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The Secret World Interviews: Joel Bylos On the 'Buy to Play' Change

By Victor Barreiro Jr. on December 12, 2012

MMORPG.com: When will the revenue model changes occur? Will this tie in to the End of Days ARG you've recently announced?

Joel: The changes went live today, you can now play The Secret World without paying a subscription! It was imperative for this to happen before the world ends on the 21st of December. We really want to let as many people as possible enjoy The Secret World before they all perish and suffer a horrible, horrible death. Am I scaring anyone? Sorry… but the end really is near.

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MMORPG.com: How does your revised revenue model work? Is there a user privilege matrix for people to better understand what they get for purchasing the game as opposed to subscribing (if a sub option still exists)

Joel: Our philosophy is simple: pay once, play forever. We don’t want to complicate things so there is really no need for a matrix. You buy the game and you get to play at full quality without the roadblocks of free-to-play and with no subscription required.. We do have a membership which yields some nice benefits, but this is fully optional and not at all required to play the game at full quality.

The lifetime subscription is still available, and now yields even more than before. Those on lifetime receive everything our members do each month, in addition to a 20% discount to everything in the in-game store as well as some unique clothing.

Basically we view members and lifetime members as people who want a little extra in terms of benefits, without taking away any of the play experience from those who choose not to be members. What that means in straight language is: – Members and lifetime members receive a monthly “member item of the month” gift, a unique XP boost item (which is comparable to a rested XP bonus in other games), 10 dollars worth of in-game store credit and a flat 10% discount to everything in the in-game store.

MMORPG.com: What is the philosophy behind the revenue model you will be adopting? Are you, for instance, selling conveniences, selling vanity items, selling in-game perks, or instituting other forms of monetizing the game? Will future updates be for sale rather than free?

Joel: Our philosophy with the store has always been to not sell power, and we want to keep it that way. So we have cosmetic items, pets etc., and we have some convenience such as character slots, transfers, time-savers such as run-speed increase (which can also be bought for in-game cash) and temporary XP boost. The aim is to have nothing in the store which cannot be achieved in the game, and we will not be making any changes to the core game to encourage people to purchase the convenience items (like decreasing XP rate in the game).

It’s incredibly important to me to highlight that people who buy the game but choose not to be members are not treated like second class citizens. You bought the game, and you will have every tool available to enjoy the full game experience to the fullest. Rather than putting restrictions on the entry level players, we will simply be giving incentives to the people who choose to be on a membership plan.

I like to think of the direction we are going as similar to the DLC model that single player games such as Skyrim and Borderlands 2 use. We will continue to regularly update the game and we will divide those updates into DLC and core free upgrades.

Core upgrades will include things like PvP and new features and improvements.

Paid DLC would be content packs like new mission chains offering several hours of gameplay. Over time, the DLC packs will become DLC bundles etc.

I mean, all of the above if fairly contingent on us surviving the upcoming apocalypse, which is relatively doubtful from my perspective.

MMORPG.com: Are there any benefits to being a supporter of TSW prior to the change in revenue model? For instance, if I had a sub for X months prior to the shift, do I get anything? If I have a lifetime subscription to the game, will there be any perks for my being a lifetime member?

Joel: Absolutely, all lifetime subscribers will receive Funcom Points (the currency we use in our store) every month, which can be used to purchase anything that I mentioned earlier. Lifetime subscribers also receive a 20% discount on purchasing anything in the store. Finally they also receive an XP boost item, which works similar to a rested XP bonus from other games for a limited time each day. This XP boosting item is fully new to lifetimers and their discount used to be 10% on social items only. In addition the bonus points they receive every month more than covers the future DLCs, so lifetimers are left with “free” additional cash to spend in the in-game store whilst unlocking all the content along the way. So a happy day indeed for those who are lifetimers.

MMORPG.com: Funcom seems to have prepared for this possibility in advance with the way TSW is designed. Will there be any significant changes to how players now will play the game compared to later on?

Joel: When the Dreamworld technology was upgraded to include a cash shop for the Age of Conan free-to-play launch, it meant that TSW had a cash shop with very minimal work. In that sense, we were prepared.

The industry trend has definitely been to have a cash shop, regardless of whether you are a subscription game or not (WoW, Rift etc.) and I think The Secret World is following the trends.

MMORPG.com: Are you going to alter aspects of the game (either lore or gameplay wise) to make it easier for the influx of newcomers to get a handle on the differences between TSW and other MMOs, such as GW2 or WoW?

Joel: There are some areas of the beginner experience that I would like to improve, though I feel like our tutorials do a good job of explaining how things work to players. But as we are revmoving the subscription requirement, we have not made any changes to the core gameplay or lore. The game people will get for the client price, is the 1.5 version of the game which has (or will) recently been patched.

MMORPG.com:   It's been around half a year since TSW launched, and it's notable that these changes are coming swiftly. How will you fight the stigma behind such a shift? More importantly, how would you differentiate TSW's revenue model shift from the history of other games that have had these shifts, such as Age of Conan before it, or SWTOR?

Joel: Hmmm, I feel like it is a little bit the opposite. Up until this change, we have been fighting the stigma of having a subscription in an environment that has been increasingly against it.

We tried the subscription route and we tried to be *responsible* about it, by delivering content to our player base every single month. In the end, I don’t think our players will be too upset with us for saying that we tried and we appreciate your support through this, but now we will have to try something else.

As for the stigma of a revenue model change itself, I think that is easy enough to combat. We still have a barrier to entry (client fee) which should limit undesirable elements like gold farmers or people who want to make troll accounts. Our cash shop has not undergone significant changes, and our game remains exactly the same.

Our community has always been fantastic about welcoming new players into the fold and I don’t expect that to change.

I think the simple difference between SWTOR and Age of Conan compared to TSW is that we have not gone for a complete F2P conversion as they both did.

SWTOR puts some pretty hard restrictions on non-subscribers and limits their play experience in some core game elements (PvP for example). Age of Conan does not take away so many of your options, but it does restrict some of the content past the core game to anyone who is not subscribed.

The Secret World has a small client fee, and then you have access to everything. I think that is by far the biggest difference.

MMORPG.com: Why change the revenue model now?

Joel: The Secret World has a very good reputation with most of the people who have tried it. Even the people who have tried it and left generally have nice things to say.

The major feedback we got from people leaving the game was the business model, so we’ve listened and here’s the change. Simple as that.

We do want more people to enjoy our game and we feel like this shift in model will provide people with every reason to get into our world and give it a chance.

New customers are getting an incredible amount of MMO content for their cash, and yeah, that’s how we want to be.

We’ve opted to take a path that we feel provides the best experience for both our current players and future players who wish to join.

MMORPG.com: Do you have any messages you'd like to impart to people who've played TSW before, as well as any messages for those who've not tried TSW?

Joel: For those who have tried the game and perhaps didn’t feel it was worth the subscription fee, or feel like they finished it… Welcome back, you accounts are now open again, no strings attached, and we would love to see you back as a part of our community. You’ll find that we have been updating the game regularly and that many of the quality of life issues in the game have been fixed.

For those who haven’t tried the game at all – I humbly submit that The Secret World fills a place in this genre that no other game can; deep storytelling, modern day setting, unprecedented skill and ability customization and amazing graphics and all for the client price of $30.In December only there is actually also a free initiate pack included.

What’s stopping you? After all, in just a few days the world is coming to an end and I can’t think of anything better than spend your final moments playing The Secret World. You might even pick up a few things on how to survive whatever type of apocalypse awaits us.


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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