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Burn of the Day

Bhagpuss playing the “new” Secret World: Legends:

So, perhaps nothing much has changed after all. The big revamp has altered enough to annoy almost everyone who loved the game, but there were never enough of those to keep the lights on anyway. At the same time it may not have done nearly enough to satisfy all those who wanted to like The secret World but couldn’t, or who never even pretended to want to like it in the first place.

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Horizontal Verticals

I am beginning to question the conventional wisdom that horizontal progression in MMOs is less vertical than, well, vertical progression. Or that horizontal progression is particularly good for anything.

In terms of MMO game design, horizontal progression means two things to me. First, it means that you either quickly or immediately gain all the necessary abilities to succeed at all levels of in-game combat. If you have to have ability X to reasonably kill a raid boss, and that ability costs Y currency over the course of Z hours to purchase, then I consider the game to have vertical progression up until you unlock X. Same with PvP skills.

The second, related aspect to horizontal progression is that it allows you to experience a feeling of progression without necessarily experiencing power gain. This ostensibly takes the pressure off of skill choice by creating a lot of options/experimentation.

In my playing of The Secret World however, neither seems to actually be the case.

As you may know, TSW features an Ability Wheel with nine weapons that unlock a staggering amount of individual abilities and passives that you can mix and match to your heart’s content. The only problem is that if you screw up your selection, either by picking weak weapons with no synergy or simply realizing that a given play-style is not for you… well, you’re screwed. Ability Points come fast and loose in the beginning before tapering off at 40k XP apiece; Skill Points are gained at the rate of 1 per 3 Ability Points. While it is completely possible to unlock every Ability/Skill in the game eventually, the reality is that by the mid-game you are excessively punished for changing your mind.

See, your hit rating and such for attacks is based largely on your Skill Points in that weapon, while enemies are balanced in a zone upon given SP assumptions. SP requirements go up linearly (level 1 costs 1, level 2 costs 2, etc), so it is relatively easy to get the first few tiers in whatever. But about the time you start getting in the SP5 and SP6 range, a single rank up to match the enemies you’re facing costs as much as getting a new weapon to SP1-4.

This is my scenario: I’m tired of Shotguns. My whole thought process up to this point had been to unlock a certain Shotgun passive in the outer ring, and then enjoy all the synergies. As it turns out, an even better passive is in the outer ring of Chaos. But I kinda want to try Assault Rifle or Elemental. Except I can’t realistically do any of that because I already have SP6 in Swords and SP5 in Shotguns while my talismans have been languishing at SP4. So while I can certainly spend my Ability Points to unlock things I can’t even use on the way to Passives that I can, I can’t actually turn around and try those very skills I’ve unlocked because most of my attacks will glance/be dodged/blocked/etc.

So what have I been doing? Farming quests. Specifically, logging on and playing for 30 minutes and completing the first few quests in the starter zones (all quests are repeatable after a cooldown) that offer the quickest, easiest XP per effort. Sure, I would likely level faster just progressing normally. Then again, I would be progressing against tough mobs with a gimped setup that I begun to despise ten hours ago.

This is not solely a Secret World problem, although it is less pronounced in, say, Guild Wars 2. It can still be a tough pill to swallow though, when you dump a lot of points into an ability that looked fun on paper but ended up being useless in practice. Basically, all the negatives of vertical progression without the presumed benefit of being able to respec. And consider the best case scenario in which you picked 100% of the correct abilities the first time around: what then? The rest of your “progression” is really the equivalent of unlocking achievements.

Unfair Impressions: TSW, Days 3-4+

Day 3

As mentioned previously, my spirits were up quite a bit from the doldrums of the first two days in The Secret World. Knowing that it was expected that one unlock all the “inner wheel” abilities on the Ability Wheel lowered the existential pressure of permanent choices. And as soon as I confirmed with a commenter that, yes, TSW did have an in-game Search feature for abilities, the mental wheels started turning quite pleasurably. I finished a series of entirely pleasant and non-frustrating quests, got 7 more AP, and then starting picking things that maximized my synergy.

Quests like this were refreshingly novel as well.

“Quests” like this were refreshingly novel.

