It appears as though the game did not perform as well as Funcom had hoped. I sort of saw this coming as soon as I played the game. No, I don’t think it’s because the game is so amazingly different than all other titles. That’s my first “I’m calling BS” moment. A lot of fans are claiming that the game just cannot be understood by typical MMO gamers, leading to many of them leaving the game.
Let me just say this and hope that it doesn’t sound like a harsh criticism: almost everything in The Secret World has been done before.
I know, that sounds like a criticism but it’s really not. It’s damn near impossible for a larger studio to produce wholly unique content. It’s too chancy and the money just isn’t there. The skill system? It’s been done. The lore? Who hasn’t heard similar stories of secret societies? What makes a story or game unique is usually the exact collection of normally standard details. A writer or developer can create really unique games by assembling standard bits from other titles. The problem with The Secret World is that enough of it was recognizable by a jaded audience. They’re seen it all, claimed it all revolutionary, and moved on. They’ve done it before.
I’ve said this often and still believe it: there are probably 4 million unique AAA MMO fans in the United States. (Not so sure about countries I do not live in.) And that’s a high estimate, in my estimations of estimates. Those same millions switch from title to title, looking for a new fix with a new shiny. It’s not bad or good, it’s just human nature.
The problem is that in earlier days there were fewer MMOs to choose from. I remember counting a score or so just 8 or 9 years ago. Soon enough the FTP games came leaping into the fray, followed by the Western freemium converts and new titles. Tack on top of that the distractions of MMO-like games that appear though social media, etc.
I’d say the modern MMO player is by far not that experienced with more than maybe a dozen titles, but that a dozen is plenty for him or her to have seen repeating designs and systems. I’ve played hundreds of MMOs and I keep it fresh by constantly discovering new ones and coming back to the ones that caught my eye. The typical US MMO player does not do anything like that, however. After all, their job is not dependent on it.
Launching with a sub and a box price is probably bad news these days, as well. We’ve seen SW:TOR admit to that. This is probably another factor in why Funcom seemed disappointed in the figures.
Having said all that, I think the game will survive and eventually do well once it clears out the people who were just curious. They’ll do the layoffs they need to do, drop down to a comfortable crew size and get back to working on the game. Again that’s typical stuff for today’s “AAA” studios. I wish The Secret World luck because I never got a chance to really get into it. Maybe one day…
What about Guild Wars 2 announcing that they had 400k users on at the same time? OK, that is impressive and great news for Anet! (Seriously, congrats!) The developer also announced 1 million sales, a number that will go up as more people, you know, buy the game. At at least 60 bucks a pop… that’s impressive again.
Now, I am the most debate-y (debatish?) person when it comes to announcements like this. Time and time again I have to argue for those developers, like Jagex, who announce something like “We just reached the 200 million user mark!” The first thing people ask is “So what…what about active players?” I am the guy who says “Those numbers are impressive for a lot of reasons.”
To compare it to GW2, RuneScape’s 200 million player mark is impressive for many more reasons.
1) The game was started by 2 brothers for nothing near the cost of GW2
2) RuneScape is a browser-based, 10 year old game that continues to gain new players. Will GW2 last that long and continue to add players?
3) RuneScape sort of pioneered the use of a freemium model. GW2 is a 60 dollar entry fee. Of course that price will drop relatively quickly. I will find it at Gamestop for 30 bucks within no time.
4) Some other games have posted good numbers for purchases and for opening weekends. Many of those other games are nowhere near the numbers they were then.
5) The “hype” is not the issue — that’s felt only by those fans and writers like me. Most players are oblivious to it. Still, lasting a long time beyond any hype is something only a few MMOs have done. Like RuneScape. Not SW:TOR.
6) While any sort of player count in the millions seem impressive, we have to ask what the cost was to build the road to get to those millions. Now factor in paying all of those staff members, etc. And…with no sub to pay for it all? Even with a cash-shop, is that enough to keep up with paying over a hundred people? It was recently Tweeted that some of the staff were already working 24-48 hour shifts, something to be proud of. To me that shows poor management and BS. RuneScape has maintained a good sized team many of those their years…will GW2 manage to hang on to theirs for that long?
In other words, when I argue how Free Realms or RuneScape’s numbers could be seen as impressive beyond the typical PR BS speak, I’m taking in cosideration how important the website (and hits) are to those particular titles, how much the game cost in the first place, and how long the games have stuck around and continued to pull in players.
Will GW2 be THE special AAA title to do as well as World of Warcraft…or even closer than the other AAAs have reached before? I don’t know, but all of the former patterns tell me that those same 3 or 4 million players will move on, eventually, to the next title. Warcraft was and always will be special, a success that will probably never be topped. Why is that? Well, you might as well ask why the biggest band in the world was the biggest band. (For many reasons that should be obvious.) After all, SW:TOR has the benefit of coming from a much larger, active and long-lasting IP, and it still has its issues. Do players really feel that GW2 can do better?
So, I’ll wait and see. We will be discussing this topic over the next few weeks on our vidcast of course, but I seriously doubt that my hour in GW2 gave me the wrong impression. I think it’s a nice looking game and does some neat stuff, but does it do enough to keep a bored, jaded audience — one that is constantly tempted by many, many FTP MMOs and single-player titles — active and contributing?
I’m sure GW2 and Anet will be fine. There will probably be some layoffs (something I would never wish on any developer) and cutbacks. If not, I’m glad! In the meanwhile concerned fans can help out by not being cheapskates and throwing down a little cash once per month to make up for that lack of subscription. I spend money in FTP or freemium titles all the time to make up for the time I spend in game. If you get your 60 bucks worth from it and continue to log in for hours at a time, throw them some money.
Otherwise all of my predictions just might come true.