The Secret World A Great Step Forward For MMOs, Funcom Somehow To Recover From This Failure

The Secret World kind of snuck out to the market in between all the loud explosions of SWTOR and 38 Studios collapsing and Guild Wars 2 ramping up to cover the world in fire or something. Which is a shame, because it’s pretty much everything MMO pundits have been looking for – a classless somewhat free-form advancement system where you can literally ‘respec’ between fights, with quests that actually reward out-of-the-box thinking (such as map coordinates in morse code, left for the player to decipher) set in a smart modern-day world of zombies, demons, snarky Illuminati and magic oral sex.

Yet, thanks in part to launching with some fairly broken quests, the final Metacritic listing wasn’t that good – based on a dozen reviews of that early fairly broken release such as this very low score by Tom Chick. And in today’s market, METACRITIC IS EVERYTHING.

As seen by this briefing by Funcom to stockholders:

While there are very positive reviews, there are as well mixed or average reviews from various press outlets, giving an aggregated score for The Secret World of 72 out of 100, which is to be considered low, and not in line with the positive feedback received during the beta phases from both press and players. Funcom is of course disappointed with achieving such a Metascore. A game like The Secret World, which is not based on a well-known brand, is normally dependent on positive press reviews to achieve successful initial sales, in addition – but not limited – to other factors like word of mouth.

Funcom has on several occasions presented two financial scenarios for the first 12 months following launch of the game; please refer to page 17 in the 1Q 2012 presentation *). Funcom does not consider it likely that either of them will be met.

This update, as you would expect, caused Funcom’s stock to tank.

(Update: and also the Funcom CFO to announce that layoffs of at least 10% of the workforce are incoming.)

For future reference: this is why we can’t have nice things.


42 thoughts on “The Secret World A Great Step Forward For MMOs, Funcom Somehow To Recover From This Failure

  1. With so much money riding on Metacritic scores, how long until we have a “Playola” scandal of our very own?  There’s no way the suits are going to let something so critical to stock valuations be decided simply by how good the games are.

    • spacefiddle says:

       We already do.  Game reviews are crap.  They have as much credibility as, well, as sites and reviewers who make revenue on advertising have when reviewing the products of their advertisers…

      Considee ME3.  No, not the ending, but the crapstorm around it.  IGN was immediately vocal and derisive of customers, throwing ridicule and bile at anyone who expressed even mild dissatisfaction with ME3, and singing Bioware’s praises to high heaven.

      Would it interest you to know that some talking-head eLebrity chick from IGN was actually *in the game?* That she was fully rendered and had gameplay missions, and multiple lines?  Contrast that with what was supposed to be a major reveal in the game – a major character’s face – turning out to be a badly Photoshopped stock photo that any of us could have tossed out in five minutes.

      Does IGN have any creditbility or impartiality with respect to Bioware?  Obviously not.

      Yet Metacritic’s “paid review” scores are treated like an actual valid metric.  Aside from the nature of “pro” game reviews, consider what happens when 4 people give something an 85, and then one troll who has a grudge against the company, or is a fan of a rival, tanks it with a 10.  Is the average score any kind of valid indicator of anything other than the existence of people who like to score-bomb reviews..?

  2. Mike says:

    Ah, another Tom Chick metacritic bomb.  At least he used to find other sites to write for, his Gears of War 3 bomb was written for (which no longer exists).  Metacritic is including Qt3 in their aggregate score now?  I’d love to see someone break down the bottom, closest to geocities quality blogs that metacritic aggregates into its all powerful critic score metascore.

    I just went back and checked another one, it looks like metacritic removed his 4/10 for Uncharted 3.  It would be nice if they’d just remove his troll reviews completely.

  3. mcl says:

    /agreed on “why we can’t have anything nice”.

    Currently “living” in The Secret World as only a stay at home gimp can.

    It will take something monumental to dislodge me from the place as well.

    Seeing as the success of anything outside the DIKU model takes a successful “buy-a-buddy” program to be successful something monumental is probably not going to be in the works for quite a while.

    TSW reminds me of a couple of actual DIKU based MUDS where you picked your class features in advance and based on how terrific you made your class you set you variable XP/level.

    Just without the upfront planning and the ability to change your toon, provided you have the points, on the fly.

    Things where TSW is “win”.

    Most quests, while they have a cool down, are repeatable so you can play with your buddy who joined up 2 weeks or 2 years later than you did and not stand around with your hands in your pockets.  Being able to ride along with someone who joined the game later and be able to track objectives and see waypoints and not having to play quests from memory makes a lot of sense.

