Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sales and Faction Choice in The Secret World

Sales Performance

Azuriel has a good post on the disappointing sales of The Secret World. To sum up, The Secret World sold somewhere between 50k and 250k boxes, probably closer to 100k. The game did not meet Funcom's (relatively modest, in my opinion) expectations. Funcom is looking at laying off 10% of its workforce in response.

This is unfortunate, because The Secret World is a good game, with several innovations. I've purchased it, and am subscribed, though I'm working through it very slowly. I've only finished the first zone, but am enjoying it greatly.

Funcom is blaming low scores on Metacritic, citing the disparity between the professional reviewer scores and the user scores. First, I do think the reviewer scores are a little low. TSW has a 72, while TERA has a 77, and The Old Republic has an 85. In that context, I do think TSW's score is lower than it should be. Funcom probably did not hand out enough bribes advertising dollars.

However, I do think the high user scores are primarily coming from selection bias. The Secret World is a niche game, and those people who went out and purchased it are probably very happy with their purchase.

I think the real problem with TSW is that their target niche turned out to be too small. Like other game companies before them, Funcom made the mistake of listening to the MMO pundits and blogosphere. Thus they made a game which the literati love, but no one else bought.

According to Azuriel's research, 1.5 million people tried TSW in beta. That's about a 10% conversion rate. 90% of the people who tried the game didn't think it was for them.

Faction Choice

I wonder if this information can explain an observation regarding factions that was puzzling me.

In beta, the dominant faction by far was the Illuminati ("Sex, Drugs and Rockefeller"). Like, there was no contest at all. It seemed that everyone was playing Illuminati.

In live, the dominant faction by far is the Templars ("Deliverance From Evil"). The last few times I've played, they hold almost every PvP objective, even though it's a three-faction game.

I was at a bit of loss to explain the switch. Now, I wonder if the type of people who were attracted to the Illuminati were the same type of people who were not attracted by the game. While people who chose the Templars were the type of people predisposed to like The Secret World. Almost all the TSW bloggers I've seen have been strongly Templar.

I think it would be really interesting to see the faction retention numbers from beta, if they exist. Was retention equal among all factions, or was faction choice in beta a good predictor of whether or not one would purchase the game?


  1. I think it's just a bad time to release a mmo. I actually purchased the game as I didn't do Beta.

    I played for a couple of days and thought it was not bad, but with MOP around the corner, and GW2 (which I have already bought) I thought to myself that I do not have the time or patience to get to grips with another MMO.

    I believe other people who played in BETA were of the same mindset.

  2. According to Azuriel's research, 1.5 million people tried TSW in beta.

    Well, 1.5 million people signed up for the beta - it is a lot different than actually getting to play said beta. Nevertheless, getting that huge number of people to navigate to your webpage and enter in their email address only to have such a small showing on release is still tragic.

    According to the other investor docs I was reading, Funcom mentioned that 80% of the beta testers said they would purchase the game at release. I have to wonder though... how many beta keys did Funcom actually give out? Obviously not 1.5 million (*I* certainly didn't get one), but 100k? 50k? 10k?

    Like anything else, TSW likely has an awareness problem. Or maybe it IS simply too niche, as you said. Or sandwiched between too many big budget MMO releases. Or... you get the drift.

  3. It's probably a somewhat worse time than some others, but in this day and age, there is always a release for some game around the corner. I'd love to blame everything on GW2, just for the vitriol some of its so-called "fans" have strewn everywhere, but I'm not sure that would be fair.

    I personally couldn't care less about GW2; when I restarted my feed reader, topics about GW2 were the first to get "marked as read without actually reading" to cope with the immense backlog of posts. MOP? I might pick up later. So I'm all open for another game to supplement EVE, which is a nice game, but I more and more realize it just has too many slow phases during which there's nothing you can do to be my main go-to game.

    Back to the original idea of the post though! It is an intriguing idea. However, I want to amend it with some (anecdotal) experience from a different dimenson.

