Just a few weeks back Ragnar Tørnquist sat down with Eurogamer and quietly announced that the reported Xbox 360 version of The Secret World is being put on hold as Funcom focuses their efforts entirely on the PC version. It doesn’t take a whole lot of stretching to see why this is a good thing. For years now developers and publishers alike have been promising to bring more MMOs to consoles, but very few have actually followed up on those promises and few of those have seen any real sense of success. It’s very difficult to design an MMO with all the trimmings that the genre holds dear and make it work on a much more streamlined interface that the consoles bring to the table.
In his own words, Ragnar’s reasoning is thus: “We are focusing on the PC version right now. That is our primary market and we want that version to be as good as possible.” And who can argue with that? SOE’s recent DC Universe Online is often hailed as a much better game on the PS3 while the PC version gets ripped because of its console centric UI and controls. Could something that’s sounding as complex and frankly “out there” as TSW really straddle the two platforms? I think it’s highly likely that both versions would suffer in the process of trying to make each work respectively.
A long while back, Age of Conan was set to release on the 360 as well. Champions Online had a 360 version in the cards. Both were eventually canned, and I don’t think it’s because the game’s underperformed in any way. Maybe it had something to do with it from a financial perspective, but what’s more likely is that Funcom and Cryptic just realized they couldn’t translate the experience and retain any real sense of what the games were about on the PC.
Again from the Eurogamer interview, Ragnar elaborates: “I've been very vocal in saying that when - I guess also if - we have a console version of The Secret World, it's not going to be exactly the same game. I don't think that fits. I don't think console gamers sitting on the couch in front of a big TV want to play the exactly same game as they would on their PC with a mouse and keyboard. That doesn't compute - that doesn't work. You need to create a different gameplay experience. You can still have the same setting. You can still have the same philosophies, the same basic systems. But you really need to make a different game. How different that will be, it's hard to say."
But alongside the development challenges of converting a decidedly PC experience into a console one, there’s also the fact that neither Microsoft nor Sony seem truly ready to support MMO gaming unless those games are made with the console market in mind from the get go. PC gamers and console gamers are two distinctly different beasts, and while many span platforms there’s no denying that people have specific expectations for both. Ragnar admitted that Sony has done some experiments with DCUO, and that it seems the game’s a success for those PS3 gamers, but he feels that neither company has really made significant strides in opening their platforms to MMOs.
He then goes on to say, “It's not something we're focusing on now. I think it will only happen if The Secret World turns out to be - as of course it hopefully is - a huge success. We will want to do things on other platforms; we will want to expand the universe. But it won't be the same game.”
This is the best news we could hope for about a multi-platform Secret World. It means that hopefully TSW won’t be hampered by the same design issues that plagued the early days of AoC (some of which stemmed from the cross-platform plans no doubt), and it also means that if TSW turns out to be a hit we could get a whole additional version of the universe to play with on our Xbox 360s. I liken it to EVE Online’s upcoming counterpart DUST 514, which is set to be an MMOFPS that resides in the exact same universe as EVE, and whose players will actually inform the status of EVE and vice versa. Maybe if TSW is successful, we’ll see a different version of the game that focuses entirely on the factional warfare. Who knows? The possibilities are endless, but I’m just glad that I can rest easy knowing the PC version is getting all the care it deserves for now.