    Major PITA from SWTOR was that unless you played in a static group or had the patience of a Mother Theresa there was no in game incentive to go back and help some poor fool who wasn’t in lock-step with identical PVE progress.

    Even if the devs unintentionally bork the game there is a way around it from inside.  The recent scandal is/was “how do we tank mobs in nightmare mode when a boss has a 90% damage resist shield up” when hate generation is based on damage dealt?

    Players took their tanks, jacked a few points into blood magic and would heal spam to generate aggro for this phase of the fight and kept on trucking.  Dev’s latest patch fixed this problem of aggro building for the programmed encounter but it was not a show stopper due to the tools they gave the players to be flexible.

    Furthermore the marketplace is/was borked and their ui customization tool made it possible for a ui modder to /fix their borked internal ui code and keep the AH rolling by using an AH mod built by some dude who played the game.

    There is more to the game to make it gamer friendly than I can list or recall but the game has a feel, mostly, of being made for the enjoyment and not the vexation of the gamers.  Been forever since I have seen/felt something like that that wasn’t just a /faceroll game.

    For years on other games I would spend the rumors “with the next patch this will be the official NC-17 server.”  With the “welcome to the Dragons” cut-scene and more besides the whole game is in an adult, but not overtly pervy, tone that suits the horror genre.

    More Clive Barker than R. L. Stein and nothing wrong with that.


    obligatory tractor:

  4. I read the linked review and it’s frustrating that something that ridiculous could push a studio to lay people off. I have played every MMOG since Ultima Online and aside from World of Warcraft I’ve yet to stick around one for more than a month or two — it’s rare that I keep a subscription past the first free month. I dabbled with RIFT and kept that for a little while before getting bored and dropping it, but I’ve yet to get enraptured in a MMOG anymore. They just don’t do it for me.

    Until The Secret World, that is. It was the first time I bought a lifetime subscription for a game.

    I’m disappointed they felt that it wasn’t successful based on an aggregated score that for anything else would be “exceeds expectations.” I think it’s a fantastic game, even when I encounter a buggy quest. Anyone who isn’t used to this in new MMOGs by now is living in a delusion.

  5. mcl says:

    Brief post, no time for tractors, players wrote a group finder mod for TSW.

    Set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life.


  6. UnknownSubject says:

    So I spent the 120 seconds required to enter TSW’s Metacritic critic scores into a spreadsheet and even if you remove Qt3’s 40 score, the mean is about 74 and the median is 75.

    Overall review scores for TSW put it as being in the mid-70s. Tom Chick is not the man responsible for that particular result.

  7. dettanamn says:

    Very sad. The secret world is the first MMO in a long time that seems to assume that the player is an adult person who is more intelligent than the chair he is sitting in. And it’s a lot of fun to play too.

  8. hollowsquare says:

    It isn’t all reviews.  The game looks good.  But people are tired of paying the high box price for a game that they know will ship incomplete and be patched for a year until all systems are in and it is a complete, balanced, fully enjoyable game.  So if you buy at launch your investment in the COMPLETE game (not what was shipped) is $50 + $20 x 12 = $290.  $290 for what should have been functional at $50. And add into it the number of MMOs that launch and fail, why would I drop $290 to see if players stay around and the game is still viable when, a year later, it reaches what it should’ve been at launch.  People would much rather sit on the sidelines a while until the game gets its crap together, and possibly the box price drops. Which feeds into low sub numbers, increasing the chance the game will flop.  That is a whole tangle of issues that face MMOs and Metacritic is just a small, small part of it.

    • tomchick says:

      Bjarne, two things I’d like to point out:

      1) I don’t use the typical 7-9 ratings.  Qt3 uses a scale from one to five stars.  I think you’re being too harsh describing 2 stars as a “shitty grade”. 

      2) The review was based on my experience with the game as of about a week and a half after its release.  There’s a reason the article has a date at the top.  🙂  

      I’ve played and written about the game quite a bit since the review.  You’ll find that Secret World has improved quite a bit since then, especially in the last two weeks.  Even the issue I mentioned in the post you linked has been addressed as of the latest patch.

      • hollowsquare says:

        “I’ve played and written about the game quite a bit since the review.  You’ll find that Secret World has improved quite a bit since then, especially in the last two weeks.”

        See, this is why people don’t buy MMOs when they come out.  Release version is really just a public beta that people pay for.  It is stupid, and the industry needs to get its sh*t together and stop release games that aren’t complete.