My present loadout is something like follows:

  • Delicate Strike – single-target blade builder (+10% Penetration chance)
  • Blade Torrent – AoE blade builder (+Affliction DoT)
  • Balanced Blade – AoE blade finisher
  • The Business – single-target pistol builder (+Weakened Healing)
  • Shootout – channel pistol finisher
  • Above the Law – Targeted AoE cooldown damage field

The other relevant passives meanwhile are:

  • Lick Your Wounds – Stacking HoT when you deal damage
  • Immortal Spirit – HoT when you Penetrate
  • Gnosis – Hitting Weakened targets = 33% chance for more damage
  • Dark Potency – Hitting Afflicted targets = Stacking +Penetration buff

You don’t really have to know anything about TSW to sort of see what’s going on there. Blade Torrent hits everything and then gives them an Affliction DoT, which triggers a +Penetration buff for me, which increases my chance to trigger a self-HoT. Meanwhile, I get a baseline HoT for just hitting things. The Business deals damage, puts up a Weakened debuff, which makes further hits deal extra damage 33% of the time.

Actually, the synergy isn’t really all that there. The two weapons themselves don’t really have much synergy with one another. There doesn’t seem to much of a point to not simply spam Blade Torrent, even when I have enough combo points to use my AoE finisher. Using the single-target pistol attack to Weaken and deal bonus damage sounds cool, but I’m mostly facing small groups of weak enemies right now. Even I were facing a single target, the Aff –> +Pen +HoT deal sounds a whole lot better, especially since the Weaken ability I have is essentially the Mortal Strike debuff.

But like I said, the wheels are turning. “Hmm… well, the Shotgun features a baseline ability to hit things in a cone, and you can make that give everyone a Weakened debuff that results in 30% less damage done. That’s certainly better than a single-target attack that gives -Healing on mobs.” Then you run across a higher-tier Shotgun passive called 12 Gouge that causes enemies you Penetrate to become Weakened (-30% damage) that starts making your mind melt in interesting ways.

  1. Oh, so if I spam Blade Torrent, everything around me gets an Affliction DoT, I get a +Penetration buff, then if I Penetrate anything from spamming the attack they get Weakened (-30% damage), which then can trigger the 33% chance for them to take extra damage.
  2. And I get two different HoTs.
  3. What does a 12 Gouge katana even mean?

No doubt there are better, more efficient combos in the game that exploit synergies I don’t even know are possible; I have been limiting my scope to mostly inner-circle abilities, which the exception of 12 Gouge. But, again, this whole exercise has significantly increased my respect for the game… at least in this area.

I mean, this part is, as the kids say, “totes fun.” However, actual combat so far amounts to me spamming one attack over and over. Which is not all that different than spamming Wrath a thousand times in WoW, of course; I’m not even out of the equivalent of Goldshire yet. Nevertheless, I remain wary as to how engaging the combat is really going to be once I “finish” the ability-planning part. And I wonder how much of the fighting game design was sacrificed at the altar of ability synergy complexity.

WoW combat is fun, to me, even when I’m killing entirely trivial mobs. It’s visceral in a way I can’t entire describe. TSW combat is not… also in a way I can’t entirely describe.

Day 4

It is funny and sad, all at once, how much difference a little gear makes in an MMO.

After the fun of planning build synergies the other day, I was facing the reality of what amounted to a number of long slogs against single enemies with 30+ seconds TTK (time to kill). Worse, I was getting little-to-no sense of when/how you would ever use the Dodge button or circle-strafing in TSW. Sure, avoid the bad stuff/targeting reticule on the ground. But beyond that? All the enemies reminded me of the unquestionably lame zombies of Orr in GW2, with their 300% movement speed and amazing clipping powers.

Know what's fun? Not fighting these mobs.

Know what’s fun? Not fighting these mobs.

I died a few times, as you can imagine, against single mobs. Specifically, I died to enemies who never seemed to target the ground with anything – they simply beat my face in, old-school. The worst part of new games is when you fail for reasons you don’t quite understand, or are unable to prevent. I knew I was probably dead within the first 5 seconds of the combat encounter, but it took another 15 before I officially gave up the ghost. I could have probably ran away, but I wanted to know specifically why I was dying, and to get a sense of what I could do to prevent/slow down the process. The auto-HoTs weren’t enough, for sure. But it seemed like only the Assault Rifle and Blood Magic “weapons” allowed for self-healing spamming. Which meant I was going to end up with seven of nine (har har) weapon skills halfway filled, likely putting me signifigantly behind the power curve that would have existed had I stuck with the same two weapons.

