Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 31, 2012
A reply to Funcom

Dear Funcom,

Yesterday a commenter on my blog said "Something went wrong for Funcom, that much is clear. But what was it?". Today I received an e-mail from you stating that you didn't know either, and would like to find out. You asked: "What would make YOU buy The Secret World? Let us know! Funcom is committed to expanding and improving upon The Secret World and your input will help us do a better job at making The Secret World more suited to you. So take this survey and let us know how it should be done!"

Well, thanks for asking, but I feel that I can't answer because the question is posed the wrong way. You ask what would make me *buy* The Secret World, and there probably isn't anything you could do with your now limited budget which would make me buy the game and pay a monthly subscription. If you had asked what would make me *play* The Secret World, and possibly spend money on it, the answer is clearly "The Secret World going Free2Play would make me play it, and possibly spend money on it". Probably not right now, where I am kind of busy with Guild Wars 2 and Mists of Pandaria, but I expect to be looking for a game to play in early 2013 at the latest. I see a lot of strong points in The Secret World, so if I wouldn't have to pay for it in advance to play it, and pay a monthly subscription fee, I would certainly give it a more extended try than the beta weekend I participated in.

I don't think that The Secret World is a bad game. But it is niche, and not quite my favorite niche. So for me it isn't worth a monthly subscription plus purchase. Not if a game that fits me much better, like Guild Wars 2, can be had without a monthly subscription. Some of my readers tell me that The Secret World has hidden strengths, which weren't readily apparent from the first impression I could gather in the beta weekend. Those strengths would be even less apparent to somebody just seeing screenshots and a mediocre Metacritic score. If you really believe in your game and think that people would like it if they just played it, I can only recommend going Free2Play.



It was a no brainier to hold off TSW till 2013. No point in taking GW2 and panda headon. They paid a heavy price.
Well, since i play(ed) both, i must admit. TSW was definitely the more intriguing game for me. GuildWars 2 is a good solid game, but very familiar and predictable, kinda the feeling i had when i played Rift.

You can see GW2 is well crafted, but everything i see , i've seen before. BUT hey, no sub, and it is essentially everything WoW is, so i'll be plodding along as usual. But even with the Hearts and all that, i still feel the linear-questing-themepark routine.

Unfortunately both these games are Themeparks at their core.

GW2 got the advantage with a heavy focus on PvP/WvWvW related activities which can keep even myself busy without worrying about "content"...for awhile though.

TSW, being more PvE/Story driven, similar to SW:TOR , does unfortunately have an "END" . TSW does not really have a very compelling PvP/World vs World system, and hence once you reach that final zone and finish that final quest in the story are DONE! .

So i'm not quite sure what Funcom expected here. I'm still very satisfied with my box purchase at the end of the day, i got as many hours out of it as Skyrim , and felt better about the game than i did about Diablo 3.

Even if they make the game F2P right now, what am i going to do there? They will need to add an entire landmass (admittedly the game is well designed to allow for easy addition of any type content, be it futuristic or medieval or floating in the middle of space) , to warrant my interest.

I'll gladly subscribe for another month to access such content too, but i don't think players are the kind that pay FIRST and simply hope the company provide the content.

Funcom is better off using the GW2 model, and making me pay for the content i want and which they already created.

While the sub wall is still up, i can't really access the game and hence they can't market to me.... so i am essentially a lost customer which they need to spend a ton of marketing on to "win me back".

Arenanet on the other hand, don't need to do anything, i can in a month log in and look around for myself...

I found TSW a compelling game. I like the genre and admire the gameplay and story. I am aware that the story driven nature of the game means that I may reach an end, which implies that I shall not stay subscribed long term - especially as I am not a PvP fan.
For now the game is worth the cost and a subscription until I get to the end. I shall see if new content arrives quickly enough to extend that time.
TBH, it's a marketing blunder for Funcom and sending these emails doesn't help them either.

Homo economicus as Tobold defines it purchases from the leading vendor. It's a strategy that especially in tech and entertainment that works well.