      • spacefiddle says:

        Then will you edit your review and rating to reflect the current state of the game, since the MC score is persistent and not perceived as point-in-time?

  9. So is it possible to request Metacritic’s sites NOT to rate your game? If people are looking it up on Metacritic, they’ve already heard of the name before and just want to see whether it’s worth the money.

    But then again many people might not look any farther for other sources (such as the game’s home page, blogs, user reviews). Could being “Unlisted” actually help a game?

  10. Who the hell takes Metacritic seriously?  I mean it!  What the hell?! 

    One guy puts up a negative review and 20 more do a pile on and this self-selecting group of opinionated (ref. “everybody has one”) decides the success or failure of a multi-million dollar project /independently/ of the actual released quality of that project?

    And devs lose their job?

    Seriously.  What. The. Hell.

  11. Mandella says:

    Well of course it’s tanking — I like it. This damn game is going to be the Firefly of MMORPGs.

    But no, it’s not Tom  Chick’s fault, except that he represents *that*
    gamer. You know the one. The one that says he wants something new and different in his games, but really doesn’t.

    They say they want something besides the “Holy Trinity” of classes, but any new system is too complicated to learn.

    They say they’re tired of fed-ex quests and kill ten rats, but quests that make you look around and think? Too hard!

    They want an MMO, but they  don’t want to group!

    They don’t want time sinks, but then blast through a game it took five years to make in a month, and complain about lack of content before moving on.

    They want better graphics, but don’t  want to have to upgrade their machines.

    Okay. End of bullet point rant. I know it’s a demographic issue, but I wish more “gamers” that post on the internet realize  that they are not the majority opinion by far. The DIKU/Everquest/WOW mechanic is popular for a reason. It’s probably the perfect balance between immersion, time-sinks, class balance, etc., for the typical gamer. Anything that deviates from that is going to be a niche, forever.

    But niche isn’t bad you know. Niche can be pretty damn loyal, and generous to a fault. Niche just isn’t numbers, and game developers have got to expect that.

    One million box sales? What do they smoke there in Norway? But I guess they had to say that to justify the large amount of money they must have been spending on this.

    And yeah — advertisements. I’m seeing banner ads now, but I literally only learned of this game’s launch from  Lum (thanks Lum). And I don’t live *that* far under a rock. But I remembered blowing off a reference to The Secret World a few months back because I had gotten the impression it was another of those annoying Facebook games. I read Lum’s post that he was playing it, followed the link, checked it out, and bought it that night at Walmart.

    I am a Lovecraftian horror fan, conspiracy and secret history “fan” (for that I mean  I delve into such things for entertainment purposes only), absolutely the target audience for this product, and I never heard of it. Contrast that with the fact that every damn Star Wars fan on the planet knew about SWTOR, whether they  had a computer or not.

    And speaking  of computers, yeah, pretty games mean high system requirements. Of my regular multiplayer gaming group, I’m the only one whose machine  can  run this  with okay graphics and framerate, and I’ve had to upgrade my card. That’s three  more sales right there lost. But you know if they put out a game with WoW level graphics right now,  they’d be  panned worse than they got. But people are still playing WoW…

    Bugs? Some big ones at launch, but no worse than  any other MMO I’ve  played from  day  one. A sad statement on the industry? Sure. A particular and surprising failure of Funcom? Hardly. Still, broken chat at launch might not be a Cornered Rat level disaster, but it ain’t gonna give you many points on Metacritic.

    One good point I haven’t seen come up yet is an added benefit of their “serverless” system architecture  (while apparently  being one of the reasons for the chat issues)  is that low population doesn’t give you empty servers. Even in off  hours I haven’t had too much problem finding a group, which is a welcome change since I’m *always* in off hours. So even  if the population declines the game should remain  playable for some time.

    But I’m still hoping it’ll be a “sleeper” hit, as word of mouth spreads news of the game to people who would be interested, maybe the population will climb steadily *up* instead of down. But that’s only going to happen after the gamer masses play a month, figure out  it  isn’t WoW, and leave in droves.

    But anyway, thanks Funcom for giving me a game I like, and I hope you can keep it going long enough for me and the relative few others like me to manage to thoroughly explore it. And thanks again Lum for bringing it  to my attention, even if it did mean I had to look at Facebook to see  it. :/

  12. Ingleburt says:

    What does Tom Chick’s Metacritic rating have a 90% weighting on average scores? There were plenty of other mixed reviews.

