Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 16, 2012
The Secret World subscription numbers

Azuriel is analyzing The Secret World sales and subscriptions. So Funcom had two scenarios of how things would go, a pessimistic "Conan-like" scenario with a million boxes sold in the first year and 280,000 average subscribers, and a "target" scenario with 1.3 million boxes sold and better retention to 490,000 average subs. According to the numbers Azuriel found, TSW only sold 50,000 boxes (not including digital sales). And Funcom has said that their sales were "less than half of the Conan-like scenario". As Rohan remarks, 90% of the people who tried TSW in beta decided it wasn't for them.

But while the numbers are dire, and I count myself to the 90% who didn't buy it after having played the beta, I don't think The Secret World is a "bad" game. I'd rather call it a "niche" game. It has a bunch of strong points and innovative features. And if you want to play a Lovecraftian Horror MMO it isn't as if you had plenty of choice. But different people are bound to care very differently about the new features and the new setting. On the one side you have people discussing how to use an iPhone app to decode Morse code in one of the puzzle quests, while on the other side you have people who will just look up the final solution of such a quest on Google without bothering to go through all the riddle steps. On the one side you have people who would love nothing better than to wander a Lovecraftion New England town, on the other side you have people complaining about there being "only zombies to kill" in the early stages of the game.

I understand that problem very well, because I've been there, done that: Back in the 80's I once tried a Call of Cthulhu campaign with my regular D&D group, and it was a disaster. The players were supposed to be scared of a werewolf, but instead wrapped hand grenades in silver teapots to kill him. Horror games don't work as well if monsters aren't scary but considered as a loot and xp pinata. Entities like Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth are supposed to be scary, instead of featuring in a YouTube video of raid boss kills, or having their loot tables discussed. I think a large number of people approached The Secret World with a typical MMORPG attitude which isn't really optimal for the genre and the game.

The sad thing is that modern MMORPGs are so bloody expensive to make that making an innovative niche game isn't really an option. I see the reverse effect on my iPad: Games are cheap to produce, so in consequence there is a huge amount of experimentation and innovation (as well as garbage). But if Funcom's pessimistic scenario had a 43% profit margin, and they didn't even reach half of it, they are losing money on The Secret World, which is why they are firing people. And that won't encourage them or others to make another innovative MMORPG.

Makes me wonder why even make the game as an MMO, and all the costs that would entail.

For a normal game, 500k sales would be pretty good.
The "scary zombie is not scary" is an interesting idea.

Maybe a Horror lore demand horror gameplay, where the scary zombies ARE scary by taking levels or gear from you if you die.
Or maybe they could make zombies scarier by having them run faster than the player, teleport through walls and incredibly hard to kill, then implement full-loot open PVP like DayZ, such that the main threat of zombies is distracting you from the true human menace: internet fuckwads who want nothing more than to ruin your day.

...I really don't understand people.
Well, some people will never be scared by zombies. Because we all know that the zombies are looking for "braaains", and thus pose no danger for the average internet fuckwad.
The Secret World is plenty scary when it tries to. I'd argue that facing down zombies is not one of those times, except when you come out of Agartha as a total noob with just a single weapon. Then they might be a bit dangerous.

The real horror comes when they play with the usual horror tricks, dampened lighting, mobs appearing from nowhere, sudden noises etc. And that works beautifully.

Nobody is scared witless by a shambling horde of zombies these days, not even characters in horror movies.
If i remember correctly i asked for an mmo set in a Lovecraftian world, when your blog had some posts about mmo development and how to go about creating or at least conceptualizing one...So, yeah im playing TSW right now and enjoying it sofar. Very little time for games means im still on part 2 of the starting island. It does have some pretty atmospheric quests, which may not be scary perse but just hit the right buttons, when youre into that sort of thing..(for example the black house quest plus lore i thought was pretty good). The investigation missions are novel, sometimes frustrating (room 13...) but sofar fun to do. A shame it is doing so unbelievably miserable (50.000 units sold??!?) as it would probably mean the plug is pulled before i get to complete my Puritan deck..
After posting i remembered Tabula Rasa, also an mmo with neat novel features (for example the invasions, maybe a precusor to WAR´s public quests?) which i enjoyed very much, but also a game which perhaps too much targeted a niche and went belly up. MMO plus niche maybe not the best of combos..
I like the idea of it being classless and level-less, so while I wasn't thrilled about the setting/genre (I'm not big into horror) and I didn't even have a machine that could play it, I pre-ordered it and have had a sub since the day it launched. . . and I just logged in and played it for the 1st time last night, since I was able to buy a new pc on Tuesday finally.

