The Unpopularity of Work
We have seen several of our fellow bloggers wax eloquent about why The Secret World underperformed out of the gate. They have included
1: It’s a bad game, proven by the fact that it failed.
2: It was poorly marketed.
3: People don’t like the conspiracy/horror genre, preferring the more ubiquitous fantasy.
4: It was full of bugs.
5: It’s only for “literati.”
6: Subscriptions aren’t valid any more.
7. The game is too hard.
Overall, I suspect it was a combination of all of those except the first. The first’s a little too much like circular reasoning for me to be able to appreciate it. The others, though, I’m not as sure about. I’d like to take a look at each.
2: It was poorly marketed.
I don’t see how this can be literally true, as I saw thousands of advertisements for it in the run up, but I can tell you this – over exposure to marketing can have inverse effectiveness. As has been largely cited, the beta tests were wildly successful (so to speak), bringing in more than 1 million players, only 20% of which eventually purchased the game. Since you could have played several days before the game ever came out for free, it may be that you thought you’d had your fill. My buddy and I were talking after our first two beta weekends about whether the game could maintain our interest once we’d gotten our “perfect spec,” but we didn’t realize how intricate the anima wheel really was. Only after playing much more after release did we notice how hidden passives in other weapons could vastly improve our performance. Perhaps the openness and availability of beta really damages their ability to sell the product not because people simply didn’t like the game (which I’m sure is some of the cases, of course), but because they just felt they’d played enough.
3: People don’t like horror/conspiracy; they like fantasy.
Well, okay. I don’t know if that’s wholly true; there’s probably 10 bad horror movies made for each fantasy movie, but we’re not talking about the general public here, either. We’re talking about the small subset known as MMO gamers. Fantasy easily makes up the lion’s share of MMO settings, with only a few titles heading in another direction, so there’s clearly something to that argument. However, it bothers me that we take that to mean nothing else can be successful. I don’t want to just play fantasy games the rest of my life; it will (and to some extent, has) gotten old. Speaking of setting, some people pointed out the gloominess of Kingsmouth might have turned players off, and that may well be true, too. WoW was very good at staggering its zones so you got a nice mix of shadow and sunshine. Maybe vitamin D deficiency affects game sales, too.
4: It was full of bugs.
Yes, it was. Most games are upon release, though I’ll be the first to admit that some get better quickly while others don’t. I suppose coming from a moderately tech-knowledgeable background means that if a game’s playable, I’m usually okay with it, which should not be the industry standard. I got EYE: Divine Cybermancy to work in co-op mode, for god’s sake, right after it was released and was regarded as having an “unfixable” co-op. Coming from the old days of computers, I almost expect there to be problems every time I install a game and try to run it. So for me, the Secret World doesn’t impress me as being particularly stable or unstable; it’s just another MMO. My buddy tells me stories of WoW’s early days, too, where it was apparently quite buggy. I can’t relay any here because I often stop listening when he gets on a glory days tilt, but I have to assume he’s mostly honest. So while I agree with this complaint, having suffered several myself, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to expect zero bugs on day 1, either.
5: It’s only for the “literati.”
I covered this in our last correspondence, too, so I won’t go into great detail here, but let’s say that this should be a good thing, not a bad thing. I’m not arguing it’s wrong, because I don’t really think it is, but once again, this should be celebrated. There’s plenty of things out there for the unread. I’ll refrain from making a list due to the danger of accidentally insulting someone. Obviously I like things that speak to my education as opposed to the vast multitude of things that grind against it (politics, for example). So yes, this may be true and it may have cost the game a lot of players, but we should still congratulate the designers for talking up to us, instead of talking down.
6: Subscriptions are for punks.
I remember saying I expected Star Wars to be the last subscription game. I was wrong. I tend to agree that this business model is getting outdated, but I’m not sure we have an adequate replacement for it yet, either. Guild Wars 2 may have sold a million copies, but I have no idea the ratio of that income against their investment; 60 million may only be a drop in the bucket, and now what? Loot that you’re required to pay cash to access, for one (or so I’ve heard): chests that can only be unlocked from extremely rare drop keys or from the cash shop (this may be somewhat inaccurate, to be fair, as I’m hearing it very 3rd party). Perhaps the Allods model, where leveling grinds to a hellish halt unless you buy xp bonus pots with real money? I’m not really happy with either; I prefer the more direct honesty of a subscription rather than the somewhat prestidigitous surprise costs of “free to play” models. Perhaps that’s just me.
7: The game is too hard.
I suspect this is a large factor that has bled over from the overly-accessible beta weekends. It is a harder game than I’m used to. I, too, get frustrated sometimes, particularly when I’m running around alone looking for lore. To me, though, that frustration leads to thinking about how to improve, not thinking about quitting, which really seems to be a problem with more recent MMO players. Some of them have become very entitled, expecting everything to be handed to them. This isn’t an argument about hardcore or casual, either; it’s about diligence and dedication rather than handouts. Games should require some failure to progress, or they’re not games, they’re narration. I’ve had a similar argument about pen and paper role playing games, some of which are really just cooperative storytelling without dice. The dice thing aside, if there’s no chance of failure, then you’re not playing a game, you’re just role playing, as in cops and robbers or house. There’s nothing wrong with that, either; if that’s what your group wants to do, then do it, but I’ve never had an interest in something so, well, easy. The same is true with games; I’d rather play something in which I fail, learn, practice, and succeed than something where I just get handouts. There are those players, though, who’d term the first option there as work rather than play, and follow it up with the question: why should I have to work in my video games?”
To which I reply: There’s nothing wrong with that, either; if that’s what your group wants to do, do it, but I’ve never had an interest in something so, well, easy. And I don’t want the whole MMO market to become so trivial that I can’t find a challenge when I want one. You may call dedication and diligence work, but the best things come from that sort of play – a true sense of achievement, camaraderie, and the flow of fun. You can have your easy leveling and loot. I’ll keep what really matters.
Stubborn (and miffed)