Last Friday marked the lifting of the embargo on articles regarding a recent press event held at the Funcom Montreal Studio. Press personnel were finally able to talk about what they’d seen and judging by the above sample of the type of commentary coming out, The Secret World was a big hit with the press.
All the heady praise does give one pause to consider, however. MMO fans tend to be a skeptical bunch all in all, particularly with regard to press accolades given to a game before its release. We hear a lot of “well, they’re paid to write things like that” and “the almighty dollar speaks again” and other such things. But are those thoughts a fair assessment of the impression a game makes on a reporter during a carefully scripted press event? I think not.
Look, as one who attended the first Secret World press event, I can tell you that I left Montreal with a good, albeit basic, understanding of the game and how exciting it is going to be when it finally hits store shelves (metaphorically speaking, of course!). Even though I knew that I was only seeing what Funcom wanted me to see and that the parts of the game we were playing were polished to a high degree, I knew that if Funcom could do this well with this much, they could certainly pull it off for the game as a whole. I believed it then. I believe it now.
But there are a lot of wary players out there and there are some good arguments for that wariness. After all, Funcom didn’t exactly wow the world with its release of Age of Conan. That’s not to say that the intervening years since AoC’s release Funcom hasn’t done some remarkable things to the game and that it continues to be one of the most interesting and gorgeous games out there. Because of the relatively rough launch of AoC (and Anarchy Online), players have a healthy dose of skepticism and are wary of hoping too hard for a great game and launch.
One has to wonder, however, if this skepticism is as warranted today as it was four years ago. Let’s face it: Funcom isn’t the same company as it was when Age of Conan was released and has only gotten better in the four years or so since then. Not only has the team showed determination to make AoC into the game it should have been on release, but they have been very successful at so doing and in creating a very popular hybrid-F2P version of the game on top of it all.
So what does this all mean for The Secret World? To my way of thinking, a lot. The Funcom TSW team is committed to releasing a revolutionary game to the world in June. Ragnar Tørnquist has proven himself to be a visionary and a more-than-capable leader of the development team responsible for The Secret World. In fact, everyone on the team for TSW is well-respected in the industry and if there is such a thing as a “dream team” for game development, these folks just may be the real deal.
Will the game launch with some issues? Undoubtedly so but, then again, what game in recent memory hasn't? I suspect that the launch will be 100% more successful than that of its most recent predecessor. If you don't believe that Funcom learned from that, you've got another thing coming. Funcom will be ready and able to take on any difficulties because they simply have to be.
Will everyone love the game? Probably not but The Secret World isn’t the type of game that is designed to appeal to everyone. It’s not a niche game by any stretch. It will have broad appeal, particularly to those who want something other than elves and dragons and high fantasy. Funcom is clearly targeting folks looking for an alternative to what has become the norm. But it’s very clear that Funcom isn’t trying for 10M subscriptions (though I’m sure they’d love it!). The Secret World is being billed as the “thinking man’s MMO” and, let’s face it: That’s not going to appeal to everyone, especially those who are really into the hand-holding theme park thing. Those sorts are much more common these days due to the incessant "lead by the nose" type game play that we're forced to endure from so many MMOs. Folks flocking to that type of game will probably not enjoy TSW.
I suppose that what it all boils down to is this: The Secret World is both wondrous and worrisome. Which side of the argument you reside on largely depends on what it is that you look for in your MMO game time and how jaded you are by the genre’s mediocrity. For me, I am firmly in the ‘wondrous’ camp though I have, admittedly, had the chance to get my grubs on the game while most others have not. I think a lot of those in the ‘worrisome’ column will ultimately be convinced once the game hits beta and release.
I am looking forward to having Guild Wars 2 for my high fantasy fix and The Secret World for my alternative Earth fix at the same time. I think the MMO space is big enough for both. What about you?