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The Gift, the Stage, and the Battlegrounds

Victor Barreiro Jr. Posted:
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The past two weeks have been very interesting, both on a personal level as well as with regard to The Secret World. Strangely enough, the two manage to tie into one another, and it's up to today's column to explain what's going on in this crazy, crazy world.

The Gift

A couple of days after sending in my TSW column called “The Price of Progress,” I got an email from my editor here.

For one reason or another, it seems I managed to get the attention of Funcom, enough at least that my editor presented me with a press key that, when attached to my account, would grant six months of game time. I was a bit conflicted about this gift because three things had happened around this time.

First, Robert Florence had written an article regarding the perception of corruption in games media, and it got altered, for lack of a better term, due to another game journalist's threat of libel (summary here). John Walker's blog has an excellent discussion on this, and his blog also has a guest post from Florence himself.

Second, I had also accepted a paid position at Rappler, a social news site in the Philippines that is staffed by a lot of people who have far more experience doing journalistic, thought-provoking things than I have. While I was overjoyed at the prospect of learning more about social news reportage, I also felt a lot of pressure to measure up to this standard I held of great journalists.

Lastly, of the things happening at this time, however, most notable for me was one assertion on a feature I had written about why I felt Final Fantasy XIV's rebirth was going to be a momentous occasion. The assertion read, thus, “You sure did gush a lot for a non biased column. How much does one of these columns cost a company?”

These three unrelated yet connected events broke me in a way I couldn't comprehend. Personal and social pressures combined with one thoughtless, unsupported accusation brought me to tearful anger on a Friday evening. I replied diplomatically, yet angrily, and till now I have no idea if the mods even kept our comments in the system after I replied.

When I calmed down, I went back to rereading John Walker's pieces, and he said something that stuck, which I will quote below:

“And as a freelancer if I had to buy every game I played, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. I think that the belief that getting a game for free is a bribe in and of itself comes from the perspective of someone who thinks, “I wish I could get games for free!”, and I completely understand that. However, from the inside, getting the basic tools you need to be able to start doing your job really doesn’t feel like a benefit, nor does it – in all of my experience – make me favourable toward that game. But there’s room for debate here.”

Those reading my TSW write-ups and the other column I maintain, The Devil's Advocate, will know that I have stated a few times that I dislike PR speak. At the same time, if PR speak is the only thing available for people to read, it tends to become the constructed reality for a given situation. Sadly, I cannot do my job of determining if PR speak rings true to its word if I can't afford to pay for access to a game. That said, I accepted the six-month press key, primarily because if there's anyone who wants to cut past constructed realities and reach out to the truth, it's me.

You are free to debate me on this through private messages or through the comments. In fact, if your complaints are well-written and illustrate thoughtful points, they may even become the subject for a future Devil's Advocate. That said, the only opinions I will hold important from here on out are the informed ones, not the unfounded assertions.

Going back to point, Funcom recently unveiled quite a bit of new info regarding Issue 4, which we'll now delve into.

The Stage

The activation of the Albion Theatre as an event area for interested parties will reportedly be available in Issue 4.

As noted in on earlier write-ups here, , the Albion Theatre allows people to purchase the right to use the stage for an hour, given each performer in the Albion free reign to manipulate aspects of the set design, lighting, and sound.

New details released make the Albion Theatre system a heavily player-driven mechanism. People will need to coordinate in-game to get a performance to work properly, whether they want to reenact scenes from movies or TV shows, or adapt Lovecraft for the gilded stage. Moreover, it seems Funcom is banking on outside agents (read: the player community) to drum up interest through fan sites, web radio stations, and forum usage.

The potential for this to add a new dimension to social gameplay is interesting when coupled with existing technologies. Combine the Albion theatre with video streaming and voice chat services and you can appear to broadcast voice-acted plays made by community members.

For me, the notable thing about this announcement is that none of it (or perhaps very little of it) is actually tied in to the cash shop. Making most of the items available through in-game token purchases creates an additional money sink for tokens that you've “leveled beyond.” At the same time, it keeps goodwill intact to not have Albion Theatre's system heavily tied into a real-world payment scheme.

Of course, we'll have to wait a bit to test it. If I can find time to entice my fellow adventurers into seeing the Albion come to life, I'll make sure to note my impressions.

The Battlegrounds

We now bring some important tidbits of blood-hungry news to the fore. The first is that Funcom discussed the the Manhattan Exclusion Zone raid coming in 1.4. The second is that PVP enhancements (they keep calling the update to PVP “massive” but that remains to be seen) are coming in 1.4 as well.

For the Manhattan Exclusion Zone, it seems Funcom has had this in mind for quite a while. Based on the write-up made by Graeme Lennon, the designer for the raid, on MMORPG.com, I'm guessing the raid is Lovecraftian styled horror-action at its core. 

Lennon writes of the raid, “All the classic TSW themes are here. A modern, familiar location gone horribly wrong. A nightmarish creature of madness and myth. The world as we know it on the verge of apocalyptic destruction...”

Boy, aren't you glad you've got anima welling up inside you to fight the dark days?

While people of different factions can team up to take down whatever big bad is coming to Manhattan, these same players can also beat each other to a bloody, regenerating pulp through PVP. Rasmus Harr, Senior PVP designer for TSW, has a post up on the official game blog describing the enhancements heading to the game in the next update.

The PVP announcement post details a number of changes. The most notable of these would probably be the combination of retooling of rewards in Fusang to provide direct rewards in three-minute intervals coupled with the wiping of all White Marks of Venice in the game for update 1.4. The transformation of 100 white marks into a single black mark via trade with a PVP vendor is an attempt to remove “a virtually worthless currency,” as Harr put it.

Of course, there's quite a bit more. Included in the Fusang frenzy of alterations (as I call it) is the introduction of tweaks that help balance the three-faction PVP. Aside from cross-dimension battlegroup systems, NPC known as Custodians will assist underdog teams in Fusang, should these underdogs complete a PVP mission appropriately called, well, “The Underdogs.” Matchmaking and PVP gear progression will also be tweaked for 1.4, and will probably be consistently adjusted to compensate for imbalances.

Hopefully, the raid and PVP enhancements provide the combative aspects of The Secret World with more teeth with which to entice hungry gamers. 


Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.