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The Secret World Column: Doing Right By Gamers

By Victor Barreiro Jr. on October 03, 2012

Two weeks ago, I talked about how there was a lot of negative attention pointed towards Funcom and The Secret World and, in alluding to a Robert Frost poem and analyzing the situation, I wanted to see what could be done to keep people interested in The Secret World and how it could survive in today's rather tumultuous industry.

Today's discussion is somewhat related to that, mostly because there are points that deserved to be raised regarding how Funcom is represented by the media, and how we look at Funcom as a whole in news reports. That said, let's press onward.

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Media Messages and Unintended Bias

Like it or not, the way things are reported or framed creates a certain viewpoint that allows people to associate positively or negatively to a given article. A byproduct of being human is that we tend to create these viewpoints or write in a way that creates these associations without meaning to. We also tend to have something called confirmation bias, in which we favor information presented to us that confirms our existing beliefs or hypotheses.

How does this play into The Secret World?

In a write-up by Joseph Simmons, who is also known in some circles as the writer of The MMO Troll, he noted that there seemed to be a certain preoccupation with framing the news regarding Funcom negatively. As when I wrote about the troubles surrounding Funcom last time, he noted how everyone was also noting the downsides of that occurrence.

When the news was supposed to be positive, such as when we were all gifted with a rather quick release to Issue 3 (The Cat God Update), the news tended to focus on the previous troubles of the game and, as Simmons writes, “without a single mention of Issue 3 and how they are in fact back on schedule. Or that the game is profitable now. Or that the playerbase is growing.”

Individuals who might want to point out that this doesn't make Funcom's new game a success have missed the point. The point is that individuals have maintained a bias against a company and may be taking it out on a game even when it doesn't deserve the criticism it's getting. For a company to rebound from a bad round of news should be positive or at least value-neutral when seen in most lights.

I am also guilty of my own biases and dislikes and would thus be part of the system that can be capable of creating untoward bias against an entity or game. As I've grown as a writer (and as a person), however, I've learned to give credit where it is due: Funcom deserves some props for righting itself and getting back on track in their development, and I hope they maintain their momentum.

Moving Forward and Parsing Information

Three other big things of note came in the news recently for Funcom, which deserve to be pointed out and framed appropriately.

First off, there's the news of Joel Bylos taking on the position of Game Director for The Secret World. Personally, my lack of knowledge at the time made me wonder how to frame this news in my head. I didn't know if it was a positive or negative thing, even though Ragnar Tornquist framed it well enough.  Research and some instruction from a fellow writer made me reason that this was more of a bittersweet sort of thing, primarily as a result of the layoffs prior to the Bylos assignment but also due to the knowledge that people liked his work on the Rise of the Godslayer expansion for Age of Conan.

Another bit of news that deserves attention is Leigh Alexander's must-read Gamasutra interview with Bylos and Tornquist (Seriously, read it! I'll wait!). There's a lot of information to parse in that write-up, such as how the team will now work with the new dynamic, the challenges they're facing with the divisive nature of the game, and their path moving forward.

The main takeaway that I got from the interview though was that despite the ups and downs of the industry, the team is committed to making the game something people can enjoy by giving people what they want to see in the game without sacrificing what Tornquist called the game's soul.

The last, most recent bit of news was from the Flash Point podcast of The Oceanic Gamer, where they mentioned some that they had rehired three people from those laid off previously, in addition to noting that they were planning on instituting changes that would allow for more people to get a handle on the game's systems, such as making starter decks for players, a new auxiliary weapon (please be a chainsaw) and introducing easier story fights. Overall, this poses some good news for gamers, while putting some fodder in for negativity depending on how you want to interpret the rehiring of three people.

In any event, Funcom's doing its best to do right by gamers by providing them with an improved game experience and being open in their communications with the media and players. It's up to the media to present the news a little more fairly and provide opinion-based kudos when it is due and criticisms when warranted, and it's up to gamers to keep an open mind regarding keeping their biases in check. Hopefully, the next few weeks will allow for more good news, or at least some good ideas worth thinking about. 

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can also find him on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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