Then I got gear. Partly from the “subscriber rewards” I received for having purchased the game for $15 via Steam, and the rest from the AH. Mobs are just falling over now. The stronger ones still take a while, and I still derive no visceral thrill from killing them, but my HoTs essentially keep me above 80% HP at all times.

You'd be surprised how big a difference it makes. Or maybe you wouldn't.

You’d be surprised how big a difference it makes. Or maybe you wouldn’t.

Maybe there will be fun combat later on, but it’s getting increasingly difficult IMO to use that as a proper excuse. With a few weapon exceptions, GW2 was fun right out of the gate, for example. And it all seems extra silly when hypothetical games like SavageSun somehow manage to feel fun to play even when you only have two abilities.

In any case, this will likely be my last Unfair Impressions for TSW. I don’t plan to stop playing necessarily, but I think these few articles have adequately served their purpose – namely, presenting my impressions of a game that I had no particular desire to play in the first place. While the chances that I play TSW in the long-term is less than zero, my opinion of it is certainly better than what it was when I started it. If I play it more, it will be in the context to experience the narrative and quests.

Which sounds great until you realize I said the same thing about SWTOR.

Unfair Impressions: TSW, Day 2

[Preface: I wrote the below before yesterday’s post went up, so I hadn’t yet incorporated any of the feedback given. My current mood is less bleak than the below suggests.]

I am seriously considering the fact that The Secret World may not be for me.

After some rather meticulous research, my plan for weapons is going to be Blades/Assault Rifle with Pistols thrown in – I have been assured that this covers all the relevant bases. After that was nailed down, I started towards Kingsmouth and chopping down zombies, Kill Bill-style.

My brow furrowed almost immediately. One of the first side-quests you get in this area is how to construct and deconstruct weapons. In a Minecraft-esque grid. Er… what? Why is this a thing? Is there a particular reason to go with this crafting system beyond intentional obfuscation? A little while later, I was shown how to construct glyphs in a similar fashion, which are sort of like gems you slot into weapons, except you can’t actually just slot them in. In fact, I had to watch a Youtube video of this quest because following the given instructions wasn’t helping. “Oh. You gave me TWO glyph toolboxes, and I’m not supposed to use the one called glyph toolbox, but the sort of quest item version.”

Oh, silly me. Of COURSE that makes sense!

Oh, silly me. Of COURSE that makes sense!

After a shake of the head, I accept the quest from the fortune-teller nearby and am asked to find some ravens. I find one outside, watch it fly away, and am then told to follow it. I do so… only to see it clip out of existence in mid-air. Er… okay. Oh, by the way, you have 60 seconds to figure this out. After aggroing some zombies, I restart this portion and try again. Nope, that raven definitely disappears in mid-air. I walk the entire length of the road in the direction the raven was traveling in, not even sure what the hell the quest designer was expecting me to do.

Spoiler alert: they wanted me to ignore the flying raven and look for another bird on the ground. Brilliant. I do this a few times, fight some spawned enemies, grab two side-quests I run past on the way, redo a section of the raven quest because, you know, it’s timed but they thought it was cute to leave side-quests along the path just to fuck with people, complete the quest finally and then loot my text message of an item I can’t even equip because I’ve already spent my Skill Points.

Are we having fun yet?

Spoiler alert: No.

My mood was not improved by the next quest, which involved checking out the Illuminati runes inscribed on the church that causes zombies who tread inside to be instantly killed. “Find the first set of runes.” Okay, sure, I saw them near the door. “Find the second set of runes.” Okay then. I’ll give you two guesses as to what I ended up doing for the next five minutes.

Oh FFS.

Oh FFS.

If you guessed “searching the inside of the church, then spam clicking everywhere like I was trying to find that secret wooden pixel in Planescape: Torment, before furiously Googling the answer to a goddamn ‘click item’ quest,” then you are correct.

