Last played: 2014
I’m not sure whether to call The Secret World a success or a failure. It’s obviously “succeeded” to the point that it’s a well-made game in the AAA space that’s still going, with its only “issue” in its two-plus years being the removal of a subscription fee shortly after launch.
On the other hand, it seemed like it was hyped up as… well, maybe not The Next Big Thing, but still something sorta big. We all knew it was going to be a bit of an odd duck, but given the production values and the Funcom name behind it, I thought it might at least establish itself in that second tier of MMOs – which is basically everything that isn’t WoW.
If I had to guess now, I’d imagine it’s more of a third-tier game, behind the “pretty big but not WoW” games but ahead of the “what can we shove out the door this month” MMOs we see plenty of. It seems like The Secret World is “that game” that I talk about us hardly ever seeing – a game that has relatively high production values but isn’t just a WoW clone – and, significantly, sticks to not being a WoW clone, even when there’s the allure of that supposedly huge audience out there that wants to play your game, that could be playing your game… if only it was a little simpler to understand, if it appealed a little more to the masses.
As any Star Wars: Galaxies fan would say (and, more recently, some Guild Wars 2 fans are saying), having your audience and thinking it’s not enough – or it is, and you just want more anyway – and then trying to “simplify” the existing game to appeal to a wider audience, even at the risk of ticking off your veteran players, is a path frought with peril. I don’t mind if a game is complex and appeals to a niche audience and isn’t for the masses, as long as the “niche-y” mechanics aren’t just complex for complexity’s sake or meant to cater exclusively to uber-elites instead of those “filthy casuals.” Developers just need to be aware of what they’re making and the potential size of their audience.
I don’t think Funcom ever expected The Secret World to be a mega-millions franchise, and, thanks to their reasonable expectations, the game is still going without (as far as I can tell) any major overhaul to try to make it appeal to a wider audience. You could say the same of EVE Online, which CCP has tried to simplify just the tiniest bit. The Secret World isn’t a difficult game like EVE, it’s just got some weird subject material that isn’t my cup of tea.
But I’ll still play occasionally, and I love how it’s presented. As I said with Age of Conan, Funcom does cut scenes and storytelling as well as anyone in the MMO world, and I look forward to (eventually) watching TSW‘s story unfold.