Secret World designer: MMO needed to be more commercial

Funcom's Martin Bruusgaard examines what went wrong

Funcom's Martin Bruusgaard, who was lead designer on MMO The Secret World but left in a recent round of layoffs, has shared his thoughts on the game's failure to thrive.

"It's a shame to say, but I think it's very, very few cases where you can sit down and make the game that you really want to do, and it turns out to be a success," he told Penny Arcade.

"Unfortunately I think that in order to be a success in today's market, you need to make the game a bit more commercial."

"I think you have to consider what sells. You just have to. Not doing it is a huge risk. Yes, you might get lucky and everything works out great, but I would not do that again."

He admitted that omissions like the lack of classes and levels, plus strange quests might have just been too unfamiliar to players who were familiar with more traditional MMOs. And while he likes the "twist" Funcom put on the genre, the focus should have been on the commercial. He also acknowledged that the release window was tricky.

"I think it was a very difficult window to launch in, between Star Wars and Guild Wars and TERA. A lot of big MMOs out there. I think we also could've done a better job when it comes to marketing and making sure people know there is a game called The Secret World. I think too few people had heard of it, even though again, our numbers seemed like we were tracking really well."

While outwardly Funcom has remained confident about the game's player numbers, Bruusgaard described the internal reaction to the game's release.

"I could tell by the sort of frequency of certain meetings and certain people talking. You sort of get this vibe that something is wrong," he explained.

Bruusgaard also reported that almost the entire team were placed on furlough, an enforced leave lasting 30 weeks that comes with minimal pay. "I think it was five people who weren't put on forced leave." Bruusgaard quickly found a job with a software company.

"I didn't want to make a thing out of it. I was afraid it might hurt the game, or people who are anti-Funcom would get more fuel for the fire, so I just sort of wanted to fade out."

GamesIndustry International has contacted Funcom for its comments on the story.

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Latest comments (6)

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
It needs to come out for PS3, If it had come out I would have given it a shot. And NO making it more comercial would probably ruin the games concept and integrity. I dont think making it more comercial would be the answer. Just make a better game, add more features, quests, customization options and stuff to do. Im not about to go buy a PC just to play this game, but out of all the MMO's out there I would have given this one a shot, had it come out on PS3.

I mean "in order to make money, you have to consider what sells?" What? another shooter? Gimme a break. New brands and ideas are tough to sell and gain momentum over time. I say keep pushing the secret world and everything it is, it will eventually make a crack through the market.

I mean games like vanquish were awsome. However Platinum quit maing it after just one game. Bayonetta was a great IP. And now it has new life on the WiiU with a sequel im looking foward to.

Making money in the MMO market is a tough thing to do, with WOW hogging up most of it. But you cant quite on a brand on initial release. Besides War Craft has a long huge historey, starting from the single player stratagy, story oriented games. WOW, already had an established fan base before becoming an MMO. Secret world however is a brand new IP. You cant hope to make anywhere close the sales of an established brand, even if you design it to be more commercial. When you sell something the product itself is only one aspect of getting it sold.

Branding and marketing are also things that are important towards selling a product. Call of duty is a game that is generally stagnent and tired game design, more of the same every year, but it sells cause its backed by huge marketing budget. So NO i dont think commercializing it is the answer to making it sell more. New brands have to be worked into the market, trial and error is also part of things that help. It helped the Bayonetta developers alot, not to allow a thrid party to port their games to other consoles. Games like borderlands didnt really hit on there first game, but with DLC, add ons, and the new sequel, they are slowly establishing it as a top tier brand name in gaming. Borderlands 2 was strides better than the first, reciving good reviws and ratings.

Secret world has a future. Its just a matter how far you willing to work to push it in the market. i just havent played it cause its not available on the platform I choose to play on. But Its a game I defenitly would like to try. I would also add one more secret society to the roster.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 9th October 2012 1:41pm

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Pier Castonguay Programmer 9 years ago
I for one applaud the fact that they tried to do something a bit different to differentiate themselves from the MMO gameplay norm. This might have cost them a lot of oldschool MMO players, but unfortunately the inverse is also true. Since it's a MMO and I personally hate the WoW-type gameplay, I did not even begin to look at this game because I though it was the same.
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Craig Kirby Senior Designer, Creative Assembly9 years ago
I feel like the black sheep here, but am I really the only person that thought TSW actually wasn't very different or innovative at all? I don't really want to rant about the game however it's constantly getting praise from so many people, which I dont think it is really deserving. Funcom repeatedly hammers down this notion that the game was incredibly new and diverse when it came out, and was doing things that the other MMORPGs out there aren't doing, but after playing the free weekend I'm struggling to see what those things are. A lot of people say the game should have been F2P instead of subscription based, but that suggestion is completely ignoring the bigger elephant in the room: the game is not fun to play.

