The Secret World "Should've Been More Commercial"

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The Secret World "Should've Been More Commercial"

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The lead designer of The Secret World says the game took too many risks to be a commercial success.

The Secret World bombed pretty badly, selling just 200,000 copies and dragging Funcom's share price down from $17.70 in early July to around $2.00 today. Reviews have been "mixed," as they say, but our own Paul Goodman gave it a very solid 4/5 review and the general consensus is that it's a pretty solid game. So what went wrong?

A big part of the problem, in the opinion of lead designer Martin Bruusgaard, is that the game deviated too far from conventional MMO norms. "I think we probably should've gone for something that was maybe a bit more familiar," he told Penny Arcade. "No classes, no levels, different weapons, and you have the skills. Yes we have quests, but some of the quests are weird, where you look up on the browser to get the solution... it's all familiar, but with a twist, and I don't think we should've twisted that many things."

"I have to stress I really like the game the way it is now, but if I'm thinking about making the game a more commercial success, I think we should've gone more commercial," he said. "This may be a radical thing to say, but I think it would have helped if we actually had levels in the game. I'm sort of ashamed to say it, but I think that might've made things feel more familiar when it comes to players tracking their own progression and telling how strong they are, and knowing where to go. I think people got lost because they don't have this number telling them how strong they are."

He acknowledged that competition from other MMOs and potentially inadequate marketing contributed to The Secret World's failure, but concluded that game makers must ultimately put commercial considerations ahead of artistic aspirations if they want their games to be successful. "I think it's very, very few cases where you can sit down and make the game that you really want to do, and it turns out to be a success," he said. "Unfortunately I think that in order to be a success in today's market, you need to make the game a bit more commercial."

Bruusgaard, along with just about everyone else in Funcom's Oslo office, was put on "forced leave" after the launch of The Secret World, and has since left the company.

Source: Penny Arcade Report

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This is an extremely disheartening outlook. I may not have played the game myself but conforming to the norm, especially in the MMO genre, will do nothing but perpetuate an already stagnant genre.

I'm sort of ashamed to say it...

After making this statement you kind of should.

Hope he has a change of heart. Stand by your product, man.

Aaaaaaaaaand This is why this industry will never evolve.
Your game was Awesome, Funcom, don't doubt it a single second...

Yeah, throwing on a fucking token PvP mode.
Real risk takers this lot.

Secret World should have been a single player game.

Seriously, so much about that game would have worked great for a single player RPG. But nooooo, it HAD to be an MMO. And the awesome setting aside, it was a kinda crappy one (as far as gameplay goes). So no, being more "commercial" wouldn't have helped it much...

I'm pretty sure that the problem was the pricing scheme. $60 on release with a subscription fee and ingame cash shop? No thank you. I was really excited when I got into the beta, but then when I heard about how they were going to price everything, I left immediately. Interest tanked.

It wasn't the "risky design" that made it bomb, it was the fact that it had many launch issues and was overall not a very good game. You really should not be making MMO's in 2012 if your product is going to be problematic, unless you are aiming free-to-play from the start, and even that part is saturated these days...

I think all those out of the ordinary design choices were what made me keep an eye out for The Secret World. It seemed to have lots of ideas I'd like to see more of, and it fitted quite nice with the setting of the game.
The game had a sweet setting, a bunch of good ideas, and mystery to it (even relatively few Single player games have that)

The problem for me, was that:

I am not big on MMOs. At the time, the only MMO I had really tried was WoW, with some friends, because I generally don't find the MMO-style very interessting.

The combat looked too dull, and in games as those, there is a hell of a lot of it. The typical MMO having waves and waves of mobs, again and again, with dull skillbar encounters. A combat system that is enjoyable for me, is something most MMOs not yet have.

Guild Wars 2. A couple of friends of mine was buying this, and the combat seemed a hell of a lot less tideous.

EDIT:

Jandau:
Secret World should have been a single player game.

Agree

If it were, I would have bought it, day one, guaranteed.

