The Soapbox: Lessons Secret World Legends failed to learn from Final Fantasy XIV

I’ve mentioned many a time that I like Funcom quite a bit. I want to like Funcom quite a bit. Heck, I want to be excited about Secret World Legends, but every day or so I get reminded that such a course of action will be very difficult at the least. Because quite frankly, Secret World Legends seems to want me not to be excited about it, as evidenced by… oh, every single thing that Funcom is doing around it.

Which is odd, because Funcom literally has access to a playbook for a large-scale reboot.

Secret World Legends is coming off of The Secret World, which was a cult MMORPG classic with a mighty fan following. Final Fantasy XIV was coming off of… well, its initial version, which had a fan following full of people who admitted that it was halfway to Stockholm Syndrome. And yet that game managed to get people excited and earn fans, while Funcom seems dead-set on alienating people or making them just plain nervous.

Preen for success.Let’s start with the obvious elements by pointing out the stuff that Funcom definitely cannot do. Unlike Square-Enix, Funcom cannot continue updating the “old” version of the game regularly while developing an entire new version. The money just doesn’t exist for that within the company. I mean, we barely got updates for TSW before, so it’s not exactly creating a new problem. They also can’t match Square-Enix in sheer volume of press releases. And they’re never going to have the sheer personal charisma of Naoki Yoshida to serve as an anchor to the game in the same way; the dude cleans up like a rock star, and that certainly helps.

But there’s lots of stuff that they can do, starting with one of the most important things that players were told about from the start: progress is not lost.

One of the first promises made about FFXIV‘s reboot was that you weren’t going to lose anything. You would retain your levels, your skills, your items, all of that stuff. Yes, there would be adjustments, but players knew right from the start that you were not going to be floundering about and redoing everything. Funcom dropped the ball on that immediately, stating in no uncertain terms that players were going to lose everything right off the bat.

Not that it matters quite as much, because players still aren’t really clear on how much is changing, or how, or why. That’s another important thing; Square-Enix was eager to talk up all of the cool stuff about the game, enough to really improve player engagement. SWL seems reluctant to even mention what’s going on or changing, and while we’re told that it’s “too early” for some of these mechanics to be discussed, there’s currently nothing to discuss, as everything is locked down behind the closed beta and NDA.

Remember, in the time leading up to FFXIV’s rerelease, Yoshida repeatedly talked about the philosophies going into the game and what he wanted to deliver. The result was that even though we didn’t always have mechanical details, we always had an idea about what the game would be like. A vague one, sure, but an idea just the same.

Of course, there’s also the fact that FFXIV’s rerelease plans suggested the devs knew exactly what was wrong with the game. That’s another area which was clearly and transparently discussed. By contrast, SWL has just… given us a couple of big changes, some of which addresses actual problems, others of which address problems no one has ever actually had with the game.

I think it’s interesting to discuss this in light of yesterday’s bevvy of statements from Joel Bylos about survival sandboxes vs. MMOs, which sound like insight… but they’re really not.

“[In] The Secret World, we focused very strongly on making really cool and interesting content and story, and the idea was to make it interesting to play. The thing is, with an MMO, a lot of focus goes into repeatable content. A lot of focus goes into things like ‘I’m gonna run this dungeon six times’ or 20 times or 200 times, right? So we need reward systems that give you tokens, that let you build or buy better items. There’s a lot of itemization discussion in MMOs. In a game like Conan Exiles, people are going to lose stuff, and we know that. We need to make it so that they can keep rebuilding stuff, keep creating stuff, keep progressing in the game, but not necessarily wanting them to go, ‘Oh, I want you to go grind this dungeon 50 times so that you can do the next dungeon – slightly harder.’ So [Conan Exiles] is not so much about this very small percentage of power increase to increase your character’s progression. That’s what I would say is a big difference in these type of games.”

The comments might, however, serve as insight for where things are amiss.

The specter of learning the wrong damn lessons.

