I Buy Bad* Games

Julian wrote yesterday about The Secret World’s switch to a buy-to-play model with episodic content not being the only issue for The Secret World. At the outset, I have not played The Secret World, and it was for one reason. I did not try it out because it had a subscription fee. I had followed The Secret World prior to the announcement, and I felt that it would have been a great game to follow an episodic buy-to-play model. Yet FunCom decided that a forced episodic model relying on subscriptions to advance the content would be the better way to go.

Now, the reason I did not buy The Secret World is gone. Will I buy it now? It is likely, but I must say that the momentum of launch is also gone. Syp and Bhagpuss seem to enjoy it, and their MMO playstyles are very similar to my own. I think it will go on my Steam Wishlist to be considered next time I want to buy a game. Continue reading I Buy Bad* Games

[TSW] Barking at the wrong tree

As you might have heard, The Secret World today announced its move to a Buy-2-Play model, essentially identical to Guild Wars 2. Or, if you wanna get ornate, just like it used to be back in the day when we owned the games we bought. Subscriptions are gone with the wind. You buy the client and you get (le gasp!) unlimited access to the whole game.

What surprises about the move is not that it came to pass. Many people would have rightfully argued it was coming. The surprise is in how it comes just less than six months after launch. I hope lifetimers are having a wonderful day. Personally I find myself having zero beefs with Funcom for doing this. If the game needs a shot in the arm, then it needs a shot in the arm and that’s basically the end of it. You gotta do what you gotta do.

I am, however, curiously reading some rumblings here and there about how this is exactly what the game needed and now… ha ha! -Now- you will all see how you were all wrong all this time, and everyone will get to see just how great the game is. Today, buy to play. Tomorrow, the world a critical mass of players and so on.

I say hang on a second. I say hold your stinking horses.

Excuse me if I differ, but I seem to be getting the feeling of this vague, generalized idea out there that TSW tanked because it had a sub attached and that was basically the only thing that was holding it back and now that the subs are gone it’s Return of the King time, Aragorn returning to Gondor with a brace of fine Haradrim honeys on each arm and it’s gonna be a rave at the White Tree.

I’m not so optimistic simply because the fundamentals of the game haven’t really changed. TSW is still the beast it is (for good and bad) and having or not having a sub does not change that. I’m sure there will be an uptick in sales. There has to be. And that’s only good news. But I doubt the retention rates, and by extension the amount of active players, would change much if you were to sample pre and post B2P. I think the fact that the game just didn’t click for a lot of people was a much stronger factor in the equation than the sub ever was. No matter how much you charge people at the door, or how expensive your drinks are, if people don’t really like the music all you’ll ever end up with are the people who really don’t care about the music. Which might be good for business, but that’s just about all that such a thing is good for.

TL;DR: The sub was not the only thing that drove people off TSW. And in a sort of ying-yang way, the lack of sub might bring some back, but it won’t be the only thing that will make them stay. And if you don’t believe me ask around Bellevue.

Exception handling

To friends, acquaintances and IM stragglers: I take exception (a lot of exception, actually) to being told that if I don’t like The Secret World is because I “don’t get it” or just want “more of the same”.

Leaving personal tastes aside, it’s perfectly possible that the game just isn’t that good. I mean, you have to be open to that possibility. That much maligned Metacritic score in the 70s? To be honest, if I was still a reviewer and someone handed me TSW, since I would inevitably have to give it a final score, it wouldn’t be too far from that. I am not commenting on the issue of Metacritic financially affecting the game (or the company). That’s grain from another sack and I personally find it ridiculous and contemptible, yet a sign of our times. I’m just talking brass tacks. That’s what I would give it if I had to distill my appreciation into a number.

I do get it. It’s not a game that’s hard to get, no matter how much and how hard forum critters throw around game complications as a badge of pride. The much touted parts of the game which apparently require a superior intellect are… what… 2% of it? The rest is straight forward. You don’t need a Master’s Degree in Gameology to interpret the skill wheel, you just need to read. It’s up to you whether you embrace those who for whatever reason are struggling with it, or drive them away in a storm of elitism. Judging by recent performance, we can guess which one was the popular option. Achievement unlocked, I suppose. Kudos.

And “wanting more of the same”? No. I don’t want more of the same. And I applaud Funcom for designing something which at least attempts to stray off the beaten path, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But here’s the thing, and what seems to be ancient sumerian for some people: It’s not enough to just try something new, it also has to be good and engaging. If it’s not, then it’s a beautiful effort to try and shoot a different target that unfortunately missed the mark. I applaud the effort, but I’m not gonna lie and say it hit the target when I can see it didn’t (for me). I’m too old to be that political with these things. How you interpret this that I just wrote as “wanting more of the same” completely eludes me. Your reality distortion field clearly shows.

“The game isn’t that good, but support it anyway”? I’ll do that if a game costs $50, I only have $30 and they still let me buy it. I’ll meet them half way. I wanna be supported for trying too.

