Massively Overthinking: It’s the end of The Secret World as we know it

I think I can speak for most of our staff in saying that in November when Funcom first promised a “major upgrade to both retention and acquisition mechanics and content of the game to counter the declining revenues” in The Secret World, no one expected this.

Ditto in February, when Funcom said it was going “relaunch to broaden the appeal of the game through [a] redesigned new player experience, major improvements to gameplay including combat, [the] introduction of new retention systems such as daily rewards, [and] adjustments to the business model, including allowing access to the story content for free” — people murmured “NGE,” but no one even considered that the studio would dump MMO players overboard in pursuit of ARPG fans.

But in retrospect, the cagey language and lack of actual updates in the game were right there all along, as was the casual maintenance-moding of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.

For this week’s Overthinking, I’ve asked our staff to consider Funcom’s plans here — not the rumors and leaks but the set-in-stone plans — and reflect on what they say about the studio, the game, and the genre on the whole. What do you think about Secret World Legends?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): To me, it says Funcom believes in the Secret World IP. There’s a lot of change going on, and trying to avoid one genre for another really shows they’re invested in that world.

That being said, it also means Funcom may be trying to avoid MMOs. Like with Turbine, maintenance mode of old IPs without new titles withing the genre should be warning #1. I’d say making new games with the same IP but different genre should be warning #2, but Funcom’s already done that with Secret World’s “The Park” spin-off. Oh, and Conan Exiles.

As for the genre, it just shows that we’re well past the World of Warcraft bubble. Companies have (hopefully) learned that not every new game needs to be an MMO. Just having a Multiplayer Online portion of the game can be fun and engaging. Full blown MMOs really need a lot of work that few companies are willing to deal with, which Raph Koster was driving home repeatedly to AR/VR devs during GDC 2017. The “massively” part of MMOs isn’t a number IMO, but an indication that you’ve built a world, not just a game, and like any world, you’re going to need to police it. Ignoring either the game or social aspects within the genre is a huge mistake.

I liked a lot of the Secret World’s concepts, but as a game (especially in terms of combat), it didn’t do anything for me. Focusing on the non-combat aspects of the game might have helped prolong the game, but, let’s be honest: Combat and gear grinds are generally easier to develop. They’re cost efficient, and for a company that’s had financial issues, I can see why they’d take this path.

More “retention and acquisition mechanics” largely reads as dailies, something I have a strong love/hate relationship with. I’m not sure how that fits in with being an AR game or why that’d appeal to that genre more, but it seems like an MMO staple and makes me wonder if Funcom’s simply trying to pull from other genres while trying to refine its MMO strengths, like immersion and world building.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): As I said on the podcast, I don’t really have a personal interest in The Secret World — I haven’t touched it in years, so it languished on my Steam account and now I guess is gone. But as someone who cares a lot about the MMORPG genre as a fan and as a journalist, I am deeply concerned to see one of the founding companies of the genre unceremoniously toss its only three MMORPGs into maintenance mode in the span of a month with barely a whisper of apology or gratitude to its long-time supporters and players. It seems a cruel and frankly foolish thing to do to the people who have been paying for Funcom’s games for the last 16 years, especially while bragging about how successful Conan Exiles is. Alienating your existing fanbase in the pursuit of a new and bigger fanbase almost never works in gaming.

The difficult bit is that as a gamer, I’m significantly more interested in The Secret World now that some of its MMORPG bits are being dismantled and mutated into Secret World Legends, not because I’ve fallen out of love with MMOs but because I suspect this particular game will be more appealing to me on a smaller scale and also with combat that isn’t garbage. (The same cannot be said of most MMOs, so let’s not make this a trend.)

I’m also irked at the idea that this move may be interpreted by mainstream watchers or analysts as a black mark on the MMO genre, when in reality, these three games have been poorly supported over the past few years as Funcom has struggled with funding and spent its resources on the Conan franchise. We all know that online games that don’t get updates, especially buy-to-play games whose incomes rely on selling content and cosmetics, do not make money. This isn’t a stain on MMOs or even on The Secret World’s potential for revenue, only on Funcom’s inability to invest in it to make it work.