So far I'm enjoying it. I can see where people'd be a bit annoyed that it does seem to mostly be "all zombies, all the time" in the starter area, but I'm finding the quests to be engaging and not all that much of the "Kill 10 Rats" variety (though yeah, there are some).

I think the gameplay's pretty good, so the setting hasn't put me off. It may at some point, or it may not. Time will tell. Until I get some more SP and AP to really get a good build going, I won't really know if I like the overall feel either. 1 play session doesn't not a full impression make, after all.
I'm having a lot of fun in The Secret World and I think it's a great game in many ways. One way it is not great, however, is in the way it has indeed ended up being a "Lovecraftian Horror MMO". This was not what it was described as and not what I thought it would be, even after playing several beta weekends.

It purports to be a Conspiracy Theory MMO with the tagline "Everything is Real". There aren't many conspiracy theories that focus on horror at all, let alone Lovecraft's version. I understood that the New England setting had this theme, but I certainly didn't expect horror to be the overriding them in all the zones in the game, which it undoubtedly is.

I very much hope Funcom manage to monetize The Secret World sufficiently to keep it running (the servers are certainly busy enough still) because I would like to come back to it in a while, after a run at GW2. To do more than visit occasionally, though, I'd probably need to see some content and zones based around non-horror conspiracies.
I am also loving the heck out of TSW. I was actually skeptical and skipped all the pre-release hype and beta tests etc, unlike GW2. Now I'm at the point where I'm not even sure I will bother to log in to GW2's launch if I've still got stuff to do in TSW.

End-game? I'm curious about this, in TSW. Once I've completed all the missions, and upgraded all my gear as far as you can without raiding/nightmare-mode dungeons, I'm not sure if I'll continue to play. The PVP is pretty much the same as every other diku-based MMO out there, and the 'persistent battleground' warzone is basically just a case of 'join a rolling zerg and steamroll the capture points in a circle, with the enemy zerg a few steps behind you'. They reckon they're aware of it and trying to find a way to incentivizing defence.

There's also raids incoming, but I am SO loathe to touch that, and the implementation could spell the end of my time playing. There's nothing I hate more in an MMO than raids being the end-game and the final option for character advancement.

But as far as value for money goes? The box has been paid for and is totally worth the time I've got out of it and foresee getting out of it. I do not believe there is any MMO which can claim any more from me than that, these days.
Their projections were crazy high. I never thought TSW would keep more than 100k-150k subscribers at most, and I always thought it would go Free2Play within a year or two.

I will be curious about their Free2Play launch, though. There seem to be a LOT of people (myself included) who are interested in trying it out for free. If they have fixed the major issues by then (and adjusted to more realistic expectations), it could wind up being quite successful.
The price point is what kept me from buying it after the beta. 50€ with little options for getting it for less + one of the most expensive subscriptions of all mmos + real money shop? When a WoW subscription costs me 8€ a month? Even ToR was cheaper.
Instead of a scary MMO, I wonder if someone could make a humor-based MMO.
there are allready free tryouts with a 3 day trial and a bonus of another 2 days if you manage to finish 30 Quests in the 3 free days you have.

I like the game. the Quests are different and the cutscenes and voiceacting is better than Star Wars the old Republic imho.
I am not sure how long i will subscribe, but it might be one of those "on and off" games for me.
Some really meaty financial analysis of Funcom's unrealized expectations as well as the current state of the subscription model for MMO's:

Well worth the read even if you're not really interested in TSW.
I rather liked the game and setting, but I'm not good with these kinds off quest types where you have to look evrywere for clues so it became to much off a daunting task. Its a damn shame that the game didnt get more sales as it deserves. I think Funcom has gotten a stigma about it after Conan sorta didnt live up to peoples expectations. Its one off the most polished games on launch ever so, ya sorta makes me sad that it didnt work out.
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