Did The Secret World fail because it was innovative, or because it was bad?

by on September 14, 2012


Lono called for MMORPG players to support innovation yesterday by supporting The Secret World – but did The Secret World really fail because it was too innovative?

That’s the debate that has sprung up in the wake of his post today:

  • Tobold argues that The Secret World would have failed just as hard without any innovation whatsoever” If Funcom had made the same game, just with elves and dragons instead of zombies and Cthulhu, it would have flopped even worse.”
  • Syncaine compares The Secret World to his beloved Darkfall, and argues that TSW’s failure was more about expectation-setting“The biggest difference between Darkfall and The Secret World is not levels of polish or innovation, but in expectations. Aventurine understood they were making a niche MMO, and planned accordingly.”
  • And Lono asks us to play MMO developer for a while, and consider whether if we were making an MMO with real money and real people to support, would we take the risk of making a non-fantasy MMO?“If you are a player wanting innovation in your games, you have to support games that do innovate even if they are not the best. You have to show the industry that if they innovate they will have support and get their money back.”

I’m really not sure what MMORPG developers can or should do about MMORPGs’ seemingly intractable tie to fantasy. With the exception of EVE Online, it’s very hard to think of an MMORPG that has had even moderate success outside fantasyland. Frankly, all the evidence currently points to MMOs continuing to be dominated by fantasy-based settings for the next 20 years.

**What do you think? Were TSW’s troubles the fault of its innovation, its execution, its business strategy, or something else?

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other posts from these categories: The Secret World

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

DocHoliday September 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Personally I think one of the biggest issues with TSW is that Funcom is a public company and they had to release all their subscription numbers. This gave all the haters and doubters of the game ample ammunition to trash it and/or never even try it. Granted there still would’ve been all the lay-off news, but it wouldn’t has looked as grim if they could’ve prettied up those numbers a bit.

Overall, I think its a shame and I think a game like TSW failing (if it actually does, still a bit early to tell) only hurts the MMO genre.

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Sugar Kyle September 16, 2012 at 10:16 am

I’ve never played the secret world. However, Fantasy RPG and Science RPG attract different flavors of people. Eve’s forums are constantly filled with arguments over Eve’s mechanics that are not real enough. It irritates people and quotes and spacial measurements fly back and forth.

Fantasy, by its very name, asks us to detach ourselves from reality and step into the world of imagination. People are more forgiving of it. Raw creativity is cheered. Its okay that a lion has wings with a horn and vomits rainbows. How cute!

Eve certainly has lots of glaring holes in physics and it asks us to suspended our reality in a lot of ways but it tries to do so rationally in the same way a solid science fiction book asks you to give it a little leniency because ‘future’. But Eve’s harshness compared to a lot of the other MMOs in how it expects its players to figure things out helps to focus the mental burn of its players.

There is an in game calculator built into your toolbar. It is very useful.

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Raidet October 11, 2012 at 8:20 am

It was the combat. The combat was unsatisfying and confusing.

This is the most important aspect of any combat MMO without execption – as the player will spend the most amount of in game time doing this. In fact, this aspect has to be so well designed that it’s *addictive*. Lots of cool effects, abilities, animations, feedback, etc etc.

Plunging heads into the sand and not giving this central aspect enough attention because “it’s not that kind of game” is, frankly, moronic.

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Laputa December 27, 2012 at 4:07 am

I downloaded the game and it was amazing. I think the biggest contributing factor that made it’s poor launch was because the game is ‘DIFFERENT’ to any other grinding MMO – typically the elves, dwarves… chop chop chop bam – type of game. People are not wanting to try it out cause its new… I think the game has great potentials, being so different. I think people dont want to try anything that they are unfamiliar with… Give it some time and i think players would be more adapted to the gamplay.

