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The Unpopularity of Work

September 4, 2012

Dear Reader,

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.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and miffed)

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt permalink
    September 4, 2012 12:14 pm

    I think the horror vs. fantasy aspect played a significant part. Not just because fantasy is the preferred setting, but also because scary games tend to emphasize isolation and it’s hard to be scared by this or that eldritch abomination when arthasdklol is running around in the area spamming ascii penises or something.

    Timing played a part as well. People still view MMO’s, especially subscription based ones, as something they will have to invest a significant amount of time into. With GW2 and pandas on the way, many people may have liked the game but not liked it enough to win out over one or both of those two that they were already committed to.

    • September 4, 2012 4:52 pm

      I would argue that isolation is a theme that’s possible in many different genres. Yes, it’s a core element of most horror, but there are plenty of horror-style stories that take place in plain sight within society, too, or are about a larger society trying to survive against the horror of whatever’s beyond. Similarly, isolation is a very effective theme in many other genres: fantasy stories about wizards lost in various dimensions, sci-fi or historical fiction about being shipwrecked, etc. That’s not to say I disagree with your point; I don’t at all, but I don’t think the required suspension of disbelief is any greater than what’s required by thinking that you’re THE HERO when there’s 9 million other THE HEROES running around, or that bosses that you’ve slain show up again next week. It all requires a sizable helping of disbelief, and we don’t complain there; I’m not sure why so many have about this aspect.

      As for timing, I’m sure their hope was to get in a strong start well ahead of the other upcoming releases. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and I think we’ve yet to see the depths to which TSW might fall as these other MMOs keep dropping.

  2. September 4, 2012 1:19 pm

    I agree that it’s undoubtedly a mix of several factors. To me the advertising stood out though, because of the total disconnect between the message it sent to me (as an outsider) and what I read about the game from people who enjoy it. I mean, does this scream “intellectual puzzles and zombies” at you?

    • September 4, 2012 3:35 pm

      The actual ad campaign was a letdown after the effort they put into reeling people in for years before the product launch. I wonder if this was because they ran out of money or they decided that the general market needed the ‘simplified’ version of the pitch?

    • September 4, 2012 4:54 pm

      No, not a bit. I think the videos did a very good job of setting the stage, but the static visual media was more lacking; I wonder what the disconnect between those two media was? We didn’t see nearly enough static images of the creepier monsters, for example, outside the TSW website. It was typically just that image of the three faction stereotypes, often featuring the busty blonde front and center. Perhaps it was just about dumbing down the content to what they think the MMO audience wanted to see, as rimecat suggested.

      Thanks for the commment!

  3. September 4, 2012 3:32 pm

    Not to discount most of your post but failure is a very real thing in diceless gaming. Talk to people who watched careful plots, often months in the making, unravel in Amber about perfect outcomes. I will agree that this comes down to entitlement and that there is nothing worse than trying to play this sort of game with someone who will not accept, even suggest, failure.

    Look at it like a riddle game, or chess. Neither uses a random element but both are definitely games. Randomization is a powerful tool, and it is far easier to get a game going in a system like The Pool or one of the WoD settings just because you do have dice. That does not mean that RP, outcomes, and dice are linked in any way. I’ve run good games, even back in 1st edition AD&D, that were dice-based but had solid RP. I also ran a very short and very bad group in a diceless system that collapsed because the players refused to accept that RP didn’t mean ‘everything happens the way I want’.

    • September 4, 2012 5:03 pm

      I think the level of trust and maturity in the player group has to be much higher than anything I’ve experienced with my pen and paper gaming. I can’t imagine trusting any of the other DMs I’ve played under to fairly and logically play out complex situations in a realistic way; many of them had a hard enough time being impartial when there were dice involved. Not to mention some of the power-hungry players I’ve come across who look to make everything as easy as possible and who wouldn’t ever try to make things interesting in a way that might be entertaining. Perhaps I’ve just played with bad groups, though.