See, when you design a game that people are going to be playing for an extended period of time, you are intentionally designing repeated content. That’s just as true for survival sandboxes as it is for MMOs. No, Conan Exiles doesn’t have the same sort of repeated content as, say, a Final Fantasy XIV dungeon, but it’s still repeated content. “I lost everything and need to rebuild” is different from “I need to go through this dungeon and kill things,” but both are 100% repeated content meant for doing over and over.

According to Bylos, the problem was that The Secret World had so much story, but you need to have a focus on repeated content. That’s not actually the problem. The problem is that while the story in TSW was (and is!) fun, the repeated stuff is… less so. It requires leaning a lot on the game’s combat (which isn’t good) or re-doing steps of a mission you’ve already done (trivial or obnoxious, and neither fun). There is not a whole lot of repeated stuff to produce long-term investment. There’s little to no crafting, no methods of long-term investment beyond repeating the same stuff.

When FFXIV was being reworked, there were a whole lot of polls for current and former players and lots of discussion about what the game got wrong. Combat was fiddly and not very fun. The UI was outdated from the moment it launched. Crafting was too incomprehensible, gathering was far too random, and working together as a group wasn’t enjoyable. Those areas were things targeted as specific problems to be reworked.

On the other hand, the strong focus on lore and story? Not a problem, and if anything, it was a strength. No, you couldn’t repeat all of it, but you didn’t need to make it repeatable if there was a lot of it to do and if players enjoyed the actual mechanics of the game for the stuff that was repeatable.

Why does anyone like anything? Who knows any more.I get the sense that Funcom doesn’t know what was actually fun about TSW, and now it’s developing SWL without really understanding why people got turned off from the game in the first place. And so it’s alienating the existing fans while doing nothing to attract new ones.

That’s the last big lesson, right there: FFXIV did a lot of work to make sure that existing fans wanted to come back and got benefits, while new fans didn’t feel screwed out of the gate. SWL has yet to really do much to incentivize old players to come back – you keep the stuff you bought, but not your character, not your progress, not anything beyond those actual money purchases. Meanwhile, new players don’t have a clear picture of the game beyond “isn’t it that buy-to-play title that had awful combat? Is the combat better? Is it still an MMO?”

And that’s what baffles me the most. FFXIV made it clear that when you’re doing this kind of reboot, you need to know who your audience is and what new audience you intend to court. Darkfall, for all its failings with its reboot, did a good job of that at the very least (the fact that it didn’t work is, in this case, not really the point).

I don’t know who the target audience for Secret World Legends is supposed to be. I suspect it might be me, but considering that the MMO properties of the game were something I considered a positive, I might be wrong. And if I’m unsure about this – me, a dude who more or less lives and breathes this stuff – what’s going to happen when someone who doesn’t do MMO journalism for a living steps into the field and asks about this game?

It’s a whole lot of work to revitalize a game that really just needed a major combat rework and maybe a free respec. That would have done it, and we wouldn’t be arguing about this now.

I want this to be a success story. But I saw all the work that went into the relaunch of FFXIV, and even that was something of a wild throw that wound up landing well. Funcom doesn’t seem to be doing any of that work, and what work they are doing doesn’t inspire much confidence. That, in turn, doesn’t inspire much confidence about how this reboot will shake down.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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181 Comments on "The Soapbox: Lessons Secret World Legends failed to learn from Final Fantasy XIV"

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karrion_nightstalker

I dunno, i didn’t play the original FFXIV or Secret worlds.. However what i get from this “article” or whatever it is that the writer says, “FFXIV” good “Secret Worlds” bad.

As far as FFXIV, you really don’t want me to go on a huge rant about everything that is wrong with it. It can be summed up with a couple phrases, “cut and past programming” and “boring” the only reason it’s actually lasted as long as it has is no one has come up with a new way of doing thing, add in the fact that your forced to walk through this story line that consists of about 20 or so hours of cutscenes, each of which to be honest if it was presented in text would take about 30 seconds each to read. Then you go on to the way it’s monetized and you get the very clear picture that square enix really doesn’t care about the game or creating content. It’s all about the cash shop, its the only thing that matters to them, doesn’t matter that people are paying a subscription already which is what pays the bills and one should be focusing on making more creative things to keep people interested SQENIX is only interested in the cash shop.. Now that’s the short version of my rant on FFXIV… and writer, don’t force me to get long winded, you will regret it.

