I really don't know what to say. Every part of our 8.5 review for The Secret World is something I stand by. I believe in that game, in the developers' vision for a different kind of MMO, and in the love and attention that's gone into its world. I always expected TSW to be a niche MMORPG, one that would be fiercely guarded by its fans. I also expected that the Funcom Investor predictions of a million-plus sales were overly optimistic. I just didn't think that 200,000 copies would be all the title saw in its first couple of months.
Living in MMORPG coverage like I do, I often forget that we're not the only gamers in the world. I get wrapped up in our genre's culture, and expect everyone to know every MMO that's coming out like I do. When in reality, despite recent high-profile releases and the phenom known as WoW, we're just a gaming subculture. A big one, sure. But we're no Madden, Halo, or CoD. TSW is an unknown IP, an irreverent and unusual setting for an MMORPG, and it's rife with systems that are far away from the norm and in some cases contentious among the MMO community. It's both what many have wanted from recent releases, and not at the same time.
We MMO gamers can be incredibly picky and finicky, and we remember past experiences. Funcom cited at one point in their predictions for TSW's sales the success of box sales for Age of Conan. But that was a different time, a different IP, and people hadn't just been burned by several lack-luster MMO releases. They believed that TSW would be better poised to retain subscribers, and I think that part may be right. But 2012 is not 2008. There is even more competition now, in 2012 alone, than there was four years ago in the MMO marketplace. "Freemium" and Free-to-Play are also now accepted forms of business in the West when in 2008 the trend was just gaining steam.
I don't really know where I'm going with this. But all I can say is that The Secret World deserves better. It deserves success, now and in the future. But, perhaps like Age of Conan before it, the best way to obtain this is as Funcom insists: by focusing on the future and changing their tactics a bit. Godspeed Ragnar and crew. Please keep growing the mystery. I want to see it through.
As the person who reviewed The Secret World for MMORPG.com, I also want to echo my belief in the score that I assigned. Before anyone chimes in about how we were “paid” to write such a review, I will categorically say, “Go jump in the lake.” I review games based on the way I feel as I play them and I try to remember my “just a gamer” days and how important reviews were to me then.
The Secret World is something special and I will stand by that statement forever. Are there bugs? Sure there are. Are there things I didn’t like about TSW? You bet. But overall, TSW is fun and different and refreshing on so many different levels that it deserves much more than it’s gotten. I have to opine that releasing TSW less than two months before the much more familiar and touted Guild Wars 2 and less than three months before WoW: Mists of Pandaria was a big mistake. As a new and different and, as Bill said, irreverent MMO, The Secret World needed time to captivate its audience. One to two months simply wasn’t enough time to become part of the fabric that makes the MMO player community.
I suspect that Funcom will rally more players to their unique game and that it will become a niche title, catering to a wonderfully quirky and fiercely loyal player base. I doubt it will ever move that over-estimated one million copies, certainly not within a year. But that doesn’t mean that the company should be called “Failcom” as some have so rudely put it. To me, it simply means that TSW was probably created and released ahead of its time in the evolution of MMOs. Who knows what another year down the road might have meant?
I also believe that we live in an age of what I call ADHD MMO roulette. By this I mean that, with so many offerings and seemingly five new ones every day, it’s very hard for companies to keep players’ attention. We wander in, we wander out, sometimes with well-less than an hour under our character’s belt. Often that initial impression is all that a game gets before the craptastic reviews start showing up on Metacritic and on forums around the MMOniverse. It’s hardly fair but it is the way gamer culture is these days. A game like TSW requires more than an hour to understand even on a rudimentary basis. It’s just that different. Again, ahead of its time.
No matter what, I hope that Funcom can rally and keep plugging away at The Secret World, Age of Conan, Anarchy Online and keep the focus on what the future will bring with the LEGO enterprise and other games they’ve got up their collective sleeve. I refuse to count them out as so many have tried to before. I think Funcom has a lot coming in the future if they can persevere through these rough times.
Hang in there, guys. We’re pullin' for you!