      I disagree that riddle games and chess – against a human, to be fair, since we’re comparing them to pen-and-paper RPGS – have no randomization. Most head-to-head games like that use the other player as the random element; I’m sure that an average chess player would only seem randomness in their opponents moves until it was too late, a la Bobbi Fischer. Being able to think creatively is what adds randomness to player vs. player games. I’ve had many good RP dice games, too, as I rarely link social interactions to dice outcomes but rely on them more for skill and combat challenges. That doesn’t mean I never use them in social interactions, either, but only when thing were getting nicely heated.

      If you haven’t heard of it and want to check out what I think is a new and creative dice system, you should look into Dogs in the Vineyard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_in_the_Vineyard).

      Thanks for the comment!

    • RimeCat permalink
      September 4, 2012 9:02 pm

      Given the previous conversations on community in MMOs it’s interesting that you’ve never been able to reach that level of accord with an actual group. I’ve found just the opposite; I trust the people at the table with me but not the anonymous person on the other side of the MMO avatar.

      One of the things in rules light and diceless games is that the traditional roles are stressed. While the GM has overall control of the game and narrative flow it is as much the players as the GM who inject content. It’s a very strange thing the first few sessions, or at least it was for me two decades ago, but it becomes much more normal. A good RPer will provide organic drama for the party just by playing and causing natural complications.

      I do disagree on chess and randomization. Not understanding the opponent’s style is not the same as random. The other player will not make programmed moves but he also isn’t just pulling moves from a hat. Imagine if someone rolled a die before each move and a person with an ELO equal to that roll*(some constant) sat opposite you and made the move. That’s really what the dice do to things. It can add some excitement,but usually not. I’ve never liked anything less as a player or GM than to have a great set-up ruined by bad rolls. Probably why I’m a Munchkin in dice and rules heavy systems, if I’ve got to use it then I’m going to abuse it.

    • September 4, 2012 10:36 pm

      Well, my quasi-distrust came after I’d played with them a while. We had the type like you mentioned who thought that good rp = getting their way, we had the type who thought good rp = screwing everyone else in the party over, we had the type who munchkin’d out their character to try to trivialize combat. I probably’ve played with 2 good players in all my time amongst probably 15 or so players. So the distrust was earned, to say the least. That’s not to say I’d never play that kind of game, but I prefer more randomness, I think.

      I’m okay with rules-light games like Inspectres, where the outcome of the die roll determines whether the player or DM gets to decide what happens. I played that a few times in non-concurrent sessions with a group where I live now and it was a lot of fun, but that’s just it; it was light and fun, not long-term campaign type of material. My players have said they preferred the longer term kind of thing (we only played Inspectres when we knew people’d be missing but still wanted to get together), and I do, too, so that’s the direction my games have headed.

      To be fair, dice to me are for making unimportant decisions. I’ve never let a wipe occur because of stupid die rolls, and I’ve made sure that consciously bad decisions weren’t rewarded by stupid good die rolls. I think we’re mostly in agreement on that; dice are a tool, not the end all be all of the game, but it’s a tool I’d rather have in my belt than not. In my vampire game, I do open rolling anyway because that’s a game very heavy on planning and build up; if things go south, it’s not likely the dice, but every once in a while a bad roll does make things more interesting for a few moments. Case in point, a big bad event was happening where someone had to jump into instant death to stop it (I’m skimping on the details because I don’t want to bore you). One of the players stepped up (I had a back up in case no one would), but my wife made a disastrously bad decision followed by an even worse die roll to crash into the house the ritual was taking place. Everyone had wisely gotten out of the car – except the sacrificial hero. He was ejected from the car and knocked vampirically unconscious. Things got quite interesting after that – do they throw him in and keep his wish? Would that be murder? Would that even work, or did the sacrifice have to be willing? It got hinky for a while, and I loved every minute of it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. September 4, 2012 5:37 pm

    I think it was mostly a marketing issue although not really in the way of what was discussed.
    They marketed an average mmo to a crowd plagued with average iterations. It was a fairly single player story rpg, maybe the should have marketed that point.