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Mediquette February 1, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I hate to say it, but The Secret World IMHO ended up like Star Trek Online (just without all the development studio switches). In the past decade, the two games I looked forward to the most, and was tremendously disappointed by both, were The Secret World and Star Trek Online. I’ve been playing The Secret World for the past 2 weeks, since it’s no longer subscription-based (think of the buy-to-play structure used by Guild Wars), and I must say, it’s been the constant struggle of a Gemini. Part of me wants to hate it, the other keeps saying, “well, it deserves credit for this and that”. Right off the bat, the good, it deserves credit for having a breath-taking engine and graphics, interesting story lines, the use of puzzles and clue-searching for investigations, etc. However, I’m finding the bad quite outweighs the good. So that nobody can say I’m BSing, my character at the moment is focusing on a blend of Elementalism/Fist, with most the skills unlocked, with both weapons being QL10. Also, every talisman my character wears is QL8 at the moment, and I’ve also earned the Quantum Brace as my auxiliary weapon. My character has just under 6k health, decent stats, and I’ve had to grind to suit them up quite accordingly; in fact, as a point of focus, I’ll even go so far as to say, I’ve taken the time to see just how much more I can progress my character… to spare a bunch of details, let’s just say, I can level up all talismans 3 more ticks (while the very small/minor increase of stats from each wouldn’t be all that significant), there’s 5 more heal-ticks left on my fist weapon, 2 more support-ticks left on elemental… both maxed on damage, not all that many skills left for either of the two, and I so far have 3 quantum skills unlocked (each skill takes 50AP to unlock, which although you get 4 AP per full bar of experience, can take awhile to earn, in fact… by the time you have 50AP, you should have about 12.5SP).

Now, what’s becoming more and more apparent. Funcom’s big claim to fame with this game was, “oh, we tossed out levels”. Well, they still have the “level-based” but just swapped around the structures. You “level up” in faction ranking, while you grind to earn enough experience for AP (Ability Points) and SP (Skill Points); SP are used to “level up” weapon skills, talisman skills, and auxiliary weapons (each aux weapon is a one tick use of 35SP if I recall), while AP are used to unlock abilities on an ability-wheel, which at first seems very intuitive and innovative, but you quickly learn is just a giant pie-chart that separates skills based on their associated weapons. (I suppose a person could go all across the skill bars and “level up” ALL weapons equally, but game progression would seriously be crippled, just as they could go all around the ability-wheel and pick random abilities, but again, all active abilities require the associated weapon.

Now, the kicker on the ability-wheel is each “spoke” is pretty much its own skill-tree as seen in other MMOs. Each I believe has 8 abilities in each spoke. They work in a top-to-bottom structure. So for example, should I want the 3rd and 7th abilities on a spoke, I have to grind the AP to unlock the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh ability, and each ability costs more and more as you go down the spoke. I believe they typically start at 9-12AP, and work their way up to 50AP for the last in the spoke, each ability costing more and more… again, keeping in mind a full experience-bar (which grants 1 SP) grants us 4AP, you can do the math based on the many different “spokes”.

Overall this says massive grind, right? Here’s a bigger kicker. Going back to what I said on how there’s not much room left for me to progress my character; my character is currently “stuck” at the end of City of the Sun God, where the Egypt storyline ends, because the boss fight at the end of the storyline is a solo-instance. That’s right everybody, Funcom decided to end the storylines where the MAJOR boss battles occur, by making them forced solo-instances. I’ve even tried being in a party and going into a “solo instance” to where all team members are forced into separate instances and cannot help each other. Imagine the difficulty of the Sephiroth battle from Final Fantasy 7, then imagine having to do that with just you and no other aids.

I keep reading that this battle is “simple” and “just stand in the center and kill 3 waves of bad guys”; right. Each wave is timed… meaning, if you kite them and don’t kill any, the next wave will come, and then another. Apparently after you kill 3 waves, reinforcements are supposed to show up. I take out the first wave (about 8 guys), have about 25% health left, attempt to heal, the next way runs up and slaughters what’s left of me. You can only kite so far, because if you go outside of the room you’re in, you fail and it resets to where you have to start it all over again. The room is perfectly rectangular, only columns that go to the ceiling and torches, so there’s not much margin-for-error if you choose to kite.

From what I’ve read, there’s one more “solo-able” play-area after this, Transylvania, but I doubt I can be bothered to go much further; I already found myself “twinking” my character in order to finish the first storyline boss, now I’ve left and re-twinked/grinded three different times for this storyline boss, with no success. What I had hoped to be the next innovation in MMOs is turning out to be the biggest frustration I’ve ever played. I hear so many say, “you HAVE to group to survive”, well wouldn’t it make sense for Funcom to allow people to GROUP the boss battles like in every other MMO!? Gear them up for grouping with random-strangers? From what I understand, after Transylvania it may as well be a rehash of League of Legions as it all becomes mostly arena/raid team-based content with no more character progression. Most the game in an almost ripped-off sort of way, reminds me almost identically of Crimecraft the MMO.