The setting claims it is a world where myths, conspiracies and rumours are all true (fascinating, tell me more!), then the player is immediately thrown into combat in a scripted sequence with zombies with little explanation (not fascinating, next game please). After a short introduction where you pick a weapon you like you're shunted off to the middle of nowhere... to fight more zombies. The first 5-10+ hours of the game is literally just fighting endless hordes of zombies and doing endless fetch quests, whereas I assume people are going into the game expecting to have more political intrigue, spying and faction specific quests. I was playing as a Templar and almost every single NPC I met instantly recognised me as a templar, and all the quest givers knew everything about the factions - there was really nothing secret about it at all. Also the factions don't seem to mean anything whatsoever for the first 10 hours of the game, as you're all sent to the same areas to do the same quests for the Illuminati regardless of the faction you chose. The setting just didn't seem to exist anywhere outside of the marketing.

In terms of gameplay the combat was also the same as every other mmo out there - put skills on hotbar then spam skills in a fixed order over and over regardless of the enemy you're facing. The much praised 'investigation quests' had the logic of 90s point-and-click adventure games, and felt more Dan Brown than Deus Ex (which is somewhat amusing as the intro explicitly says "this is not some Dan Brown nonsense"). You're supposed to use the in-game browser to google things you find to reach the next clue, but after the game went live the first 2 or 3 pages for every clue were walkthroughs for the quest you're on. It completely ruined the quests and Funcom should have foreseen this. Also of note there's only one investigation quest in the first 10 hours of the game, and in the first month of release the quest had so many script errors that I had to abandon the quest in the middle 5 times before it worked. I'm guessing a lot of other players go the same first impression.

It's worth noting the controls are practically designed to give you RSI. You have to hold the right mouse button down to mouselook, and there's no in game feature or keybind to just toggle mouselook on. This sounds minor but it's not - you need to mouselook to navigate and aim, as well as search for objects and clues in quests, which is 95% of your time playing. This means you're almost always holding down the right mouse button which is not a comfortable thing to do. This is something that you won't pick up on by watching videos of the game or reading reviews, but I have yet to talk to someone who played the game without them complaining about how the controls caused them to stop playing.

The skills wheel - again a praised feature - is all style over substance. It looks amazing but when you actually use it it's a total nightmare to find the skills you want, and something that took a single click/mouseover in other games now that's 5-6 clicks and lots of scrolling in TSW. This is another feature that you will not realise how difficult it is to use until you've actually used it.

I honestly think there's this massive divide aboutthis game and the praise it gets - those that have played it tend to dismiss it, those that haven't played it praise it for being great and trying something new. The game really does look impressive, and it sounds brilliant in the marketing. Once you peel off the shiny paint though, it really is about as generic an mmo as it gets.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Craig Kirby on 9th October 2012 6:17pm

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Show all comments (6)
Tim Hesse Product Development Executive 9 years ago
Not discounting everything he mentioned in the article, but let us not forget AO and Conan. Funcom's reputation in the MMO market precedes them.
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Raphael Honore Localization Assistant Manager, Blizzard Entertainment Europe9 years ago
Could and should be released on console. Because of the limited amount of active skills, it's one of the few MMORPG that you can easily play with a gamepad - I couldn't play normally with a keyboard because of the constant moving/strafing required when engaging in combat.
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Alvaro Gonzalez Producer, El Perseguidor9 years ago
The worst thing of the article is the article it self, it is very sad that someone who leave a company no matter what, get out there spreading the internal issues and feelings regarding a game that is still struggling and fighting. Is even worst if this person was the lead designer of the game. A true gentleman never talks about the shit he does with his girl inside the bedroom.
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