No. Part of its problems was how "commercial" it was in another way - Tacking on a bloody cash shop that offered clothing and titles (that only worked on ONE BLOODY CHARACTER - you had to repurchase those shirts and outfits for every character, with a handful of exceptions!) and other real content, atop a $15 full price subscription MMORPG.

They also shirked the clothing system they designed (which was the reason why there were no body morphs of any sort to start) and made most of the coolest clothing such as Deck Rewards "Multislot" outfits which were basically skins; unlike "normal" clothing where you could have something in the back slot, chest slot, legs slot, feet slot, face slot etc... . "Multislot" basically were skins that were either entirely on, or entirely off. They cheaped out and didn't use the best of the system they designed, simply to cut corners.

There were a handful of other issues, such as the lack of animation for "magic" type weapons. Ranged and Melee weapons used the actual equipped weapons in their attack animations. You'd draw your sword, go into your "combat stance", and swing it etc. However, for "Magic" types, the 'weapons' were just stuck to you in a static position while you waved your hands around. For instance, Blood Magic "weapons/focus items" were generally some sort of book. However, they could not be "wielded" or even had a "combat stance" animation - they simply were stuck to your back in the closed position no matter if you were out of combat or killing someone.

The Secret World has the potential to be a good game, but it isn't about being more commercial, its about cutting less corners. If you're going to make a niche title, you need to make it absolutely shine and Funcom didn't do that. It lacked features even compared to earlier Funcom titles like Anarchy Online. One need only compare TSW to Guild Wars 2 where everything is polished to a gleaming shine; so many actions seem put there specifically to make the experience the best it can possibly be (ie. Transfer all my crafting materials to a "special" bank with a click? Don't mind if I do!). TSW has an excellent premise, but the execution needs to be done with less corner-cutting. The same thing happened to SWTOR, I'm sad to say.

One reason could also be that the game seems to price gouge you. You pay $60 for the game, then $15 a month, on top of a real-money shop that from what I hear is pretty brutal. Methinks that'd put people off. Especially in a market where most are free to play or Guild Wars 2.

Speaking of Guild Wars 2, it also broke quite a few MMO conventions, and it's doing damn fine.

If The Secret World was more like every other MMO, I doubt it would have done much better. Look at The Old Republic, and hell, damn-near every other MMO that tried to be like WoW. Either they went or are free-to-play, or they're dead.

Before we get the requisite people in here saying things like "This is why we can't have nice things" etc., I feel I need to bring this up:

The real problem facing developers wanting to make more eccentric games is not popular response; it's development costs.

A game's development costs determine what is or is not "successful." A $100,000 game would be wildly successful if it returned $1,000,000. A $2,000,000 game? Not so much.

You see the problem.

A common misconception that I see a lot of game studios making (at least from what the heads are saying) is they think that every game has to reach Call of Duty (or Skyrim) level sales to successful. No it doesn't, it just has to cost less to make.

Then, when their "vision" ultimately fails, they blame it on people being too attached to the familiar. No, the problem is you just made a niche game with a blockbuster budget.

I don't know what it is, but there seems to be a mindset in the game industry that everyone should want to play every game. People don't. Simple as that. If you make a niche game, you'd better be damn sure you're operating on an appropriate budget.

This is why Dead Space 3 is in the state it's in. It has to sell FIVE MILLION COPIES to be successful. It can't afford to not appeal to the Call of Duty crowd, because only those level of sales are going to generate a positive return on investment.

People in the industry say niche games are dead. They're not, but you can't make them with the same budget you use for games like Uncharted or Skyrim.

The result, I think, has been an absolute dearth of niche games. By extension, I think gamers are starving for these types of games and will buy the shit out of them when they inevitably get made again. But, being niche games, not everyone will buy them. However, I think most of the people interested in that niche will.

The trick is to make a game that can be successful only on those kind of sales. I think that's a market that someone is going to start exploiting in the near future.

The hang up a lot of publishers have is they think only the blockbusters will make them any money. They're wrong.