  13. Loredena says:

    It’s too bad really that it’s gotten so little notice, I really like the game.  I’m not a horror fan, and not a Funcon fan either tbh – but when I receive an email for a beta weekend shortly before launch I gave it a whirl.  I had a blast!  Enough so that I bit on the lifetime – it’s never going to be my primary game, and I fully expect it to go f2p in a year – but I loved the story driven questing, the puzzle quests, the free-form leveling, even the atmosphere (until the creep out factor sends me looking for a break in a happier game).  I also really appreciate that it doesn’t matter what my ‘home’ shard is – I can talk with, group with, and even join a guild with friends regardless of server.   It’ s worth it to me to know that I can dip in and out whenever I want without feeling like I’m wasting that month’s sub.

  14. This sucks. But the truth is, the industry has brought this upon gamers and upon itself. In all honesty, I loved the game but decided up front I wasn’t going to subscribe month to month — I do not want to pay. I can’t imagine the numbers of players who didn’t buy the game at all *because* it was a subscription game.

    Developers and companies: You cannot rely on moneyhats to be invested in the future of your game. You can’t create games on the premise that it could potentially make you rich nor make promises to “investors” of the same.  You can’t create games with corporate interest — THEY HAVE NO INTEREST, THIS ISN’T EVEN A SECRET. IT’S THE LAW: PROFIT. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Understand: gamers and yourselves are the only ones truly invested. Change your financial model.

    TSW is a game this industry desperately needs. Where all these games are going completely wrong is the subscription model. Give. It. Up. Take your box sale and go home.

  15. tomchick says:

    Scott, how do you figure the Metacritic rating of Secret World is based “in large part” on my review?  

    As others in the comment section have pointed out, I don’t figure into the average score any more or less than anyone else.  I don’t understand why you’re trying to lay blame for the company’s troubles at my feet, but your math is way off.

    • When I checked Metacritic after seeing Funcom’s writeup, there were only 5 reviews listed, yours being one. I didn’t realize they had filtered out 40 others. Mea culpa. I’ve edited the blog story to remove the implication that YOU KILLED TSW.

      I still think your review was unfair, even at the time and if you want to be listed on Metacritic you should, you know, use a Metacritic-compatible rating system (or the reverse, use your own system and be dropped from Metacritic). Regardless of the actual mathematic impact, your own intent, what someone would derive from actually reading the review, etc – by using a non-standard review scheme and having it plugged into Metacritic, you are on *their* record as saying TSW is as horrible a game as, say, Sword of the Stars 2, which until recently wouldn’t actually run without crashing messily, is still trying to patch in actual gameplay a year after release, and has an aggregate rating four points higher than what you gave TSW.

      • spacefiddle says:

        This is the point that can’t be gotten around. You should read Alice’s conversation with Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass. It is damaging and somewhat irresponsible, not to mention extremely egotistical, to take a stance of “well my scores mean what they mean to me, and everyone else is doing it wrong,” but then have them applied to the same scale as everyone else’s scores. It’s disingenuous at best, and malicious at worst.

  16. Bob says:

    Except that it’s not an MMO… its basically a singleplayer game with some optional coop. So no, it’s not what any of us were asking for. 

  17. William says:

    Just sayin’.. this is a Funcom game. It will survive, the cockroaches after the apocalypse. Just like all their games. So you’ll be able to play this for a very long time.. (they’ll eventually move it to F2P, though once they do.. you’ll probably be salty.. is all I’m gonna say, as Funcom still does it wrong there.. and the other part, just accept that in any case they’ll have shitty CS responses that will take upwards of 2 months to get back to you. I’m speaking from experience.)

  18. tomchick says:

    Thanks for the edit.

    I’m sorry you feel the review was unfair.  I feel the state of the game’s release was unfair.  It’s disappointing to me that someone who knows MMOs as well as you do would defend such an ambitious game being released in such a poor state, with problems that specifically subverted what the game intended to do to set it apart from other MMOs.

    And I’m not sure how you figure someone using the full range of a ratings scale is “non-standard” or “incompatible”.  I’ve made it very clear to the aggregates that Quarter to Three uses the full range of ratings, and they’ve been supportive of that.

    Furthermore, you do a disservice to games criticism to suggest that the only legitimate cause for critical discussion (i.e. sub 50% reviews) is whether or not a game crashes.  I can’t speak to the situation with Sword of the Stars II, as I didn’t play or review it.  But there are plenty of reasons to take issue with a game beyond technical polish.  

    What’s more, the conversation needs a wider variety of opinions.  By suggesting that only technically deficient games should get low ratings, you’re undercutting serious discussion about things like narrative, pacing, interface, character development, artwork, cultural relevance, context, and so forth.