Now on secret world legends, i knew nothing of the original game… So i can’t speak on that.. I will say on the rant about the character wipe, suck it up, wipes happen be happy they saved the stuff you bought, here are some kleenex wipe away those tears. You brag on ffxiv managing to not do it, but seriously ffxiv was so easy to level it wouldn’t have made a difference last class i did to 60 took 4 days.

However here are the things that drew me to secret world legends and why i am going to play it come the 26th of this month. Two primary reasons, first it does not seem to have forced pvp, hate the trend that games are going these days.. I like to pvp when i decide to, not when some stupid wanna be ganker decided they are going to pk newbies.. Second is the way they decided to do the cash shop, game is totally free to play, no purchase, no subscription, and anything you buy on the cash shop can be bought with in game currency. Basically player 1 buys a second type of currency with real world money, and because he’s too lazy to get the in game currency he puts the bought for cash currency up for sale on the auction house where a player with in game currency can purchase it and then buy items in the cash shop with it. I first saw this type of thing in eve online, loved it. Think it’s probably the best way to monetize a game and great thing about it is, it discourages farmers from selling the currency on websites. Now i just want to hit on the little stab this original poster made in his rant, saying that there was no crafting system in this game. I can’t say if there is or if there isn’t, i don’t know, and this will come as a big shock to anyone that knows me… I don’t care if there is one or not.

Here is why in games like ffxiv and many others there is a single point of sales. Which ends up causing it to be me and 2 or 3 other players like me (or to be a bit more correct 2 players like me and 2 currency resellers) totally owning the market and being the only ones that actually benefit from the crafting skills and the in game economy. In most games the vast majority of players that actually bothered to level crafting end up not even using it beyond supplying alts with gear or close personal friends… So if your going to create a system where there is a single point of sales it becomes a matter of why did you even bother? And that’s why it doesn’t even really bother me if they have a crafting system in this game.

So you know if SWL takes me a week to get through and i enjoyed doing it, I will gladly thank the makers of the game for the free game and move on.

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Godson69

I’m a lifer or as they like to say a GM with TSW. I’ve played all the way through Transylvania, and did lots of PvP back in the day. I haven’t played in a couple of years, but always planned on coming back to catch up on all the stories.

So now they do this Legends crap. If it had been a “Major” overhaul of the combat system and included major graphics updates, it still would not justify a new game with the same content.

The more that comes out about the changes (very minor) in Legends, the worse it makes Funcom look. I refuse to redo content again that, I already did a hundred times.

TSW is a great horror genre MMO that could of used a major revamp of the combat system and graphics/animation update. Fix those two things and keep pumping out the stories and you would have plenty of people playing.

I’m just frustrated were this is heading, and mostly because so many people see it coming, except Funcom.

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Tithian

SE had an immense budget and a huge Final Fantasy following that they could utilize to feed resources and hype to their reboot. Letting FF14 fail could very likely kill the entire franchise, or at least damage it beyond repair, and who does that with his main money-maker?

Funcom didn’t ‘learn from those lessons’ because they couldn’t utilize them. It’s ery easy to say “do it like SE”, when you’re an armchair analyst and not the one that is actually paying millions of $ for the project.

And frankly, even if they allowed people to keep their stuff and characters, those would have to be relegated to a completely different and inaccessible ‘veteran’ server (just like FF14) so as to not screw with the new people coming in. Which might not even be a possibility, if they are going for a single shard per region. Oh wait, they are doing this already, by keeping the original server up anyway.

xpsync
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xpsync

I know i’m still going to play it, i really want to get on with the stories. I love the atmosphere and feel of the world, the characters, stories are memorable. These were always the best parts of this game, at least that all looks to be intact still.

