Binge watching. You know the practice when it comes to your favorite shows, but what about your favorite games? While this certainly isn’t the most profound question or vital of topics in The Secret World, it has been on my mind quite a bit this week — especially as I eagerly (and impatiently) wait to continue with the Issue #14 story line live on OPTV. Is TSW best experienced by binging, or can it be fully appreciated at a slow, steady consumption rate? And if binges truly are best, how does that effect the health and longevity of the game? These are a few thoughts I found worth exploring this week.
Consumption rate: Steady or sprints?
When it comes to story, I admit that I am very much an binger. That’s me, MJ, the bingaholic. Ms. StoryBingy Pants. I am the person who can settle in with a book in the evening and tell myself “just one more chapter” and seriously believe it… then still be sitting there reading when the sun comes up. When a story is good, I do not want to put it down; I want to know what happens next. I am just not good at putting a book down mid-story, and unfinished series drive me bonkers! That’s exactly how I have felt with The Secret World. The stories are awesome, and the atmosphere totally pulls me in. How can I possibly let a story just hang there, taunting me? I know I can’t be the only one feeling this.
Perhaps it is only the single story-driven DLCs that exert this much of a pull. Because those mission chains all follow a specific arc, I want to experience the full story in one go, much like The Park, which I played through in a single session. The experience is much more powerful that way. Any time you stop and step away, you lose all of the build-up that the situation was crafting. In the case of The Park, I would have lost all of the tension the atmosphere was building, and I am certain the story resolution would not have been as emotional or compelling had that occurred. Also, as time passes between sessions, you are likely to forget details that may not be key to solving anything (but they might!) but are still a part of the overall flavor. As such, I am finding it super hard to sit back and save my Issue #14 play through for stream time only. I want to do it all now!
On the other hand, I realize that I don’t quite feel the same way about all of the game. In fact, outside of some issues, I can walk away for periods of time and come back, do a few missions, and still love the game. I revel in the atmosphere, but nothing drives me to finish it all nao! (Truth be told, while I am fairly stubborn and want to finish any particular mission in one go, there are some investigations I have walked away from to give myself a breather before trying to puzzle it out again.)
I attribute this to the fact that the regular missions throughout TSW are more self-contained. The various steps of each mission walk you through the mini-story, but you don’t have to follow any specific path of missions to get to the conclusion. Instead, each mission is a tidbit that gives you overall picture of what is going on. And you can do them in any order you darn well please. True, the mission-dispersal set-up of having new missions nearby wherever you last did one may give a bit of framework, but nothing says you have to take missions in the order you find them. Personally, I saw that only as way to direct players to where the missions are located; I can’t recall it ever being necessary to pick one up to understand another. For this reason, I seem to be able to consume this content at a more steady pace without feeling the need to rush, rush, rush to the end.
The exception to the above would be the main storyline, which is auto-granted and has a defined story. However, you literally cannot race through it because you simply aren’t strong enough and must play through the other missions in the zones before you can continue.
GASP! As much as I hate to say it, I conclude that when it comes to TSW, it can’t all be story. At least, not all mega-involved story arcs. Put those stones down! I know some players complain that the other types of DLCs that don’t cater to the strength of TSW — which I think we can all agree is story — take away the opportunity for more story. I don’t believe this is the case. In fact, I think without the other DLCs, we wouldn’t have any more story.
Don’t get me wrong: I, too, have wished there were more issues like The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn, The Last Train to Cairo, A Dream to Kill, and now Call of the Nameless. I still do because they are great! But now I advocate even more for the variety. I mean, I saw the need for variety before, but now I think I better understand it. Without it, the game would peter out and die off.
You see, bingers gobble everything up and then want more. Honestly, how can you not want to gobble up these great stories? If the game was solely relying on these incredible story arcs, the players who crave this the most would have nothing to do for 90% or more of their time. There is no possible way for the devs of any game to produce enough content to satisfy the bingers. So they need to take steps to prevent their audience from totally wandering off in search of the next binge. I think the main story and the different DLCs accomplish this.
As much as I initially wanted to continue with the main storyline myself when I started the game, I think it truly was pretty wise of the devs to enforce the need to play the other parts of the game before continuing with it. As a story binger, I possibly would have raced right through. Although I undoubtedly would have gone back and done everything else, I totally would have lost out on the deeper, richer experience that all the rest of the game gives. Also, spreading play out lengthens out the game experience, and who doesn’t want to spend more time in the awesome atmosphere of TSW?
On top of that, devs were also pretty smart to add in various DLCs that have bits of story like the main game instead of just the single story arc. That gives us the chance to consume the content at a slower, steadier rate. I think if Funcom were to give people only the elaborate story arc DLCs, it would be shooting itself in the foot. That content is simply consumed faster, and then those hunger pangs for more come quicker. It’s better to delay that and give people a way to stay immersed for longer.
Do games run the risk of losing people by not appealing to their preferred consumption method? Not really. On a grander scale, I think catering to any a single type of consumption would be a handicap or deterrent. I think TSW would lose more by not offering a variety: some things to race through, some things to enjoy slower, and even some things to just hang out with. It’s not just that different consumers consume differently, but each consumer can consume differently depending on mood, time constraints, and the like.
Overall, I think the big story arcs are better played as a binge, but I sincerely appreciate the large number of smaller story tidbits I can enjoy at my leisure. How do you consume The Secret World’s content? Do you binge on it, or are you able to space it out and play at a steady rate? Or do you mix it up depending on the content? And is it different than how you consume other games? I think I get into the same binging mode when I am building and decorating in games, but not usually for regular adventuring. Share your thoughts with us!