Then he would complain all day long about [Blizzard] not catering to his needs and how generic everything is - especially, the fetch 8 bear skins quests. Yet, he will NOT pay (never will) or give much thought to B-list developers, who in theory at least could cater to his needs better.

Blizzard has managed to break from this vicious cycle brilliantly in the past, by catering to very specific, hardcore audiences and building franchises (warcraft, diablo, starcraft) that have been expanded with each iteration to include more mainstream gamers.

Funcom, unfortunately, has not build a strong brand and strong IP. They licensed Conan and shot themselves in the foot by providing great content for the first 20 levels and then... a very thin layer of it. Conan fans like myself wanted AOC to prosper but saidly, it sank.

Enter TSW, which caters to ... I have no idea. As someone mentioned (Tobold?), horror games work well as a single-player but who's played a zombie multiplayer, much less an MMO. So it's a gamble in terms of genre and the gamble didn't pay off. There aren't that many players interested to progress in this horror "secret world".

F2P isn't the answer. The game has been designed as subscription mmo. Adding paywalls now will alienate the current players.

Charging the few people who play it a premium probably won't work either. Unfortunately, strategies that work for premium cars like Porsche, don't seem to work online.

In short, it's time for them to move on and find a niche they can dominate and then expand that brand. EVE is anything but mainstream and has been profitable for a long time. Niches can be very rewarding but a horror MMO is not it.
The fact that tsw has an end (apart from added content) isnt a bad thing imo. Im probably an ideal customer for funcom since i go through content slowly and dont mind to pay a sub-fee even though this may result in "bad" cost per hour used rates. The fee is just too inconsequential for that. I realize that this is a position not everybody is in and the sub scheme probably excludes a lot of players.

Maybe (and hopefully for funcom) the player base consists of customers like me..

As for you recommendation to funcom, their latest 'state of the game' post is just what hoped for. They will stay true to their original vision (and thus niche) and make no concessions (smart, since that would probably drive away a part of the current player base).
I am one of those potential sales for TSW that got away. I was very interested in the product, played The Secret War prequel heavily, tried some of the ARGs, and played a lot of hours in multiple beta weekends. I enjoyed most of it, yet decided not to buy. Some reasons, not in order of importance:

1) Several badly bugged missions late in the second island in beta. Many players didn't get that far, and never saw these. But it gave me the impression that it wasn't quite ready to release (this was 1-2 weeks before launch). I expected it to get even worse in later zones. I thought this one could wait.

2) Disappointment with the balancing in the skill wheel. I had a (rifle/elemental) build fairly early on which seemed to work ok, and I had the feeling that i would need to grind hours of points just to wade through a pile of skills that were not good enough to replace those I was using in order to try and find something that was an improvement.

3) Disappointment with the way the competition between the 3 factions vanished in game compared to all the pre-game hype. I played The Secret War, and expected something much deeper than all 3 factions playing co-op through everything except the very limited PvP spots. I expected some sort of full faction vs. faction gameplay being the core of the game. All I got was the gameplay of a typical MMO.

4) The design, while quite fun, was clearly massively single-player in nature, with limited content. I could see little future for the game's sub model. I expected massive dropout after 1-2 months. Not attractive.

5) GW2 releasing a month later was also a factor, since that was a must buy for me. Even though I figured I'd probably burn through TSW's content by then had I bought at launch.

6) Poor crafting balance. I'm a heavy crafter in all MMOs, but here by the time I got enough mats to make something, I'd already looted the same or better. The crafting felt pointless.

7) Too much tedious inventory micro-management. Every type of gear, power-up, consumable, craftable etc, item has a version for every one of the 10 tiers. After a while you're constantly juggling 4-5 different tiers of everything in your inventory, wondering what to throw away. I was trying to retain flexibility for making non-dps builds, so kept multiple sets of gear. I rarely use consumables, and the crafting was not useful, so everything was just accumulating. It would have gotten even more frustrating later. This is largely my own fault for being a hopeless packrat, I know.

