The Darkest Evening of the Year
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Excerpt from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost
The past few weeks have not been kind to Funcom and The Secret World. Amid news of cost-cutting measures at Funcom, the Digging Deeper update that TSW fans have been waiting for was pushed back a couple of times and released on September 18. Allegations of insider trading were also levied against former Funcom CEO (now Chief Strategy Officer) Tronde Arne Aas. In addition, the new Funcom CEO Ole Schreiner talked to GamesIndustry.biz about Funcom's plans for TSW and how tools are in place to turn the game into a free-to-play title if the company chooses to do so later on.
All in all, a lot of disheartening press has made Funcom the center of negative attention. It would be understandable if gamers and columnists like myself were somewhat worried for the future of The Secret World, and for a good number of people, worry is an apt way of expressing the sentiment of caring for something and not having things turn out as expected because of various complex factors.
There is an undercurrent of despair in the proceedings, and inasmuch as gamers are scared of a game dying, I'm certain developers are even more scared of the message that a game's potential failure creates, not only in their psyche, but also in the health of the MMO industry and their individual place in the history of the MMO world.
Survive, then Thrive, then Succeed
Syp of gaming blog Bio Break, wrote, “The Secret World has a very strong headwind blowing against it, and it’s going to have to struggle for every inch of success from here on out.” He discussed four areas that Funcom can work on, from its revenue model to its genre blend, to ensure the game's survival.
That's really the thing about it: before The Secret World can truly succeed in the current market and for the long MMO gaming road ahead, it has to survive by utilizing whatever methods it can to support the long-haul approach mentioned by Craig Morrison in his interview with us.
The primary issue that lies ahead for Funcom isn't negative press so much as allowing people to find their way to trying TSW and spending money to support what it represents for gaming, as per the idea that a bit of MMO tourism is okay. If Craig Morrison and Ole Schreiner's words are accurate, and TSW does have the means in place to necessitate a free-to-play shift without too much trouble, then Funcom should certainly consider taking that approach to allow them to gain more leverage in finding additional players, though with two caveats.
The first caveat which should be considered before they decide to go free-to-play is whether or not TSW's current staff numbers can appropriately handle creating the monthly updates according to the schedule they've wanted to use. Currently, technical issues have prevented them from implementing updates according to their scheduled, but if their temporary layoffs were designated for a six-month timeframe, I would reckon the best course of action would be to gauge how well the current staff can manage that for the duration and assess conversion plans after that point in time.
The second caveat is something I discussed in The Devil's Advocate last week: if they really are planning a free-to-play shift in the future (whether sooner or later is up to them), then they should also consider abandoning the free-to-play monicker and using a term that best represents the business model they wish to use in a truthful manner. This can present them with additional hurdles in terms of marketing buzzwords, but I'd rather they were the first group to push for truthful advertising of MMO business models and garner positive attention for taking that initiative instead of following the trend of trendy marketing speak.
The important thing in a long-haul approach is to build a consumer base, and they can't effectively do that if they're focused on the horizon of promise instead of the stumbling block in front of their feet.
The Robert Frost Connection
I titled this column and used an excerpt from Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening primarily due to how I felt it represented the situation of Funcom and of gamers peering into Funcom's situation at present.
As I said, the undercurrent of despair is rather prevalent currently with regard to Funcom's futures. For Funcom's long-haul approach to the journey of maintaining The Secret World and making it a strong MMO, these days must seem like “the darkest evening of the year,” where the woods are both dark and deep, yet lovely and inviting.
It'd be easy for Funcom to give up on The Secret World or for gamers to give up on Funcom, primarily because giving up seems so much simpler than moving forward. We must be reminded, however, that there is still something worth keeping in The Secret World, and that giving up and letting the game die has repercussions that go far beyond us.
As such, Funcom and gamers have a long road ahead, either of game development or of game enjoyment, to see where The Secret World will go. To maintain the health of the MMO industry, there are promises Funcom and gamers have to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.
And miles to go before we sleep.