What Happened to The Secret World?
I’ve wanted to write about this for a while as I have a few thoughts on what has happened and why this game is getting such a bad reputation. To me it is almost the perfect storm of both real world issues as well as design choices they’ve made. However, no matter how you slice it, it still is a quality game that I’m very excited to be getting back into. I truly believe this is a game that has been absolutely hammered by public opinion and while some of it is valid, I do think there are many things that just don’t reflect the state of the game.
To start off, I’m not sure of another company that has a worse reputation for game launches then Funcom. Some remember the Anarchy Online launch, and many more remember the fiasco that was the Age of Conan launch. Because of this, many people never even contemplated playing TSW at launch and were going to wait at least 30 days before even looking at this game. Because of this, I’m not sure there has been a more rumored to fail launch then TSW in recent years. This of course then scared away people who knew nothing about Funcom into not trying the game at launch either. Which is a shame as it was one of the smoothest MMO launches I’ve ever seen. But I believe this is one of the big reasons the initial purchase numbers were lower then they could’ve been as many swore off the game for at least 30 days. Other companies without much MMO launch history have had much rockier launches but because they didn’t have that history, people expected them to be able to pull off a launch better. But Funcom has proven that sometimes (I know its shocking) companies can learn from their past failures and actually fix the problems they’ve had before.
Speaking of launch day, it is never a good sign when you’re corporate CEO leaves on the day you’re launching one of your premiere titles. I have no clue what happened here, and in all honesty it doesn’t really matter as in the court of public opinion it is automatically a sign that your company, and specifically TSW, is in serious trouble. However, one thing I believe is that the problems going on at Funcom are not solely related to TSW – they do have other franchises both live and in development so we really don’t know which one is really causing all the corporate issues.
You then couple that with the fact that being a public company, they have to release all their financial data. They’re forced to release the numbers of how many copies they sold at launch, and this just fuels the fire. If they could’ve said something like “we didn’t have as big of a launch as we’d like” it would’ve been much better then putting an actual number on how low things were. This then let all the “haters” come out of the woodwork and say how right they were that this game was a failure. This also vindicated all the people above who waited to see how launch went as they now have “proof” that this game is a “failure.” I look at a company like Turbine which for all of its issues has never had to release its numbers so we have no clue what the subscription numbers look like. They can make vague marketing claims and we have no way to challenge them because we just don’t know. Companies that don’t have to release this kind of data are at a distinct advantage because it is quite hard to really get a feel for how many players are actually playing a game.
However, even with all the issues and the lower then expected numbers, they have turned the corner and are in a position where they’re making money on the game. Granted, this came at a hefty cost of a good portion of their staff, but if they can get Update 3 out on time things will be really looking up for TSW. I know many are waiting for the day TSW goes Free to Play but I think this points to a sign that they don’t need to go F2P. If (and yes, I realize this is a big if) they can continue on this path and put out quality on time content, their subscription numbers will definitely climb. This will put them in a position where they can choose which path they want to pursue and make a switch to F2P if it makes sense from a business perspective.
Finally I think the biggest issue with TSW is that the game requires thought and attention, and in the days of Facebook games and all the mobile games out there, I just don’t think the majority of gamers are interested in playing something like this. I know that I haven’t had enough time to play the game as I would like to – but I did buy the GM pack and as such have a Lifetime Subscription. Like I’ve mentioned before with lifetimes, it does change my mindset such that I can play on a more casual basis and not feel rushed to get the most out of my investment as I have plenty of time. But I know even myself I have reached for more of the “popcorn” gaming as opposed to TSW, as I know if I hop into TSW I will either get drawn in for a long period or want to spend a good chunk of time trying to figure stuff out. This puts TSW in an interesting problem where there are people like myself who want to play this game but either get scared away by the time investment or just fall back into the more comfortable routines. As I get back into it, I’m really going to pay attention to this and see if I can work out a mix of the “popcorn” sessions and the deep dives.
Because of this complexity, it is easy to miss some of the plot-lines (I’m sure I’ve missed some) and not follow all the conspiracy theories and such that surround this game and just look at TSW as a horror game. I’ve heard this complaint numerous times, and while there are lots of horror aspects to it, there definitely is a whole other level there that is very intriguing and detailed. If you get into the typical MMO quest routine and don’t read every quest line and pay attention to what people say in the cut scenes, I can completely see how you could look at TSW as just a horror MMO. I will admit that I have fallen into this habit on a few occasions and really have to remind myself that I need to pay attention. It took me a while before I realized there was a way to turn on sub-titles for the cut scenes such that if I didn’t feel like putting on my headset I wouldn’t miss anything.
I also think that this complexity hurts it even more when people have to make decisions about other games launching around the same time period. TSW is not only competing with the new shiny Guild Wars 2 but also the comfortable familiar of expansions to both WoW and LOTRO. I’m sure all games run into issues when other games launch around it, but I think that TSW suffers even more because of the attention required.
For all of you who have complained about games being dumbed down or becoming too easy, I think you should be concerned with what’s going on with TSW. Maybe I’m in the small minority who don’t want super easy games, but it seems like many frequently complain when some system is made easier in whatever game they’re playing. It almost seems like many games are replacing this kind of complexity and difficulty with more grinds. Which as a gamer, I’m getting more and more tired of pointless grinds. I don’t mind grinds if there’s something there at the end, but grinds just to grind are getting quite old. I’m not saying you should all go out and buy a copy and lifetime subscription, (although it would certainly help) but when they open up the game for free weekends or a trial period I would highly suggest checking it out with an open mind.
Needless to say I want this game to do well, not just because of my investment in it, but I truly want to see online games that require some level of thought succeed. At the end of the day, the issues surrounding TSW are less a reflection of the game itself, which is really quite good, and more on the current state of gaming. Not only did they release a quality game, but they’ve already put out 2 updates within the first 2 months after launch. These first 2 updates have added content to all areas of the game (not just the top level, preventing empty starter areas) and also resolved other issues people have had with the game like character models. I think TSW has a real chance of actually growing a community instead of losing it like every other MMO does after they launch. I see them doing things many other games are being praised for, and yet because of the initial issues they’re just being brushed aside. I don’t expect it to appeal to everyone as I know it won’t, but I believe there are many people who would like the game if they gave it a fair shot. If you do decide to give it a go, take your time and pay attention to what’s going on around you and make sure you read everything. There is now (maybe I just missed it) a 3-day trial available, check it out on the TSW main site on the right side-bar.
What about you, if you’re not playing TSW, why aren’t you? And if you are what’s keeping you in game?