Think about it. If you have $1,000,000 to spend, and you put it all into a single game. That one game has to make at least the same amount back. The problem is, it's either competing with a number of similar titles to grab the head spot or it's niche title that might only have $200,000 worth of interested parties. However, if you take that same amount and instead drop it into 10 $100,000 games with very targeted audiences, each game only has to make $100,000 back to stay afloat. If you targeted it correctly, you should easily be able to do that, because in this market, it's unlikely that niche is getting explored much.

*phew* ok, I'll get off my box now.

"More Commercial" ... The game failed because it didn't get enough users ... No wonder, with launch issues and ridiculous pricing. It had like all cash-grab models in one: Purchase fee, subscription fee and Cash Shop. Kidding, you have to be.

Jandau:
Secret World should have been a single player game.

Seriously, so much about that game would have worked great for a single player RPG. But nooooo, it HAD to be an MMO. And the awesome setting aside, it was a kinda crappy one (as far as gameplay goes). So no, being more "commercial" wouldn't have helped it much...

completely agree. If it was a single player game at 30GBP, I would have bought it and played it, but since it was a MMO, I wouldn't ever touch it.

"He acknowledged that competition from other MMOs and potentially inadequate marketing contributed to The Secret World's failure"

No. Bullshit. I couldn't go anywhere, ever, without having 50 adverts for it thrown in my face.

Secondly, how the hell can these devs still not understand that "Price tag + Sub + Cash Shop" IS A RECIPE FOR FAILURE.

The cash shop in TSW is extremely optional - it's cosmetic stuff, nothing that alters gameplay in any way.

It's a million miles away from something like LOTRO, which constantly rags on subscribers to try and get them to spend more money with it's ever increasing amount of so-called "convenience not advantage" items.

I don't know about this - Eve Online is a pretty weird MMO (killer difficulty, esoteric rules and skill progression, necessity of looking up mission solutions online), but it still does fine even with its monthly subscription fee.

The truth would seem to be that Funcom just doesn't make very good MMOs - it's really Anarchy Online all over again, except with way less room for error.

Kopikatsu:
I'm pretty sure that the problem was the pricing scheme. $60 on release with a subscription fee and ingame cash shop? No thank you. I was really excited when I got into the beta, but then when I heard about how they were going to price everything, I left immediately. Interest tanked.

Pretty much this. I don't usually play MMOs. I'm one of those weird mutants that is immune to the allure of grinding. I HAVE done some grind before, but I don't do it often and the only times I can remember doing it were in a sandbox crime game (most recently I ground out all the Jade Statuettes and Health Shrines in Sleeping Dogs and did all the activities and bought the whole city in Saints Row 3).

This MMO sounded like the first MMO that may not actually be made of grind. Other MMOs have promised that, but since the whole point of the genre is to suck delicious subscription fees from your wallet, and there's no better way to do that than by adding boatloads of grind, they haven't delivered.

But then it was 60 bucks and had a subscription fee on TOP of that, and I said "screw that, it's not worth the money just to try it" and since then, every email I've gotten from Funcom has gone straight into spam.

Sgt Pepper:
The cash shop in TSW is extremely optional - it's cosmetic stuff, nothing that alters gameplay in any way.

It's a million miles away from something like LOTRO, which constantly rags on subscribers to try and get them to spend more money with it's ever increasing amount of so-called "convenience not advantage" items.

Cosmetic content is still content - there shouldn't be any discrimination in pricing. You pay for complete access to the game content with your subscription

The whole "cosmetic" stuff is simply a hook to charge people who care about the cosmetic and roleplaying aspects of the game more money, because those who will spend their game time collecting every shirt is a smaller group than those who want to run raids/dungeons/PVP hardcore and thus there will be less complaining. I'm fucking sick of it; its basically a tax on a certain playstyle.

Cosmetic content is still content. If I pay my subscription fee, I should have complete and total access to the game content without paying any more money. If I want to spend all my time collecting outfits, that's my business. Nobody would put up with a game that locked down any other access to content. What if you needed to pay for "Raid Keys" that were consumables used once per dungeon lockout? Or real money purchased "attunements" needed to equip end-game gear? Hell, I bet if there were even "cosmetic" content withheld from PVP/PVE gear, there would be so much screaming. Would you enjoy a game where all that phat loot you just lifted from the mega raid boss looked like "A Training Sword" and "Initiate's Chainmail"? What if you had to buy a "Revealing Charm" for real money to make the fancy graphics of that raid loot visible, elsewise its stats would be the same but it would look like a basic level 1 piece of equipment?