As so many people put it in our comments last week, we’re not fatigued by MMOs — we’re sick of bad MMOs, of abandonware, and yes, of being taken for granted.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): On the one hand, I’m really excited by the prospect of a version of The Secret World without the atrocious combat and sometimes beyond irritating quests that required a lengthy Wikipedia trawl (or looking up the walkthrough). There’s a lot of imagination on display throughout the game, and the fact of the matter is that my first instinct is to be nearly overjoyed that the game is getting massive improvements to bring it up to par…

But the problem is, I’m not actually the target audience, am I? Or at least I shouldn’t be. I’m not currently playing the game, and so trying to court me is an odd choice when there are a large number of people who are playing the game. That’s one of those things that always strikes me as a little odd, and in this case even more so. I entirely understand that the problem may be that the current audience of the game is insufficient, but courting people like me at the cost of people who are already in the game doesn’t seem like the most stable possible move.

More to the point, it feels like some of the changes being made are, well… not necessary changes. Better combat? Definitely more than worthwhile. Resettng story progress? That’s… all right, it’s not necessary, but maybe changes are being made to the story, I can see that. Crippling the MMO aspects of the game? How does that make things better? Why is that supposed to entice more people to play?

I’m still rather looking forward to the game, if for no reason beyond the fact that a version of The Secret World without one of its major weaknesses is a positive thing. But I do find myself wondering why the game is also going out of its way to introduce a number of new additional weaknesses into the mix.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I deeply love this game and am gravely concerned about its future. Secret World Legends is a major all-or-bust gambit for Funcom, and while I’m happy that the studio sees some future potential in this IP, I would have much rather had seen a renovation within the current game than this off-shoot that will fracture the community and force us veteran players to reroll just to see more story.

In many ways, The Secret World has been the cult hit of the MMORPG genre. It never racked up millions of subs, but it always had a fervent following and a great amount of respect among both players and onlookers for its storytelling and world building prowess. There’s just nothing else quite like this game out there, and I don’t want to see it die. Yet this spring, it’s kind of like Funcom is both killing it and resurrecting it as a kissing cousin of its former self. Maybe the changes will be good — we have yet to see and hear about a lot of them, and I hope the studio keeps communicating through this transition. But if not, it could spell the real end of this game.

That Funcom felt it necessary to go to such extremes for a reboot tells me that the studio saw no future path for the current incarnation of TSW. Considering how little effort Funcom put into the game in 2016 (and 2017 thus far), this truly angers me. You can’t starve a game of new content and then blame the game for not selling better. What did you have to sell, really?

If. If the reboot draws in a big enough crowd to compensate for those who are leaving over this mess and grow the brand, if Legends starts generating a nice amount of revenue (I’m still not seeing how that’s going to happen in a free-to-play format), if the changes like the new combat system and improved quest flow are well-received, and if the game leverages this publicity as a big “redo,” then maybe we’ll be treated to a new season of content and make peace with the parts of the game we dislike. For me, I’m feeling a little weary and anxious over starting all over again, but I am barely willing to give the devs the benefit of the doubt that they’re making good choices with the changes for the necessity and future of the game.

Your turn!

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76 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: It’s the end of The Secret World as we know it"

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John Mynard

SWL is an “Online RPG”, that is to say an RPG with a coherent story and online elements, in the same way that, for all intents and purposes, SWTOR is a Online RPG.

WoW is an MMO because the story, while decent, is incidental to the gameplay. Blizzard has realized this and that is why Overwatch, which has a gorgeous style and very interesting setting, has no story within the game itself, all the narrative being presented in exceptionally well done short films, webcomics and short stories.

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Nico Nolden

I am a huge admirer of the step FunCom has done forward in storytelling with MMOs. I love the setting and the world they’ve built. It ist so cool – still after all these years – to visit a contemporary setting with all myths, legends and real historical findings coming to life. Awsome.

There are so many good ideas, but they didn’t manage to create a new form of collective mission design that really would’ve pulled players together by the stories. For me, it seemed from the beginning, as they had produced two different games. An MMO-styled game mechanics with an cryptic talent wheel and floppy combat on the one hand, and an enormous amount of narratives interwoven by typical quest-like systems for a rich interactive story. Until today I don’t feel that they managed any connections between those two parts well. As if there were to companies developing two different games, and then after a merger mixed one single product together. But The Secret World has been a wonderful experience for me… and it still is.

Therefore I appreciate that the developers are looking for a pathway out of the declining player base, the lack of content and the misfit of the two-game-chimera. Change is the only way to go for a new future. I accept that.

But: As FunCom always had flaws in management, marketing and customers service they are heading again for some heavy faults in my opinion.