Now, I am more than willing to take some, if not most, blame for this quest-fail. The first set of runes were outside the front doors, the zombies were being prevented from coming inside, so it doesn’t actually make all that much sense for the other sets of runes to be inside. Logically – at least #GameLogic and #AnimeLogic-wise – protective runes go on the outside of the thing they’re protecting. But more than anything, my experiences on Day 2 of playing The Secret World is confirming my post earlier this month about the tenuous balancing act of difficulty vs hand-holding. This MMO does not hold your hand, gives you the cold shoulder, and by all rights actively dislikes you.

And… that’s good, I guess. It’s definitely an under-served niche. Personally, I don’t think the flavors of hotkey, active-dodging, respawning mobs really meshes with the more glacial, adventure-game schtick, but what do I know? Well, other than the small spark of my interest is being smothered by alt-tabbing to the equivalent of Thottbot for every other quest. I could tough it out, perhaps rationing my attention span a bit more judiciously. The setting is certainly interesting, at least, and I’ve heard good things about the horror elements later on.

Or I could, hypothetically, start playing a fully NDA’d, unreleased MMO in a manner more deserving of the beta key I received.

Unfair Impressions: The Secret World

I started playing The Secret World yesterday.

I'm nothing if not predictable.

I’m nothing if not predictable.

I was going to start that sentence off with “On a whim,” but it occurs to me that there isn’t much of anything whimsical about starting an MMO. You have the 39.2 gb client download, the registration, and usually getting your billing information straightened out. TSW doesn’t have a subscription anymore, but even though I had downloaded it previously, I still had about 2 gigs worth of patches to download before I hit the character select screen.

In any case, I ran into my first issue on the character naming screen. TSW asks you to enter a first name, a last name, and then a nickname, the latter of which is supposedly your in-game name. But it mentions that people inspecting you can see the others. It occurred to me that this is perhaps the worst naming mechanic I’ve ever seen. Allowing last names not only allows for increased customization, but on a more practical level, it alleviates the problem with one’s name being taken by someone else. Not so with FunCom’s design team; I was not able to move forward with character creation because someone already took “Azuriel” as a nickname. I tried a number of variations, referenced my List of Cool Nouns, then decided that Azuriel Inanage’s nickname was “GQX.”

But... isn't the whole point... wha...?

But… isn’t the whole point… wha…?

The graphics are whatever. I turned everything up to Ultra just to see if it improved things, but decided an extra 15 fps was worth more than whatever it is that Tessellation does or what FXAA means.

I very nearly died in the tutorial area – at least, I assume it’s possible to die there – before I realized that TSW is in the post-WoW active combat genre, with active dodging and whatnot. I’m fine with this style of gameplay, although it seems more ridiculous than usual when people are doing it in a more “realistic” setting. Or maybe it is an art style issue; I had no problem with the way things were handled in GW2.

I stopped the game session in the training room where you can try out the various weapons and decide which one is for you. My understanding of TSW is that you can pretty much choose any abilities you want and can theoretically learn everything, but you would be severely disadvantaged in not specializing early on. I’d be fine with such a system, if the Ability Wheel was not the worst implementation of a skill tree that I had ever seen.

Conceptually, the Ability Wheel is fine. But has anyone ever tried to actually look through it as a new player with an eye for synergies? “Okay, this attack deals extra damage when the target is Afflicted. Alright, what causes Afflicted? Let me just browse every possible weapon in the game, including clicking on these nameless little cubes on the outside in no particular order…”

When secret society immersion goes too far...

When secret society immersion goes too far…

FunCom added “decks” to the game a while ago, which are basically preconstructed talent builds that you can follow along. This certainly would speed up the process, but I am not of the mind to commit to any one thing without knowing all the moving parts, especially if there isn’t a way to respec (or maybe there is?). How am I supposed to know what I’ll find fun a dozen hours from now, let along a hundred? Complex and deep character build options are fine, but I’m beginning to see the visceral appeal of the Diablo 3/WoW system of making one decision at a time.

In any case, my next session will begin with a combing of the internet for build explanations, or perhaps more simply a diagram of the synergies between the nine weapons. It’s cool that the fifth skill in the X tree can make the Y weapon a viable option, but it’s less cool missing out on that interaction because you can’t really see it due to the UI. I want something that will show me every instance of the word “Hinder” and the like, so I can decide that yes, pistols and claw weapons (or whatever) are a combination that is acceptable to me.