    I pre-ordered the game, but for various reasons only managed to play about 20 days after release, shortly after the Leviathan dimension opened. I've been progressing slowly, only now finishing Blue Mountain. I feel like I see more Illuminati and Dragon than Templars.

    In addition, I've seen the Templars hold all 5 points in Fusang, but that's a rare occurance, and almost invariably followed by a large number of announcements of "X facility is under attack by the Dragon". Most of the time, the Templar seem to hover between 0 and 2 points held. Incidentally, I cannot remember to ever have seen the Illuminati mentioned. I wonder whether there's a bug.

    And all of that on a dimension called Leviathan, like the Biblical mythical creature, and the political book advocating order through absolutism. That sounds tailor-made for Templars. But... you know, I might be overthinking that part. ;)

    Then, of course, there's the tag line battle. "Illuminati: Sex, Drugs, and Rockefeller" might sound nice, but it just can't win against "Templars: It's not our fault God made us better than you."

  4. I signed up for Beta but never got a key.

    I still haven't played it because now I'm deeply enmeshed in TOR and I haven't had the chance to play TSW or even know people who do.

    I still think its a good time and if I were to play, I would probably go Dragon.

    If the game goes to 15 levels on trial, I probably would download it and give it a play but right now purchasing it is not cost effective for me.

  5. I was interested in TSW months before it was ever released because it wasn't exactly the same like every other MMO and was at least trying to do something a little different. Who has played MMO for the last decade that over that time don't want something different that the same stuff we all been getting year after year after year. We all want a bit of new MMO's with some innovation and something different or unique.

    I signed up for TSW Beta long before it was released. That been said i didn't read or keep up with it much beyond that because it already appealed to me before it was finished and didn't need to read or keep up with news about its impending release. The less i read the better for news blackout. I just stayed playing my other games.

    So though i got a Beta invite…. twice … I didn't play TSW Beta. Why? Playing Beta for me eventually does spoil my appeal of a game I'm going to play because its not all to new to me when its all done. I want my game fresh. So i didn't play Beta even though i got 2 invites.

    I purchased the game the afternoon it was released, i didn't pre-order even though I was interested for months. But i did pickup the game on game day release

    Playing the game for first time, I loved it and it did appeal to me and have enjoyed the game since. The game got even better the more you play and got beyond the first zone of the Kingsmouth.

    Initially months back I was going to go Illuminati as my first Faction choice. However the group of other blogger friends I also know were going to play were all going Templar as a group. So in order to play with the group of friends I was going to play with well, I went Templar. In the end makes no difference to me, what count was I was playing the game and enjoying it.

    TSW didn't seem to have a whole lot of advertising or hype ahead of its release and even after its been released many people still don't know the game exist, so that could be part of the not all too many people knowing of the game. I've heard people in game mention that weren't even aware of the game other than when they heard about the free weekend promo. Go figure there.

    Other part could be the amount of new MMO's being released at this time this year with WOW new exp, GW2 and all and whatever other MMO is out there people have allot of choice as to where they put their money or save up for it or not want to get into another MMO with so many back to back releases all at same time.

    In the end, I don't know the real answer, everyone on the internet would like to probably claim they have the real answer as to why TSW numbers are low. I'll admit I don't have the answer other than maybe its too different with its modern MMO setting than what most people are used to and well not all games are for everyone either.

    As for me, I actually like the game having reached all the way to Faction 13 (max) and completed missions all the way to the very last zone.

  6. In my case I would like to play TSW, but my budget prevents me from doing so. I only recently picked up TOR --just in time for it to go F2P, naturally-- but I also play WoW and a few other MMOs.

    If I got to play every game I'd like to play, I'd never get anything done around the house, and I'd find myself being served with divorce papers. It's just that there are too many interesting games and not enough time to play them.

    TSW ought to have a wider appeal than it does, because the heavy Cthulhu and zombie theme to the game does get wide play out there. I just wish that TSW would have actually marketed themselves a bit to a wider audience, rather than just MMO players.