1) No transfer of veteran’s lore and achievments.
It’s not acceptable if veterans only get to use all the weapons from the start. What about the lore, the bestiarium, our achievements? Does FunCom really think we would start all over again to search them all again? No, most of us won’t.

2) Resetting the Story:
Not to transfer the story progress is a jumpkick into veteran’s faces. I love this world, and I like to jump in different areas of it to repeat cool quests. But I won’t do all the progress again. If they deliver season 2 some time after the relaunch, I won’t reach it, because I simply don’t have the spare time to grind all the quests all over again. Do they really know how much time I spent already? I have a more-than-full-time-job and a familiy.

3) Not selling the story.
Well, The Secret World was always about intriguing stories. Especially if they turn the game into an F2P-game only, I am asking myself since March: What do they want to sell? Selling booster, weapon skins, funny hats and customizers doesn’t really rock anymore anywhere in the market. If they want to continue the story on a stylish and atmospheric level like before with historical based stories, filled with popular culture, inventive mission solutions, FunCom needs our funds. And I am willing to pay for good story content. Especially if you develop missions that really need cooperation within the narratives.

If you don’t want to bust your relaunch, FunCom, you have to solve these crucial factors .

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John Mynard

I dunno, Cryptic seems to be doing ok with their “everything is free” game model. So is Digital Extremes with Warframe. Granted these are outliers. But still, they are proof that if you provide a good product, which TSW certainly is, people will support it.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I think they made a mistake with how they did it.
They shouldnt make it separate game screwing over veterans and leaving original TSW to just die (and it WILL die, who will play it when there are no updates and no fresh blood?). They had to add improvements to original game and if they wanted real relaunch, they had to put in much more effort then they did.

Also I have no clue what “cripple game out of MMO aspects” means when speaking about TSW. It was never a real MMO, it was more like singleplayer game with dungeons and main hub (Agartha). Their shrinking of player amount in zones will have ZERO impact on gameplay. So it is silly to say that it is some drastic change

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Roger Melly

For me the NGE started a couple of months back when the game was made quite a lot easier . I assume it was meant to attract more players but it led to the couple of friends I played it with and I leaving the game . Having experience such things in games before its always makes me think things are in decline in terms of either quality or player retention .

I am not sure what SWL will be like . In some ways it interests me to give it another try and maybe play through the issues I have missed but at the same time I also wonder if there will be further reduction in challenge .

I just wonder what people who have spent a lot of time and money in the game feel like . I hope they offer a lot of perks to those that brought a lifetime subscription .

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James Crow

why people so angry when funcom said its not an mmo but there going to be 10 ppl in map.
as TSW vet, the game played more like coop than real mmo.

i want to see one player who saw more then 10 players in the map zones (not include boss events).
always said to new players that the real “MMO” in tsw is when they get to the end game and start raids and nm dungeons.

i can say im not full in favor the ReStart as a player who got alots of things over the years and bought new slots.

the only thing can make me not try the game is if i don’t going to get my bonus point in the store cuz that was the real reason why i bought GM (after spending money on all the dlcs and UE)

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Jeff

Exactly folks in my family play secret world I never ever seen anyone else…so nothing has changed for me.

possum440 .
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possum440 .

TSW was never on my list as it never interested me, but then no game that has people that judges others for not grouping, attacks others for getting loot differently than a group, getting the same loot as a group in solo mode, and telling people to leave games or be grateful you can play at all in our “social only” game, never interested me.

A good portion of the comments on this thread back up what I say.

Developers have ruined nearly two generations of gamer’s and trained them into thinking they have the right to tell other gamer’s how they will play a game and how they will act in that game. That’s sad.

Used to be waaay back in the day MMO meant a bunch of people online doing whatever they wanted, how they wanted. Try that today with today’s programmed in the head gamer’s and you get crucified at the stake for thinking and playing differently and not being social.

“Go play a different game”……thanks, I will.

MJ Guthrie
Staff
MJ Guthrie

Having played this game from day 1, I don’t see what you are complaining about at all. Don’t know who you’ve been hanging out with but I’d avoid them. Plenty of others out there who aren’t anything like what you describe.

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rafael12104

Hmm. So much angst over things that are hardly new or even different.

It’s less of an MMORPG because Funcom chooses not to call it an MMORPG? But in practice if you look at it in comparison to other MMORPGs it isn’t very different.

There will be instances, many solo sure but not all. There will be areas where players gather. There will be group content. So… .

TSWL is a theme park with a great story and that is what TSW is or was. Lol. The difference is combat. The streamlining of systems needed to be done for the game to survive regardless.