The Secret World’s Other Shoe, and Jay Wilson’s Apology for D3

A little over a week ago, I pointed out that Funcom’s The Secret World was not selling all that well; Funcom’s own public press release highlighted a (presumably optimistic) scenario in which they sell half a million boxes and have ~120k subscribers after a year.

As reported by Kotaku, that other shoe has dropped: 50% of Funcom’s staff has been laid off.

Some of these initiatives are part of normal procedure following the launch of a major project, such as adjustments to the customer service staffing based on the number of customers in the game as well as adjustments to the production team as the project goes into a post-launch phase following years of intense development. Many of those affected on the customer service team are on temporary contracts which is common for a live service such as ‘The Secret World’ where customer service demand shifts based on the game’s population levels.

Even the “good news” part of that – the developers/designers were less affected than “temp” customer service reps – comes across as bad news to my ears. After all, if the MMO was doing better, then one would presumably want to retain a robust CustServ department.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I wonder whether or not we should start using layoffs as a metric of MMO success. Obviously subscription numbers have been used as the de facto measurement for years, and I imagine it correlates with layoffs pretty strongly already, but I think most of us recognize the dissonance between claiming “Game X failed” while it still remains profitable. I mean, for god’s sake, Warhammer Online is still kicking it with a subscription¹. EA is not keeping that thing alive out of the goodness of its heart. In fact, arguably, keeping Warhammer alive is unnecessarily cruel.

Or… perhaps we would all be better off not bothering with arbitrary success or failure designations entirely.

…nah, this is the internet. There can only be one!

Speaking of immortals losing their heads…

You will be forgiven if you have not been following the “Example #38417 of How Social Media Will Ruin Your Day” Diablo 3 news story, staring Jay “And Double It” Wilson.

The short version is that one of the developers of the original Diablo (David Brevik) made some comments about Diablo 3 in an interview, and essentially said he would have made different decisions. More or less. The current developers of Diablo 3 did not like that too much, and Jay Wilson thought it was a good idea to respond on Facebook by saying, and I quote, “Fuck that loser.” You can read the Kotaku write-up if you like, as it includes snippets of the interview in question and a screencap of the Facebook post itself.

Looking at the other comments, I’d say Eric Bachour’s “You’d think that guy wasn’t responsible for Hellgate: London. Lol.” was the more epic burn.

In any case, Jay “Fuck that loser and Double It” Wilson has an official pseudo-apology up on the Diablo 3 boards. I do not expect you to actually click on that link, because most of it is PR bullshit (redundantly redundant much?). Well… alright, if you skip the first four paragraphs, things get more interesting. Or you can simply read this handy list of bullet-point quotes:

  • “We believe it’s a great game. But Diablo III has flaws. It is not perfect. Sales mean nothing if the game doesn’t live on in all of our hearts, and standing by our games is what Blizzard does.”
  • “If you don’t have that great feeling of a good drop being right around the corner — and the burst of excitement when it finally arrives — then we haven’t done our jobs right.”
  • “Out of our concern to make sure that Diablo III would have longevity, we were overly cautious about how we handled item drops and affixes. If 1.0.4 hasn’t fixed that, you can be sure we’ll continue to address it.”
  • “Part of the problem, however, is not just item drops, but the variety of things to do within the game. “
  • “As it stands, Diablo III simply does not provide the tools to allow players to scale the game challenge to something appropriate for them.”
  • “Later in the development of Diablo II, the ‘players 8’ command — which let people set monster difficulty — was added to address this issue, and we’re considering something similar for the next major Diablo III patch to allow players to make up their own minds about how hard or how easy is right for them.”
  • “The Auction House can short circuit the natural pace of item drops, making the game feel less rewarding for some players. This is a problem we recognize. At this point we’re not sure of the exact way to fix it, but we’re discussing it constantly, and we believe it’s a problem we can overcome.”

I have a spoiler alert for you Jay: that last bullet point ain’t going to happen. Not only is that cat out of the bag, it has been skinned in more than one way across all nine of its lives.

I played a few hours of D3 since the patch, and I have noticed three things:

  1. “Normal monster health increased by 10%” = +5 terribly boring seconds per mob.
  2. I can tank Act 3 Inferno elites in the same gear/skills I was 2-shot in pre-patch.
  3. Gold prices have gone from $2.50/million down to $1.06/million.