But then there’s the giant kick in the teeth. Funcom boasted no levels, no need to cookie-cutter, all this flexible character-customization and character-building. You learn REAL fast that cookie-cuttering is alive and well more-so in this game than any other. You might find skills that you like, might even do great damage, but unless they fit the rest of your skill build, kiss using them goodbye. Here’s an example… some moves can cause affliction, others cause the enemy to be hindered etc. If the rest of your skills take advantage of affliction, and the one you REALLY like effect hindered… kiss it goodbye, because you have to have your character-build perfect in order to survive. I also see many in the chat say, “come the end of the game specific builds are required for specific instances”, I’ve also seen some say, “you can only get past that part with either the shotgun or assault-rifle, or perhaps this one other weapon”. Really? Lack of flexibility to get past certain areas of the game that may hinder your progression? To where you HAVE to use specific loadouts and specific weapons? Help me out here… tell me again how this DOESN’T have cookie-cutter building again!? oO

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Mediquette February 1, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Oh yeah, I also forgot to add, on what people said about combat. I agree, combat is “kind of” interesting, but it’s hotkey/action-bar based, much like World of Warcraft. I think many were a bit “led to believe” it would be more of a fast-paced “action interface” with zone-based damage (headshots, etc); instead we have a WoW-clone as far as combat goes, with some horrible AI-pathing most times, and even the game interface seems kind of dumb. I love how when I’m fighting 5 opponents, I’ll take out one, and even though there’s three others right in front of me, it’ll jump to next auto-target the one behind me, forcing me to have to spin around and focus my attacks in another direction, or try to jump over him backwards to bring him into the rest of the group for AOE capability. *facepalm*

This game all around seriously looks, feels, and plays like it’s still in Beta-testing (look up latency and frame-rate issues with this puppy), which is sad, as again, I’ve been looking forward to this game since it’s earliest conceptions back in 2002 I think it was… or maybe it was 2003, back when they still referred to it as Cabal (Online).

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Mediquette February 1, 2013 at 9:34 pm

One more tiny tid-bit that spoils the game… it’s not true open-world as they claimed… it’s got large areas but in a linear progression sequence… think of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I can’t reach Transylvania at all until I beat Egypt; and I couldn’t access/reach Egypt until I beat Kingsmouth. Which leads again to being trapped… you mostly max out most everything, do all the quests in the area for AP/SP, and still find yourself stuck, all you can do is repeat the same quests/dungeons (wash/rinse/repeat!?) you already have access to and have already done, continually repeating to grind more AP/SP to attempt to better twink your character; which again, seems a lot like Crimecraft!

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Mediquette February 1, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Oh darn, last thing, I promise. The other killer to the game… with all those ability options, weapon options, etc… your action bar only has 7 slots (with an eight slot for ONE of the many auxiliary weapon skills). You also get 7 passive slots (for passive abilities, that’s right, unlike most MMOs, only SEVEN of your passive abilities will work at once), and an 8th slot for a passive auxiliary skill. The whole build all-together is called “a deck” (Magic the Gathering anybody!?). 2 weapons, 10 talismans, 7 (8 /w aux) active abilities, 7 (8 /w aux) passive… have fun always and forever struggling with deciding what to limit your character to. That’s right, you’ll literally unlock hundreds of active and passive skills… to have to narrow down to a load-out of just 7 (8 /w aux). Nothing like wasted AP/SP points on skills/weapons that’ll sit and gather dust! xD

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tasos February 25, 2013 at 9:28 am

funcom is a bad company thats all they failed at age of conan they fucked up htere subscribers there… in there first big game and after that they did the same with The Secret World so why you even ask way it failed?

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rowan June 15, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Frankly, at this stage (almost a year after launch), it’s apparent that TSW failed only to meet unrealistic expectations on the part Funcom for a relatively niche genre blend of horror and conspiracy. Between the personnel restructuring (which seems to be endemic to the industry, to be honest) and the transition to Buy the Box with optional subscriptions, TSW is making a profit and Funcom is doing well over all.

Many complaints Mediquette had are actually valued features of the game. No, your “pet” build will not work in every situation, some creatures (and whole zones) are immune to your favorite debuff, you only get 7 actives and 7 passives. This game makes you think about your build instead of giving you action bar spots for every conceivable situation. Those funky abilities shouldn’t be collecting dust, you need to be reexamine them every so often. One or more of them may hold the key to beating this monster that’s been kicking your butt. And yes, your build may actually suck now, even if it carried through the entire last zone. You must adapt, because there aren’t training wheels here. This is not an action game, it’s a strategy game.

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Sylow June 18, 2013 at 2:32 pm

“You must adapt, because there aren’t training wheels here. This is not an action game, it’s a strategy game.”

I fully agree on that. A lot of the game is about which setup you use in which fight. Gear or skills, which Mediquette claims to be “the leveling” is nice, but of minor importance. Good gear (up to QL10 blue, which is way more than you ever need for anything but the raid-game) is easily obtained and weapon and talisman skills are capped rather fast, usually before you’re even halfway through the game. Collecting all abilities takes longer, but a strategic pick of them (which contrary to what Med claims, is the best way to go) can be done quickly.