    • Kevin McCaughey says:

      Sorry Tom, but I just think you are wrong on this. I am no fanboi (I’m 40 and fairly responsible and even minded). I think your review was unfair and a bit biased, for whatever reason. Maybe the bugs just annoyed you a lot more than most people, who, although they are annoyed, can see through them and see a great game shining back.

  19. Arkazon says:

    I thought the game had a great theme and excellently designed quests. I did take issue with only having seven powers to use at any one time … my character felt dull and boring in combat. Being able to respec on a whim is fine, but then that’s just seven other abilities to use. Add to that that a great number of abilities felt incredibly similar (lower tier and higher tier sometimes had little to differentiate them) and it was ultimately the overly-simplistic gameplay that did it for me.

  20. Rohan says:

    I don’t think we can blame this on Metacritic. According to various sources, 1.5 million people tried TSW during the beta weekends. They got less than 200k purchases (and probably on the order of 100k).

    A sub-15% conversion rate is just terrible. Metacritic has nothing to do with that. For better or worse, Funcom made a game that appeals to a tiny subset of the audience.

    Once again, listening to MMO pundits has led a company to disaster.

    (And I say this as an owner and current subscriber to TSW.)


    I did not even bother downloading the beta client when it arrived in my mail.

    The game is shit. Not necessarily because OMG ORAL SEX and everyone has voice over is bad in itself. But because the game does not make a fuking sense.

    What is the reason behind creating a game like TSW? What is the point in playing the game? What are you giving the audience what they haven’t had before? Even shitty and unneccessary voice acting has been done already (SWTOR) and look how that went.

    The answer to all these questions is: Nothing. TSW is a redundant game. It offers nothing interesting gameplay wise. Sure you might say, what about FEATURE XYZ? Noone cares about feature xyz. The game as a whole has to be interesting. For example, voice acting doesn’t make a dumb game that lacks any form of inspiration and instead touts the same tired gameplay from 10 years ago good.

    Of course for anyone with half a brain this is common sense. The problem is, investors do not operate by common sense. They see that World of Warcraft rakes in billions and consequently, TSW has to be like WoW but adding this one awesome shiny feature.

    This isn’t working Funcom. Again, someone with common sense would’ve noticed that when you crashed AoC against the wall of mediocrity. It isn’t that you can do better either. Anarchy Online is a genuinely unique game, that offers a very specific kind of gameplay and a very specific kind of “immersion”. This is why AO is after 12 or whatever years still your most competent and beloved game. AO has a right to exist. TSW and AoC do not. And

    Here is a pro tip: Get rid of those investors and make games like AO again. Then you can rake in the cash. Otherwise you’ll cease to exist.

    Your call.

  22. Tiresias says:

    TSW is a niche title.

    The setting is modern horror.
    The combat system is simple in execution (builders and consumers with a few big performance-affecting cooldowns).
    The ability selection is MASTERFULLY complex in design.
    The quests — even the combat category — make you THINK.
    The crafting system is quite unlike anything a US MMO player will ever have seen.

    I could keep going, but I’m sure everyone gets the point: TSW doesn’t just “feel” different, it actually IS different.

    Too different.

    I had a friend who loved the game right up until an investigation quest that involved, essentially, cryptography. It took me about 30 minutes to riddle out the first puzzle — a process I completely enjoyed. My friend spent 30 minutes looking at the puzzle in a confused manner, got frustrated, Googled the answer, then concluded two days later that the game was “Just like WoW, but with the occasional need for Google”.

    TSW was designed for me.
    TSW was not designed for my friend.
    There is nothing wrong with that.

    The “Twilight” series of books is wildly successful, but if you bring me in physical contact with one I will feel unclean for the rest of the week.

    Twilight was designed for tweenage girls.
    Twilight was not designed for me.
    I will grudgingly admit that there isn’t anything wrong with that either.

    We need to stop expecting MMOs to reap massive returns within months of launch; they are living, breathing organisms that have the potential to generate capital for years if not a decade or more if properly managed. EVE Online took years to become profitable, but now look at it.

    What would you rather have: a run-of-the-mill MMO that sells 1.5 million boxed copies but loses 85% of its subscriptions within a year; or a MMO so unique it can claim a genre all to itself that sells 200,000 boxed copies but maintains 300,000 subscribers for a decade?

    • Bj says:

      “that involved, essentially, cryptography. It took me about 30 minutes to riddle out the first puzzle”

      Meh, sounds like they should have sold it as a off line solo game like Skyrim. You pay the subscription fee to be with other players.

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