That last one is a real shame, as I was hoping to cash out my ~5 million gold and (combined with the few bucks from earlier sales) maybe purchase a month of WoW ahead of MoP. Then again, that would be kind of silly to do given the Scroll of Resurrection’s free server transfer bonus, and GW2’s imminent release notwithstanding. Oh well.

Kind of wonder if that dude who paid $200 for my friend’s 2H sword is still playing the game. I do not know which possibility would be more sad for him/her.

¹ Warhammer says it is F2P on the website, but as far as I can tell it operates more as an unlimited duration free trial than true F2P. For example, you cannot go to the capital cities, cannot engage in any economic transaction with another player, and are limited to “Tier 1 scenarios,” whatever the hell that means (it’s been years since the one month I played).

Comparison Shopping

During my daily Dealzon (PC) browsing ritual, I came across this rather unfortunate side-by-side apples vs oranges comparison:

1 apple vs 36 oranges, most likely.

I already own GW2 and have no compunction about skipping TSW, both MMOs are going after very different sorts of players, etc etc, yes I know. But… just look at that picture for a second.

Dunno about you, but it gave me pause to consider the relative value of money and how in the world the average person chooses which product to buy when they see two things on a (virtual) shelf. Has $2.12 ever bought a bigger difference?

Just idle thoughts. Carry on.

The ACTUAL Secret World Review Score

Tobold picked up the story about how Funcom stocks tanked after The Secret World failed to hit arbitrary Metacritic scores. While the post is centered on the legitimacy of review scores to begin with and/or the aggregation thereof, the more salient point was acknowledge but left unexamined.

Let us not bury the actual lede here (emphasis added):

Case in point: The Secret World. It got a “low” metacritic score of 72, causing Funcom’s shares to tank, and the company to announce layoffs. But the metacritic score was just an average of some people absolutely loving the game, and others not being impressed with the unusual setting, progression system, or pure technical performance. The relevant number for a subscription MMORPG is obviously the number of subscribers and the time it manages to hold onto them, not the review score.

So… what are The Secret World subscription numbers? My guess: not good.

Companies are always pretty eager to belt off “250k/500k/1 million subs!” press releases, and as of the time of writing, Funcom has… well, not said much of anything. The launch day press release awkwardly mentions:

“[…] as of now several of the game’s dimensions – which can hold tens of thousands of gamers playing at the same time – have started filling up due to the ever-increasing number of players coming into the game.”

I cannot help but note that “several tens of thousands” is not, say, 100,000. I am not even sure if I can fault Funcom for their hesitant confusion here, as it mentions that over 1.5 million people signed up for the TSW beta. I am no MMO economist, but I imagine a less-than 7% sale rate from people willing to sign up for a beta for your game is a mite unusual.

Then again, isn’t that near the approximate rate of people who buy stuff in F2P games?

But let us dig deeper. According to VGChartz.com, TSW has sold… 0.05m copies. Um, wow. I only recently started using VGChartz though, so maybe they are not all that reliable. How often is it actually updated, anyway?

Oh. That often, eh?

I dunno, those look legitimate to me. “Nearly 50,000 players worldwide!” is not exactly the sort of MMO (or any game, for that matter) press release that would garner positive attention.

[Edit] As pointed out in the comments, VGChartz almost assuredly only counts physical box sales. The page for Diablo 3, for instance, indicates only 2.6 million sales whereas Blizzard has said 10 million. While good to know for future reference, it is not entirely germane to the point at hand, e.g. Funcom hasn’t belted off a 250k or even 100k subscriber press release. [/Edit]

But at this point, I am almost more interested in what Funcom themselves expected. You can read the press release everyone is quoting for the wrong reasons (e.g. “Metacritic is the devil”) here. Or, you know, let me do all the fun stuff for you (emphasis added):

Funcom has on several occasions presented two financial scenarios for the first 12 months following launch of the game; please refer to page 17 in the 1Q 2012 presentation *). Funcom does not consider it likely that either of them will be met.