One of the best examples of such strategic skill selection requires exactly 2 AP, so it can even be done in the middle of the games tutorial already. Just include the first passive of blade and fist, one gives you self-healing when hitting a target, the other when landing a penetrating hit. Neither of them is weapon dependant, so no matter your weapon selection, just using these two passives gives you some health regeneration which can carry you through many fights, and if blades and fist weapons are not your weapons of choice, you might not invest into them for a long time, unless you spot another passive somewhere in them, which again would be beneficial to your setup.

Later in the game, and especially when working in group, deciding which of your 7+1 actives and passives you take along makes the big difference and should be adjusted depending on which enemy you fight. Switching abilities and even weapons during a dungeon tour, to be set up properly for each boss, is normal behaviour and harder enemies in Egypt and Romania also carry “nightmare” buffs, which require you to reevaluate which game mechanics you currently use and what would be advantageous against them. (Debilitating an enemy for example makes him deal -30% damage and is a good idea through most of the game. But if he has a buff which massively boosts his damage when debilitation is used against him, you might want to reconsider. )

Due to such tactical decissions i use all 9 available weapons and 3 of the 4 auxiliary weapons. Only for the whip i find no real use yet, but perhaps that’s even just me not finding “the trigger” yet. For “normal open world” gameplay, you might get away with focusing on only 4 or 5 weapons, but there is no “one setup does it all”, and luckily will never be, either.

That being said, the limitation to 16 (8 active and 8 passive) abilities is not even completely new or unique. The most famous example would be both versions of Guild Wars, which hold even stricter limitations. (GW1: 8 Abilities, choose from all you ever learned. GW2: 10 abilities, but some are predefined by your weapon and the others are from a small selection of your class. ) When observing the build optimisation metagame, where planing your setup in advance is the key to success, the parallels to GW1 become very obvious, where people also run very specified setups for seperate missions, dungeons and boss fights.

In contrast, GW2 runs on training wheels from start to end, so players can be successful without ever thinking or planing. To not arrouse GW2 fans: yes, i am aware that proper skill selection and especially good trait planing can make your character perform much better, so if you are actually able to use your brain, you can improve your performance significally. But unlike in GW1 or TSW, you can do well enough in GW2 without taking the time to think about and plan your setup.

So for me, i can basically agree only on one single think Mediquette critisizes in her huge wall of text: indeed some of the solo instances are badly placed and disrupt gameplay in a group. At some time, the story demands such separation, it for example would look very strange when a Templar just investigates one of the omnipresent Illumniati crimes and another player, who’s Illuminati, would help him dig out all the corpses. At other places having a teammate along would be perfectly fine, though, and the artificial limitation to a solo instance is an annoyance without any benefit to gameplay. This problem is emphasized by solo instances being most frequent used in the lower level areas, where they hurt the most people. (While they still exist in higher level areas, they are very rare and usually apply to mission where they make good sense, like infiltration missions which or your personal story line, which is your task, and not the mission of your Dragon and Illuminati friends… )

On the positive side here: while FC seems to lack the manpower to rework the old solo instances to make the starter zones more convenient, the newer missions are designed better. Some might apprear to be solo-instances at first glance (and by story logic), but all of them can be done in group, so FC has learned their lesson there.

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rowan June 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I learned from personal experience that overspecialization in this game can be deadly. Most of the problems I’ve heard people are having stem from their unwillingness to change their deck. They blame the game. If you don’t like it, fine, but it is not a defect of the game design.

LOL, in my own most recent post I outlined having to re-do my load-out at least three times over the weekend, adapting to different missions. Frustrating? Yes, gratifying? YES.

And I agree, “Lick Your Wounds” (Fist) May be the single most important ability in the game.Someone who thinks Fist/Claws are all about playing Wolverine, and who doesn’t take the time to look at the various abilities, may never see it. I’m glad I had one character be an XMen fan. :)

On the topic of solo instances, I am glad some are. A perfect example is sabotage/infiltration missions. Sol Glorificus is a prime example where one party member screw-up can alert the guards to the whole party. Much easier and quicker to solo, tbh.

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Teiresias January 22, 2014 at 8:03 pm

Failed? Here it is January 2014, it still seems to be going strong: Last night, many people still running around. It seems to be playing much better than the last time I played (back in 2012). I’m having quite a bit of fun with it. They have obviously made improvements. I’m doing much better than last time.

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