The Naked Gamer is a regular opinion column that strips back the superficialities and looks at the flesh underneath. If you’ve got a topic you’d like discussed, drop columnist Kristy Green a line!
I recently read an interview with Martin Bruusgaard, ex-lead designer for The Secret World, on Penny Arcade. While I enjoyed the interview, there was one quote that stood out to me which I just couldn’t agree with.
“This may be a radical thing to say, but I think it would have helped if we actually had levels in the game. I’m sort of ashamed to say it, but I think that might’ve made things feel more familiar when it comes to players tracking their own progression and telling how strong they are, and knowing where to go. I think people got lost because they don’t have this number telling them how strong they are,” Bruusgaard said.
I feel it’s selling the players a bit short that the concept of an obvious progress indicator like a level is required to track our personal growth. The Secret World has quite a few progression benchmarks already, like the level of our weapons, our ever increasing skill level, and there are even faction rankings. I really don’t think it would have made much different if they did put some mystery numbers above everyone’s head.
This leads me to something I have always wanted to say to every game developer out there: there is nothing wrong with your game. There really isn’t. All games have their good points and their bad points, and there is nothing wrong with that. Sure there are nasties like bugs, down-time and other issues which aren’t fantastic, but they can’t change how awesome your game really is.
That does mean though that there are problems elsewhere. One of those problem I think is marketing and I’m not talking paid advertising here. There is something companies have been using for years and it’s completely free and perfect for MMOs: word of mouth.
I actually avoid MMO adverts – I grew tired of hearing buzz words like ‘revolutionary’, ‘first ever’ and ‘dynamic’. A MMO needs to be able to sell itself and using as many fancy words as possible will only bring hype and then disappointment. When selling an MMO it’s not about selling boxes, it’s about selling subscriptions. Even free to play games aren’t immune from this. You need your player base to keep playing the game so they keep buying your product whether it’s a subscription, expansions, item cash store or anything else to keep money coming in.
I know whenever I think about how I first heard of the games I’m interested in, it wasn’t advertisements. I think about the gaming news sites I visit, the gaming communities I’m involved in and my friends. Normally it starts with some sort of official announcement of a new game in development. Then the gaming news sites will start spreading it around. Then the gaming communities will start talking about it and finally your friend mentions this cool new game they heard about over that well-earned Friday night beer.
It does seem sometimes that publishers don’t really think about their target audience. It seems most publishers like to target existing MMO players, but is this really effective? MMOs are as different from each other as any other game – just because you play one doesn’t mean you will be interested in another. When I started playing The Secret World, the thing that hit me was nostalgia for games like Tex Murphy and Dog Day. The fact that it was an MMO and I’ve played MMOs previously really seemed inconsequential.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The Secret World might have had a disappointing start but it did have a great launch and a lot going for itself. Now the game seems to be getting out there more and appears to be gaining momentum.
I just wish it didn’t start out as such a secret.