    Another issue was that it is a very content light game, and having people exhaust content in a week when your charging monthly is probably a bad idea

  5. kaleedity permalink*
    September 5, 2012 3:59 pm

    While games can be unsuccessful for innumerable reasons, I’ve become convinced that the next game in this genre to be “successful” is going to need a more consistent engine than ~1yr old and later WoW. If movement, skill use, or general net code do not match or exceed what WoW accomplished, the game is only going to grab a niche audience at best in the very long term. TSW doesn’t feel solid in combat, though it functions properly, and the quests have consistent problems spawning events. GW2 is floaty and has a pretty terrible targeting system that can make skill use — especially how (moderately) demanding the game is with actually striking your opponent with skills — extraordinarily frustrating. Few things are more fun than shooting in the opposite direction of your intended target, or shooting directly at your ally instead of the enemy s/he’s adjacent to.

    I think the popular notion that subscription games are dead isn’t because people hate subscriptions — it’s because there’s been nothing that’s provided an experience worth paying a subscription for, besides the gorilla in the room. It doesn’t help that if WoW was released in its original state today, it wouldn’t be good enough for a subscription. Still, if you provide a good enough game, people will buy a subscription for it. Creating that good game is a lot harder than hyping up a release or releasing something free to play. TSW and GW2 could feasibly improve themselves to that level, just as WoW did, but TSW’s Funcom has a shitty track record.

    Vanilla WoW had some terrible growing pains on release. First, you had the nowadays-completely-unacceptable multiple hour long queues if your server was even up, and several NPC behaviors were completely shit-broken, worse than the wonky NPC stuff I’ve seen in GW2 or TSW. There was actually a bug with melee so that when an NPC was attacked, mitigation chances were calculated incorrectly. This basically led to a ~30% miss chance instead of 5%. There were actually posts by a Blizzard developer that the chance to hit was working properly — their test environment apparently didn’t have a proper normal player client and they didn’t see the proper miss chance. Those were fun times.

    • September 7, 2012 11:28 am

      I don’t doubt there are more fluid systems out there than WoWs, but I’m going to ask all the same: What would you consider a better iteration of combat systems? I’m sick and tired of WoW’s pre5.0 system, and have repeatedly referred to games between Lonnie and I as “another WoW combat system,” but I’ve also felt that the great limitations set by other systems may not outweigh the benefits. As a result, I liked TSW’s limiting + freeing system as a compromise between too much too do and too few choices. GW2 seems to take a similar approach, but with classes and races thrown into the mix. I’m not sure whether that’s beneficial – it promotes playing alts – or detrimental – it promotes playing alts – but either way, it’s different.

      I think you’re probably right about the lack of sub-worthy games. Perhaps if we saw subs for longer periods and less money; for example, the box comes with a 3 month sub, and you can re up for 3 months for 15 bucks afterwards. I’d probably play those “sub” games, but really, GW2 probably won’t be much different than that, minus the 3 month later sub. How many people will be playing most MMOs after the 3 month honeymoon, anyway?

      Yes. I’m not sure where this idea dream of a bugless release came from, since as far as I know there’s never been an MMO to pull it off. It irritates me that this seems to be a highly judgmental factor against every MMO by people wanting it to fail, and I think it’s both illogical and biasing.

  6. Steve permalink
    September 5, 2012 6:33 pm

    It was made by not-at-all-FunCom.

    They launched disasterously with Conan as a result I wont touch them ever again.

    • September 7, 2012 11:30 am

      I have a hard time judging a company by a single – or even a couple of – title(s). If we judged sports teams that way, none of them would have any fans, as everyone one of them has had a disastrously losing season from time to time. I’ve really enjoyed TSW over all, but I didn’t really like Conan much. On the other hand, I liked The Longest Journey a lot. To me, then, Funcom is less of an issue compared to the individual designers.

      Thanks for the comment!

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