  7. "Funcom probably did not hand out enough bribes advertising dollars."

    You don't seem like a stupid person, you're a pretty good writer, you know what "selection bias" is... so what purpose do you think lines like that serve? Don't you think, if there is some GREAT BIG SLIGHT towards the Secret World going on, that it's more likely selection bias on the part of the reviews towards Star Wars, whose source material everyone in the world is a fan of? Isn't that more likely than a conscious conspiracy among all game reviewers based on ad dollars?

  8. I played TSW in beta but didn't grab the game. I loved most of the game - character progression was great, quests engaging, lore interesting. But I just couldn't stand how awful the characters' faces looked.

    I'd signed up for beta with a few friends - two grabbed it for the investigation missions, four opted not to grab it with GW2 / the Rift expansion around the corner, and one just hates Funcom. After SWTOR and D3, I think the group feels a little cautious before grabbing a long-term commitment game.

  9. PvP success is not a good indicator of faction balance. Even if you look at WoW, you can see many cases where servers with high Alliance counts can tend to be beaten by Horde players. Blizz's own few times they've given faction balance numbers have tended to show Alliance overall ahead, even if the Horde has a seeming PvP advantage.

    This is also especially obvious when the world PvP objective only allows a small portion of the player-base in at a time.

    It's just as likely to assume that possibly more players that enjoy to PvP decided to roll Templar; the Illuminati may still have the most players, but if most of them don't want to PvP, then their number advantage won't become apparent.

    If, let's just say, 20 of the 30 best PvPers on a server are on one faction, and it's a 30v30(v30) battle, then clearly the one side has the advantage, even if they may have way fewer members.

  10. That's actually a damn shame, because the Illuminati is, hands down, the most entertaining choice for lore/mission-reward text.

    I feel really sorry for anyone who has rolled Dragon or Templar, and assumed they were getting the best experience there is to have, without having seen the dry, glib, sarcastic handler's mission debriefs.

    If you haven't got an Illuminati alt, you're not seeing the best the game has to offer.

  11. I think that really comes down to preference. While I like dry humor and haven't played the Illuminati, so I can't compare...

    The Templars have their share of dry humor too, and a lot of tongue-in-cheek history references, all delivered with a delightfully snooty attitude.

  12. The box is £40, which put me off straight away. The sub is £12 or something which is what, 50% more than WoW? I could afford it but it's not competitive in the marketplace.

    Then there are the "Starter Packs". These really put me off. If I'm paying a sub I don't want to have to buy extras. Basically gave the impression FunCom wants to soak every player for every penny they could get.

    Oh and then it's EA Origin. EA have been willing to cut people's access to their entire library based on a forum post. I don't troll - I don't even post on forums unless forced - but I just hate that. For the same reason I won't play ME3 or SWTOR.

    I'd probably enjoy the game, but to me it was a stillborn. Poor devs, you work your heart out for years then business factors shoot you in the face :(

    Unfortunately I have no solution other than deep, deep pockets. At least the first year is all about gaining traction. When an MMO first comes out, it needs players more than they need the game. It's only when the network effect kicks in you can start making money.

  13. Don't know what to say, Alexis, but I'll make an effort:

    (1) no entity would make you buy "starter packs" for the game. They're full of items that stop being useful about eight hours into the game. But, really, the game has no entry cost other than the box and subscription (after the first month). And do you really think that 40 pounds is too much to pay for dozens of hours of entertainment?

    (2) if you're going to avoid a game based on its "competitiveness in the marketplace," then I feel a bit sorry for you. Why would allow your entertainment choices to be dictated by what the holy market says is viable?

    (3) EA Origin is but one way to receive the game's content. You'd do far better by visiting Funcom's Website and buying it directly from them.

    (4) The game has a three-day trial that you can access at any point now by visiting the afore-mentioned Funcom homepage. If you really think you'd enjoy the game, download it and try it out. I imagine you'd find it far from "stillborn."