MMORPG: Tell us how you came up with the idea for the social game for The Secret World?
Erling Ellingsen: One of the really exciting aspects of The Secret World – the actual MMO – is the secret societies. They inform every aspect of the game, and they tie the experience together through both the PvE and PvP aspects of the game. The other really great thing about them is how they manage to build and drive engagement within the community. Almost every member of The Secret World’s community – from those most active on the forums to those who have registered to the beta – have affiliated themselves with either the Illuminati, the Dragon or the Templars. And the level of commitment and passion many of these members show towards their secret society is truly inspiring.
We also see that many people choose their secret society based on their own personality and what resonates with them on a personal level, and as early as 2009 we introduced an online personality test that would identify what secret society you were most suited to join based on a series of different questions. Hardly scientific, but even so it resonated with people, and when you’re sort of being told what secret society you’re suited for after having answered questions based on your own convictions and your own reasoning, your affiliation somehow becomes more meaningful.
With The Secret War social experience we wanted to build on that. We introduced a whole new personality test, even more robust and interesting than before. But this time around we also wanted to give people the opportunity to be an active member of their society, to create an even greater level of engagement and to sort of kick-start the conflict that will be so central to The Secret World MMO when it launches. So we created the browser-based social experience where people could actively influence their secret society’s standing by recruiting members, deploying agents on the world map and take part in the weekly War Challenges we rolled out over the five weeks it lasted.
MMORPG: What response have you seen from players? It sounded like the community was very involved.
Erling Ellingsen: The response has been amazing, we are definitely very humbled by the reception The Secret War social experience has received. Over 250,000 people have chosen a secret society and have participated actively in the war. Over 160 million agents have been deployed, and on average, each participant has spent about 20 minutes playing at every visit. We did not expect The Secret War to become so popular. After all it was supposed to be a pre-launch community experience, by no means an actual game, so to see tens of thousands of people logging in every single day and many of them even engaging in vivid discussions on the forum about strategies and daily war results has been truly amazing. It’s been a great community-builder for us, and I think it’s been a fun ride for those who participated and got truly invested in it.
I do think there has been a level of resistance to the experience due to it using Facebook Connect as a platform. It’s just not everyone’s cup of tea, and some expressed their wish for the experience to be accessible for those without a Facebook account. That’s value feedback and we understand the concern, but it was a conscious decision for us early on to use Facebook and its social networking functionality. I think everyone understands that we designed The Secret War to be both an involving experience for our community members as well as a way to expose The Secret World MMO and its universe to people outside of it. Through the use of Facebook it succeeded in that; it worked as intended.
I think people who went into it expecting a fully realized social game; it probably didn’t live up to all their expectations. But for those who were onboard with the fact that this was actually a limited, five-week social experience, I think they found it rewarding. The feedback has generally been very positive, and that’s something we’re both humbled and pleased about.
MMORPG: What can players get from taking part in the social game for The Secret World?
Erling Ellingsen: Through being active in The Secret War participants could climb through the ranks of their secret society, from a lowly initiate to an esteemed secret agent. In the process they unlocked a vast range of items that can be used in The Secret World MMO. From faction-specific clothing to weapons and even guaranteed access to the ongoing Beta Weekends. Most of these items will be beneficial for the players in the early parts of The Secret World, but will not put players who did not participate in The Secret War at a disadvantage. The clothes are great, being able to equip a full secret society uniform when the game launches is truly rewarding. There were also some other useful items participants could unlock, such as health elixirs and even flare guns!
Every week we also selected eight sweepstakes winners which were given prizes such as Closed Beta access, a trip to Montreal to meet the developers and even the opportunity to have their name featured in The Secret World MMO.
So I do think many people found the experience rewarding, if not for the fact that they were actively making a difference in the conflict between the societies, then certainly for the rewards they were able to unlock and can use in the MMO at launch.
MMORPG: Have the players been able to do some of the puzzles and find the hidden clues in the game?
Erling Ellingsen: Actually, now that The Secret War is open, we have opened the door to another, much different experience. In the final days of The Secret War, the secret societies finally managed to complete their Community Unlockables. These videos – each unique to the secret society that unlocked it – actually leads to puzzle that the player can choose to solve. I think people are making the connection between these new puzzles and some of the… happenings… that have surrounded The Secret World in the past. Without spoiling anything, I can say that solving the puzzle will allow you to opt-in for the rest of the story that will be picking up pace soon. That’s it, the rest you will have to figure out yourself!
You can join in on this puzzle-solving even if you haven’t participated in The Secret War. If you head over to secretwar.thesecretworld.com now you will be able to view each of the three different videos and try to make sense of it. And if you choose to pursue that mission, then surely you will soon find out how deep the rabbit hole actually goes!
MMORPG: You have been really creating an amazing story with The Secret World, how much of that did the social game bring into light?
Erling Ellingsen: I would say The Secret War focused primarily on the conflict between the secret societies, rather than the ‘everything is true’ theme of the MMO. We definitely linked a lot of the game content into The Secret War, particularly the assets participants could share with their friends including screenshots and videos. The most important thing has been the secret society experience, from the new personality test to the actual mechanics of The Secret War social experience. Deploying agents into territories, seeing the territories turn from one secret society to the other, and to actively working together with other community members on tackling the weekly War Challenge – that’s what The Secret War primarily focused on.
MMORPG: Which factions have done the best in the game? Do you see the competition brewing between Dragon, Illuminati, and Templar?
Erling Ellingsen: We haven’t really crowned one single winner. What we did is that we ran weekly challenges, specifically something called War Challenges, where one secret society would emerge victorious at the end of the week. A War Challenge was anything from capturing and holding territories in Africa, to protecting one’s ‘home territories’ while spreading influence in enemy territories. Each member of the victorious secret society who took active part in the war during that week got a special in-game item at the end of the week, not to mention bragging rights which were used to full effect on the forum!
The Illuminati were actually the secret society who ended up having the highest share of members in the experience, about 40% actually. But then again, the Dragon and the Templars did best overall on the War Challenges. So every secret society lost some and won some, and it’s actually been interesting to see how even the conflict has been at times. We kept the community as up to date on the progress from day to day through daily War Reports, which I think often acted as a reward for participating as it gave a sense of structure and purpose to the experience.
I think now it’s going to be tremendously exciting to see how this conflict will materialize in The Secret World MMO. With legendary battlefields and massive warzones with over a hundred players clashing together in persistent conflicts, all the ingredients are there to create a truly epic PvP experience. And with the level of passion and engagement with the secret societies that we are seeing in the community even before launch, this aspect of the game should become incredibly exciting.