No? Then why should anyone have to put up with being told "All the content these people enjoy they have access to for the subscription price. Not you however, we'll put stuff you like in the game and you'll have to pay extra if you want it."?

Really now?

People praised Secret World's setting and puzzles, but everything else was just bog-standard MMO stuff. The combat especially was a dull version of what you see in any other MMO except with a greater proportion of people using ranged weapons. Having the bloated price of $60 (games cost $50) and monthly fees and a cash-shop is just bad.

First Funcom blamed Metacritic for their poor sales.
People got outraged and they took it back.
It seems they're going to path of Capcom and blaming the fans and saying "I guess nobody wants to buy something that isn't mainstream".

EVE Online is as different from MMOs that you can get and it's doing well. Not revolutionary, but in it's own league.
Guild Wars 2 recently came out and broke many MMO conventions. Not revolutionary, but evolutionary.

And then there are games like TOR and Secret World that try copying WoW and wonder what went wrong. Yes, Secret World has puzzles, and a usage-based classless skill system. It's clunky WoW combat with a WoW pricing scheme.

I think it didnt work because you tried to chisel large sums of money out of people in one go. To twist a quote by Terry Pratchett, the art of an MMO pricing model is to get the most amount of milk with the least amount of moo. The Secret World just yanked hard and ended up with a lot of moo-ing.

I actually liked the game, it had a deep Lovecraft esq story and was rather intricately written, but quit playing after I finished the main story line. After that all that was left was to run around in the crappy PVP or go back and do the old quests over again. It was a fun game and I liked how the character class and ability wheel was designed. In a world of leveling MMO's for me it was a nice change. It wasn't without its faults. nearly zero world gear drops and you would have to grind lower area quests over and over to get enough mats to make the items you absolutely needed to survive the higher difficulty areas.

As far as the instances, forget trying to find groups for them. No queue system instead it was just a chat channel that didn't work 2/3rd of the time so unless you stood next to the start point for a particular instance, if you could find them that is the chances were you would never get in. sure there was an LFG add on from Curse but even that didn't help since the majority of players using it were either idle or had no intention of doing the particular difficulty setting you wanted to do.

kortin:

Secondly, how the hell can these devs still not understand that "Price tag + Sub + Cash Shop" IS A RECIPE FOR FAILURE.

I think its not so much a developer failing to understand but something being pushed down the pipe by an excessively greedy publisher.

Last I checked, everything awesome about The Secret World derived from the non-conventional aspects of the game.

Irridium:
One reason could also be that the game seems to price gouge you. You pay $60 for the game, then $15 a month, on top of a real-money shop that from what I hear is pretty brutal. Methinks that'd put people off. Especially in a market where most are free to play or Guild Wars 2.

Yes, it's a typical subscription MMO with a typical box price and also a cash shop that contains only cosmetic stuff (I think they added server transfers to it as well, but if so that's literally the only thing on the market with a game effect of any kind). The biggest cash shop related problems are that stuff is a bit too expensive, purchased per character (though there's little reason at all for alts in TSW), and they made too much stuff (both cash shop, promo, and unlocked from quests or completing skill trees) "multi-slot" which keeps you from mixing and matching.

Irridium:
Speaking of Guild Wars 2, it also broke quite a few MMO conventions, and it's doing damn fine.

Guild Wars 2 mostly broke the same conventions as TSW (though they left in levels and classes), did so in a few of the same ways, but polished the living hell out of everything they did. They also have 2/3 of the forms of monetization (box price and cash shop) but heir cash shop is not purely cosmetic. They also have server size limitations that make it difficult to join friends if you don't start playing at the same time (because PvP isn't faction v faction but rather server v server).

They also did something that should hopefully solve the gold seller problem -- the in game shop currency can be legitimately traded for normal in game currency through the player economy (this is effectively the EVE solution as well via PLEX).