I still felt favourably about the game overall and would expect to be back should it go FtP, as was widely expected.
I suspect mmorpg makers are actually running into the global limits of the planet, without realising it. The bulk of people able and inclined to play a mmorpg are doing so already.

Sadly these big budget settings - well yeah, they become about the budget (and it's recoup) rather than the setting. The audience generally gets swept up in setting - and solo dudes with typewriters and coffee have made settings that grip at people today. It didn't take millions of dollars. The graphics snobs will eventually die off (as they just follow everyone else). Except in the end these companies only want to make millions - it's not about setting. So I know my idea is missplaced (as missplaced as the companies focus on cash is on setting based media)
I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a game today...


Seriously, I know this is tongue in cheeky humor. But really it brings nothing to the discussion to tell any business that they risk funds to develop something for the nebulous future promise of purchase. NO ONES GOING TO DO THAT AND STAY IN BUSINESS.

This is why all future business models will devolve to your standard cell phone purchase.

No one realizes the mark up in data/voice services much less the phone equipment subsidy that a carrier pays. It all comes down to "how cool you look with an iphone" and "what low low monthly payment you get".

Anyone "wonder" why Win8 is so tethered to mother Microsoft? It's because the sheeple don't want to pay for software so everyone is going to replicate the cell phone monthly rate plan for software.

Welcome to monthly payment hell folks... and it this case the consumer gets EXACTLY what they deserve.
GW2 is new and shiny and people are trying it out and talking about what they do and don’t like, in the /map chat. Ever since buying and playing TSW, I’ve become a huge fan, and whenever I see people complaining about how they’ve learned all of their weapon skills in the first five levels, and ‘is this really it? Apart from some long-cooldown slot skills?’ or complaints about the lack of depth to the skill system, the first thing I do is point them to TSW.

To my surprise, you usually get a chorus of positive confirmation from other players in the channel, which is weird for only 200,000 sales. And the following comment is pretty much universal: “Unfortunately, it’s a sub game. Maybe wait til it goes F2P.” (Which at this stage seems a foregone conclusion.)

Gives me mixed feelings. Whenever I recommend the game to anyone, I absolutely have to toss in a few dozen disclaimers. The combat is hard, and more deliberate. The puzzles can be very hard, and many actually require you to visit game-generated websites and blogs for clues – or look-up guides if you want to cheat yourself of the experience. Your hand is not held by the game/UI as much as others. The settings are a sort of cthulu-noir modern day, not ‘fantasy colourful’. Quest-hubs are kept to a minimum, with you only being able to follow a small handful of quests at any given time. There is a large focus on exploration. The skill wheel can be intimidating and confusing when you’re new. It’s very solo-focussed. It initially looks like it might be a zombie game, but it’s less standard-zombie-apocalypse and more Elder God apocalypse – where zombies and cultists are the easy part, and the true, daunting threat is unseen eldritch horror fraying the edges of reality and sanity.

But, see… for some people? Those ‘warnings’ are selling points. As a fan of TSW, it’s rewarding to reach those people in other games like GW2 and see them say, “Huh. Checking youtube and websites and it actually looks pretty cool… might give it a shot,” but I have no illusions that this kind of ‘word of mouth’ approach probably only serves to very slightly slow down the natural MMO, “I’ve run out of content, time to un-sub til there’s a few more content packs,” attrition.
@Angry Gamer

You know it's funny because League of Legends seems to operate on that business model and are doing fine. GW2 is F2P and had to suspend digital sales of their game because their infrastructure couldn't support the demand.
Very mixed feelings about TSW, being one of the elusive members of their target demographic (a horror fan and MMO player). I want to play, but I would prefer a F2P gate; no, scratch that, I'd have loved it if the game was pay-once like GW2. I own the game, but feel I can't justify a monthly cost since I will have at best a few hours a month to play; there's simply too much entertainment and not enough free time. On the other hand, maybe I should focus on TSW, sub, and try to blow through to the end before Funcom tries to do a pricey "F2P" model like they did with AOC.
More proof Funcom's marketing department has no clue what it's doing.
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