To improve sales going forward, Funcom is currently enhancing distribution by launching the game on the Steam platform as well as focusing on key areas for improvement of the game and on-going activities on content updates, sales initiatives and communication. The effect of all these initiatives together with other factors impacting sales are difficult to predict, but based on the available early data, one scenario is that sales for the first 12 months following launch will be less than half of what was presented in the “Conan-like” scenario. It should be noted that the sales amount in the “Conan-like” scenario is significantly higher than for the game “Age of Conan”, due to the assumption of better retention implemented in the scenario. Also it should be noted that the company has significantly lower operational cost for The Secret World than what was the case for Age of Conan. As less initial sales than expected is considered an indicator of impairment, the company is currently evaluating the need for recognizing an impairment loss for the game in the profit and loss statement.

Oh how very meta of them! In order to solve this riddle, I have to navigate to a 3rd party website, download a PDF, and then open their 1Q 2012 presentation to page 17.

And the answer is…

01000010 01100101 01110100 01110111 01100101 01100101 01101110 00100000 00110010 00111000 00110000 01101011 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 00110100 00111001 00110000 01101011

*cough* Sorry.

I’m assuming posting this screenshot is not illegal.

In other words, Funcom anticipated The Secret World getting between 280k and 490k subscribers. That means the “one scenario” mentioned in the press release refers to 140k subscribers… after 12 months. Technically they are referring to sales, but at this point moving even 525,000 boxes seems a tad aggressive; it is “only” a ten-fold increase in sales since launch.

None of this is to suggest that The Secret World is a bad game – lord knows my blogroll is filled with positive posts from across the spectrum. Personally, I never had much interest in the game primarily because the most lauded feature, Investigative quests, represents what I consider to be bad game design elsewhere: the necessity to look up outside information. Morse Code headlights? Fuck that, I’m an American. If your quest items don’t have a giant, deep-fried corndog floating over them, I’ll Alt-Tab my way into a whole different game entirely. Adventure games like Myst have their place (uninstalled in my Steam library), but I am typically more interested in performance-based games than puzzle ones. The former tend to last longer and feature more granularity in its progression.

But, hey, 50,000 people can’t be wrong.

P.S. One of the more surprising things I stumbled across in the Q1 Report was the fact that Age of Conan is apparently still profitable and will continue to be into the foreseeable future. At least, that is what I assume “cash flow positive” translates into. The bad news is that Funcom themselves appear to be hemorrhaging money, even before taking into account TSW lead-up to release.

Spin Doctors: The Secret World Edition

Do you know what I like more than an MMO being treated as a single-player game in nearly 100% of its (blogged) reporting? An MMO with an official State of the Game developer post seven (7) days after launch.

I know that developers of The Secret World are not the first to write the following, but I was especially amused this time around (emphasis added):

We’re going to be releasing fresh and tasty new content FREE to our subscribers on a regular, monthly basis. The first update is due on Tuesday, July 31st, and we will be releasing more details about that particular update later this week — including a couple of fun surprises. (You’re going to love it.)

[…]

* Mission packs on a monthly basis! The first few packs will contain new investigations for every adventure zone in the game — but we also have more action and sabotage missions planned for the near future. These missions will feature fully voiced cut-scenes and new media pop-ups, and will match the quality of the missions currently in the game. Oh, and like everything else in our monthly updates, these packs are FREE for our subscribers!

Allow me to summarize my feelings with the following:

MMO Logic.

I have, of course, been cheerleading the concept of single-player MMOs for quite some time now. But I almost wonder if The Secret World has gone too far, and otherwise fallen into the Uncanny Valley abyss between the two (*ahem*) worlds.

Instead of being interested in an MMO that is going the incredibly novel route of monthly updates, my very first thought was “$15 DLC packs each month.” In the abstract, all subscription MMOs function in this manner, right? And companies like Blizzard certainly are not doing anyone any favors by letting 6+ months lapse between content updates.

But… it’s not just me, is it?

I am not playing the game, but I would rather FunCom put out twice the content every two months even if they end up sitting on the completed work. It feels too fast. And weird, like an MMO with a $13.84/month subscription. Or a doctor who keeps insisting on showing me his medical license. It bespeaks a curious lack of faith in the product itself.

P.S. I smirk every time I see the following patch note in any MMO:

* And speaking of dungeons, we’re also working on a dungeon finder tool, allowing players to more easily put together a team to handle the instanced content

Does that make me a bad person?