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socontrariwise

Mighty following? TSW? That is probably the reason they decided to completely overhaul and reboot it as a non-MMO?

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Kevin McCaughey

I’m still going to play it on release. I think maybe people should give it a chance before putting it down.

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Witches

Final Fantasy is SE flagship product, if a FF game fails at launch SE will just redo it and relaunch it, Funcom doesn’t seem to have aclear idea of what they want to do with TSW, either that or they simply lack the funds to do anything AAA, honestly i was expecting them to invest everything on the survival genre and launch a SW survival game, while i enjoyed The Park and Hide n’ Shriek, both were very small projects, both could have been event inside TSW.

Basically i don’t think they are really relaunching the game like FF, they are just resetting it and they are taking that opportunity to change some features, but it’s more PR than anything else, i would say Funcom did learn from SOE and NCSoft, instead of making an NGE or closing down a viable game and alienating the playerbase, they treat the redone game as a new game and keep the original alive (at least for the time being) maintining good will from the players, even if SWL fails, they will not have to carry the fallout for many years like SOE/Daybreak and NCSoft.

arcaneshards
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arcaneshards

I’m someone coming from ESO, and I have to say that the conditions are worse than what people are painting SWL and Funcom are. You haven’t seen the closed beta for Morrowind yet. It’s shit.

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Arngrim

How much different can the expansion be to ESO though, i stuck around from launch to it’s “f2p” change, and it’s just not good enough for me to stick around. I never saw anything “new” in morrowind that would change the game in anyway, other than adding new areas and a new class. So saying that Morrowind is shit just shows how bad ESO is as a game anyway. IMO. I’m not saying ESO is a shit game, i enjoyed it enough for what it is, it’s just not enough of an Elder Scrolls game for me to get the experience i want or was hoping for. They have come long ways since launch, but lately it just seems like they are working on the lootboxes etc like most cash shop games seem to end up doing anyway.

arcaneshards
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arcaneshards

It’s pretty different now. If you wanted balance, you didn’t get it. Phase 1 of the PTS is pretty much a screw you to any low to mid range raiding guild. The NDA was partially lifted because of this. Instead of listening to their community, they talk down to us and when we get pissy like this, we’re overreacting. They don’t have fun on their livestreams anymore. It’s a job to log in. This article is bitching about the lack of news and ‘repeatable content’? I’m cp 831. Want the BiS gear to survive the patch? Run vMA 10000 times and hope you get lucky. Reroll races because Redguard got screwed over, but most of us don’t want to spend the money to do it so we have to grind up another character. All of that changes the game. Heavy attacking your way through a normal dungeon when you facerolled it before is not how I want to play the game. Oh and lack of content, news, and anything from the developers because they rarely actually post in the forums. CMs, PRs, and mods do. Dev tracker masks them as devs so it looks like devs are actually posting when in reality they are not.

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Sally Bowls

From a stock analysis’ report:

In our opinion, Funcom seems to have found a sweet spot with the open world survival segment. Almost all of the competitors have been small developers with very limited budgets. Funcom’s previous competitors were large well developed companies with gigantic budgets.

I could even see a salty Funcom retort to this article being “Things SE has yet to learn from Funcom: don’t do MMOs.”

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Alfredo Garcia
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Alfredo Garcia

Everything I read from Joel Bylos suggests to me that Funcom doesn’t really know what they’re doing. Maybe that’s just due to coyness on his part, in which case he needs to stop because nobody finds that endearing or acceptable. Maybe it’s because Funcom hasn’t actually decided exactly what they’re doing yet, in which case they need to just STFU and get to work. Really, if Bylos’ job is so focused on giving meandering statements to press, I know where Funcom can save some budget.

I’m usually not so harsh on developers, but Funcom seems to have a particularly bad case of “dev bubble”, with theirs having a mirrored surface on the inside.

Crow
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Crow

Yep.

I was floored by this exchange.