Missing Puzzle Piece

I increasingly find myself Googling the solutions to quests and puzzles on the assumption that they are broken. I sometimes find that I have been outwitted, but more often something is wrong with the game. That could be a technical error or a design flaw.

The Secret World has had some trouble with broken quests, and it is always upsetting to solve a puzzle and later find out the computer was not accepting the correct answer. You usually find that out after trying 20 “well maybe” guesses after the right one. I was just playing QUBE, which is enjoyable but has a couple of points requiring very precise jumps, which can be difficult when you apparently have no feet; you can look down and see yourself levitating somewhere off the platform you are standing on. Google, YouTube… okay, yep, I was doing exactly the right thing just 3 pixels off. Dodgy game physics are a related issue. Google, YouTube… okay, yep, just keep repeating that sequence of moves until the box slides instead of teleporting away.

On the design side, frequent readers know some of my pet peeves. The broken logic of adventure games is classic, as is that article, if you haven’t read it yet. Other games substitute “guess or brute force all options” for logic. Another old favorite is when you missed something because it was two pixels wide. Oh, I need a coin to proceed, and it was the slightly brown line in the sidewalk crack from seven screens ago? You know, I don’t feel bad for not taking the time to find that one. I’ve probably spent enough time trying to figure out what I was supposed to be finding.

I recall the early days of LotRO, which launched with many early quests involving things to click on the ground: a sack of bandit loot to reclaim, a mushroom to pick, a body to bury. With the newbie zones heavily populated, you could run to exactly the right spot and not find the quest objective because it was still respawning. Players cleared entire camps of dwarves without realizing that the clicky was by the first campfire, and how amazing that bodies could disappear and resurface! Modern tech has mostly solved this problem: the clicky disappears for you when you click it, but other players can also do so without rivalry.

: Zubon

[TSW] And so the NDA drops…

… which means we can finally talk a little bit about The Secret World without the risk of being ambushed by a warband of Dire Lawyers.

I’ve been in the closed beta for a couple of months now, and while I’m still prevented from discussing anything regarding the previous builds (Cthulhu knows why), we can kinda spill the beans about the CB’s latest iteration which, if versions are any indication, should be something very similar to what will be delivered to customers real soon now.

Thoughts and points after the break.

Continue reading [TSW] And so the NDA drops…

Measuring interest

I’m gonna do my best to put some time aside and start posting again. The magic 8 ball points to… The Secret World being the next game I’ll spend time in.

How’s your interest in TSW? It’s not a massively popular one ’round these parts, to be sure, but you never know who’s lurking and how strongly it might be beeping on people’s radars.

2012 Predictions

I will now get the highest score of any MMO pundit making predictions. Ready? “It will not go live in 2012.” Whatever we’re talking about, I’m predicting that it will slip into 2013, or later, or just never ship. The game, the expansion, whatever: not in 2012. I’m going to lose a few points, since something will ship in 2012, but I don’t see how anyone can beat my accuracy rate here.

: Zubon

Ragnar Tørnquist

Ardua gushes about The Secret World, but I think a great asset to the game in the North American market is having a guy named Ragnar Tørnquist at the helm. Put that on the box cover. Not that most Americans know game developers or their reputations, just that the very name strikes a chord of awesomeness in Anglo America. “Dude, can you really name someone Ragnar over there? Do they still have vikings? Oh my god, they totally do!”

We may be shallow, condescending, culturally imperialist cowboys, but we have poor judgment, worse impulse control, and lots of disposable income.

: Zubon

Update: by commenter request, we shall not celebrate developers in particular, but we shall continue to highlight names that Americans will find awesome and astounding. Magnus and Thor are other good names to put on your cover, as is anything with crossed out letters. Umlauts are also likely to be received positively.

Come Back to Age of Conan, Get Beta For The Secret World

I just got an email from Funcom making me a reasonably tempting offer:

Special subscription offers and double XP throughout November!

Today we launched a new campaign with some massive rewards on purchases of longer period subscriptions.

If you extend your subscription to Age of Conan in November, you will receive some amazing rewards:

  • Extend by 3 months and get a guaranteed access to the beta test for The Secret World *
  • Extend by 6 months and get an epic helmet for Age of Conan with a 10% XP boost + the reward above
  • Extend by 12 months and get the Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer expansion for free plus both rewards mentioned above **
  • If you just recently extended your subscription, don’t worry. Those who have committed to the 6 month or 12 month subscription after the 6th of October 2009 will automatically receive the corresponding reward too. Gametime purchased now will immediately give Veteran Points.
  • This offer is available until December 1st 2009, so don’t miss it!

    To properly celebrate this campaign we also activate double XP in Age of Conan for everyone all through the month of November! Use the /claim command to receive potions of double XP!

    * Access to later stages of the closed beta, date of access to be announced
    ** When launched in first half of 2010
    Each bonus item can only be received once per account. The helmet is made available to all characters on your account.

    This will require some quick contemplation. Most likely I’m going to pass.

    – Ethic