut down APB servers.

Here's what comes next: A new APB website.

"We listen to the players, " Rahul Sandil, SVP of Global Markets and PR for GamersFirst. "The first thing on the to-do list is to setup a website so that we can [reach out to] the community."

Next, he said, GamersFirst has to get APB up and running as a free-to-play client, which involves a complete restructuring of the game's sever/client setup. This means that disc-carrying subscribers to the original APB likely won't be able to play without downloading the new free-to-play client.

"We are considering retention awards," Sandil said. "I don't want to commit to anything yet, but we are thinking about [what to do for existing APB players]."

The key to success for APB's second shot at life is timing. Not only does GamersFirst have to roll out "old" content like unreleased Realtime Worlds patches as soon as the game relaunches, but it also has to plan for new APB content down the line as the game gains traction in the free-to-play market. Growing the fanbase takes consistency, especially in a case where a game "died" on the players in its first year of life.

"We consider the life of a game to be six to eight years and we plan around that cycle," Sandil said. "[Free-to-play games] are all about the community, all about the content."

The hard part will be converting free-to-play skeptics. "There will always be critics [of the free-to-play model], especially in the North American market because of [strong console development] spending," Sandil said. However, he points out that North American companies are investing in free-to-play models, Disney, Warner Bros, even former North American APB distributor EA.

The free-to-play APB is currently in development at GamersFirst subsidiary Reloaded Productions.