The biggest thing TSW cannot be praised enough for though are investigation missions. Quests where you're basically given a few loose clues and told to "figure it out", though there were a tiny handful of those in previous MMOs (even EQ had a couple, like the burning rapier quest for rogues -- nothing like finding a bottle of liquor on the bottom of the ocean with nothing but at most a poem from a bard and your own wits to tell you where to look), though TSW makes them a core important part of the experience.

Irridium:
If The Secret World was more like every other MMO, I doubt it would have done much better. Look at The Old Republic, and hell, damn-near every other MMO that tried to be like WoW. Either they went or are free-to-play, or they're dead.

To be fair, "going free to play" often *increases* revenues, and is why Turbine is chugging along merrily to this day running two F2P games (one of which I've never actually played but have multiple promotional mounts for due to PAX. I should probably actually install it at some point). I figure TSW will do it eventually, offer some special benefit to the lifers, and add things that give mechanical benefits to the cash shop (XP boosters and the like).

I'm sorry but the only reason Guild Wars 2 is doing well is because it's F2P. If I had to pay a fee to play GW2, I wouldn't, it's just not worth it (And the original GW wasn't either). TSW, on the other hand, is well worth the subscription. If you don't want to buy additional cosmetic items for your toons... don't. Just like TF2, if you don't want a hat, don't buy a hat. But don't complain that there are hats, that's just silly.

I do agree that TSW should have been a single player game, and that Funcom should have known that. Most MMO players are used to being led by the nose to every single point of the game. Age of Conan proved that. I remember one of the first quests for the Rogue was to follow a guy and grab something from a shop that he stopped at. Lots of typical MMO players would follow that guy for hours not realizing that his "i'm putting something here" animation meant something.

Irridium:
One reason could also be that the game seems to price gouge you. You pay $60 for the game, then $15 a month, on top of a real-money shop that from what I hear is pretty brutal. Methinks that'd put people off. Especially in a market where most are free to play or Guild Wars 2.

Speaking of Guild Wars 2, it also broke quite a few MMO conventions, and it's doing damn fine.

If The Secret World was more like every other MMO, I doubt it would have done much better. Look at The Old Republic, and hell, damn-near every other MMO that tried to be like WoW. Either they went or are free-to-play, or they're dead.

Yea if a dev made a good alternative game p2p or f2p game with a payment system that makes sense, but mixing them and expecting people to flock to it is daft, especialyl the way theirs works from what i have read. They were just to gdamn greedy to make people want to play it period.

I heard alot of really good things about the mechanics the quests seemed original and some of them challenging.

Wow clones never end well. how are you going to launch a wow clone with more content that wow has atm you put it out? Since that is what your game is going to get compared to. Wow plus its 6 or w/e expansions vs your game.

Did not matter that tor had as much content as launch wow had, and even more. There was lack of content people that blasted thru the game in a few weeks pvpd awhile got bored and complained that tor was missing features and instances compared to wow.

porpoise hork:

kortin:

Secondly, how the hell can these devs still not understand that "Price tag + Sub + Cash Shop" IS A RECIPE FOR FAILURE.

I think its not so much a developer failing to understand but something being pushed down the pipe by an excessively greedy publisher.

What publisher is that? EA's name on the game box is only there because Funcom contracted them to do physical manufacturing and retail distribution. There's a reason why there's no mention of them on the TSW website, the Steam page, or in game -- they have no financial stake in the game. Funcom fully owns and controls TSW, so there's no one else to blame for the contents of the game itself, unless you got a scratched disc or misprinted box or some such.

I am getting sick of all the misinformation out there. I don't understand the desire to repeat it.

1. The game never cost $60. It was priced $50 or less. (There was at least two chances to get it for $25 as well both on steam and directly from Funcom)

2. As was pointed out by others the cash shop is all clothing and pets and such. You do not have to use it and there were plenty of ways to get free points at least early on. Not to mention some clothing items are up for in game money not real money. And there is a fair variety of clothing items you can earn through quests and achievement.

