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.