As for the rest? I don’t think this is another assault on MMORPGs. The assaulting already happened with the “dumbing” down of the genre from what it was. And let’s be honest, it needed to happen as Wildstar proved with their launch.

No. TSW needed to evolve to survive and it morphed into TSWL. This is much preferred to the Wildstar scenario where devs buried their head in the sand and almost killed the game.

And btw, I don’t care how you wish to catagorize it. Is it an MMORPG? How do you define the term? Is it universal? The questions answer themselves really when you look at the variety of responses. It’s trivial. Forget it. I’m going to call it a Donut. Who doesn’t like donuts?

wandris
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wandris

AS much as I like Funcoms MMO’s, there is usually never enough time to play them as much as I would like. It seems as much as many people like it the game does not get the time it deserves and as a result has only stalled. So I can’t really blame them for deciding to make a radical change. In the end it may be a very good thing if this can spur on a much more successful path forward and the continuation of the game even if it is in a different format. They have done a great job with the Conan and TSW world and story, and I don’t think those games being an MMO was what made them great. What I would like to hear is some assurance that even in maintenance mode the MMO’s will be around for a long time ahead. I really will find it hard to put time or money into a game with the sword of damocles hanging over it.

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Denice J. Cook

This reminds me of Daybreak’s similar about-face with MMORPGs: They shuttered most of their MMOs altogether, cancelled Everquest Next, shut down Landmark only months after launch, and have been proclaiming H1Z1 to be their flagship franchise since its early access began.

It’s funny how Turbine has also recently made a similar move, shoveling LoTRO and DDO off to Standing Stone, closing down the Asheron’s Calls permanently, and doing an about face into mobile gaming.

I guess all these devs and publishers are sick of going broke. Hopefully all the players demanding unrestricted F2P MMOs will take note here.

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Utakata

Pretty much what Bree, Eliot and Justin had to say. But this point stuck out the most, when Mr. Eliot stated…

“Crippling the MMO aspects of the game? How does that make things better? Why is that supposed to entice more people to play?”

This is the thing that bothers me the most about this transition. That is, the game grew a solid community and now is taking that away. And from what I understand, is only allowing you to play with folks you know. I want to be in game where the world doesn’t look lonely and one that isn’t exclusive only to friends. The reason why I stay away from RPG’s, as I have no interest in conversing with scripted NPC’s. I want to see real people, real community. And Funcom seems to be quashing that with this reboot in the name of padding their bottom line.

I wish them the best of luck though. But I have no interest playing a RPG with lobby friend options. That sucks the life right out of the gaming metaverse I’ve grown up in and learn to love, IMO. /bleh

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Leiloni

They’ve stated before clearly that you will run into random people while out in the play zones. It’s not a coop game. From what I can tell it’s still like TSW with regular zones, just – again like TSW – fewer people in the zones. Not sure why people have other ideas.

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Utakata

To be clear, it’s what I understand of the “reboot”. As I get the gist of what is being reported that this game is no longer a MMO. Now we could find a new acronym for Not-So-Massively Multiplayer Online…but as it stands, the MMO is gone from the SWL. What replaces it, I guess is up for debate.

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strangesands

You’re over-reacting.

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Utakata

Lodging a hate filled diatribe over this would be over reacting. It’s more likely you’re are just being silly. /shrug

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Oleg Chebeneev

He is right, you’re over-reacting. Is there 60 players in zone or 10 doesnt matter at all and I believe them cutting the number will only be good for the game. In TSW other players in quest zones were nothing but distraction

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Utakata

And you’re being silly too, as I fail to see how my position is unreasonable. As well as your counter seems more like an opinion opposed to an actual explanation. Either provide me with the evidence that I am over-reacting or simply stop with the nonsense.

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Denice J. Cook

Honestly, that stood out to me, too, and I instantly thought,

“They’re just using this revamp as an excuse to pare down the long-term overhead costs of TSW.” Well, everybody’s got to eat!

It’s funny how the general consensus amongst Massively staff seems to be that TSW has “enough players,” when obviously Funcom knows that they do not.

It should also be noted that Funcom clearly neglected TSW for the year because they were working on Conan: Exiles, and plotting TSW’s demise/rebirth, of course! It’s not like they’re a Blizzard-sized team.

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Nathan Aldana

the thing is. paring down the costs only works if then the incoming profit makes it worth it. And frankly I aint seeing any compelling reason non-tsw players have to play this over more modern offerings.