3. Sure the game subscription cost $15 (at the monthly rate) after the first month but that is the same cost as going out to eat once or seeing one movie in the theater and eating pop corn with said movie.

4. As pointed out by others EA was only involved with the physical distribution. If you want to blame someone or praise them for the game you look no further then Funcom.

Look I like the game. You are entitled to your opinion on it one way or the other but please don't repeat inaccurate information.

Your problem was that you have thoroughly trained me to never buy a Funcom game at launch thanks to your previous broken releases. A couple years later they might be pretty nice! Anarchy Online, Age of Conan, I'm looking at you.

The game is fine and what makes it so good is that it does not follow the MMO conventions. I am a paying customer because it does not follow the conventions, if it was just another MMO clone I would not be a paying customer.

The reasons I believe the game has been relatively unsuccessful:

1) Poor advertising - I am on multiple MMO sites daily and I only learned about the game existing over 2 months after it was released.

2) Subscription model - people do not like the subscription model it turns off a lot of people. I think they should do what Lotro does and offer a hybrid model, if you want the deluxe get the subscription, but have another payment option that uses a more limited game with a cash shop. People also don't realize that Funcom does not intend to charge for new content (eg: expansions) ever (at least not for the foreseeable future) so even though it is currently subscription-based it is still cheaper than WoW and has much more frequent content released than WoW (TSW plans to release new content once every month, one release was 2 weeks late but it still works out to be 1 month on average, far, far, more often than WoW.

3) No free trial until recently

If it was not for the free trial I would not have tried this game and would not have bought it. I am hesitant to buy any game that I am not sure I am going to like, especially if it is a subscription-based game (ie: more expensive = more risk). I pre-purchased Guild Wars 2 because of all the hype but I was extremely disappointed with that game so I am hesitant to ever buy a game before I tried it now. After I spent the weekend playing The Secret World I saw that it was everything people have been asking for in an MMO for years and I loved the voice acting and NPCs and the quests are way more interesting than kill 10 rats quests so I bought the game and I am still enjoying playing now.

Also, I've noticed some potential customers/critics seem to have judged TSW on past failures of Funcom (Age of Conan) and EA (its distributor) instead of judging the game itself unfortunately which is really unfair to TSW.

Jandau:
Secret World should have been a single player game.

Seriously, so much about that game would have worked great for a single player RPG. But nooooo, it HAD to be an MMO. And the awesome setting aside, it was a kinda crappy one (as far as gameplay goes). So no, being more "commercial" wouldn't have helped it much...

Yeah that was my problem with it. I was really intrigued by the premise and most other things about the game, but the fact that I had to jump online and play it put me off.
I deal with people all day as part of my job, when I get home I like to not deal with them.

I never got around to playing it despite it supposedly being close to my Survival Horror Heart. Now I'm ashamed to say I avoided it in the $25 steam sale because I'm told the game is all but dead.

The problem was.... YOU MADE IT A SUBSCRIPTION MMO!!!

That basically slashes the market you can reach by 90%. Because only a select view people will actually be around long enough for that business model to be profitable. The rest of us will be annoyed that it is even an MMO in the first place and the rest of the people will be alienated by the weird lovecraft themes going on.

You made a Subscription Lovecraft Horror MMO with Guns.

I could have told you on day one that you would have failed.

Should have just made it a goddamned third person horror game with coop if you REALLY wanted that MP aspect.

So I guess this means that we're never going to see how Dreamfall was supposed to end?

Sorry, I loved The Longest Journey, and wanted to really like Dreamfall, then heard "Well,no dreamfall sequel until TSW is done". Of course, now TSW is done, crashed and burned. So I guess Funcom is too.

Dismiss post.

I'm more inclined to blame that I barely heard of the thing until it came out, and I tend to think of myself as an above-norm consumer of gaming print media. It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of game-related periodicals aren't giving away "The next WOW killer!" headlines as freely as they used to, but I suspect they could have done a better job getting people excited about The Secret World's release and explaining what made it different and worthwhile.

Then again, The Old Republic had all the buzz you could possibly ask for and is still stuttering, so maybe the subscription model for MMOs is just an impossible row to hoe anymore.

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