Marketing TSW: Critique and Comparisons

There was a Post on the TSW forums is a little old now but really quite intrigued me at the time and I have been meaning to squeeze my brain dry on the subject. The poster was asking the question of “Does TSW market to the wrong crowd”. It really is quite in interesting proposition and while the initial post really doesn’t elaborate much past his own “yeh it’s way cool” dude speak, it brings up the question of how could or should TSW market itself considering the current market, and even how MMO’s in general could benefit from a more varied approach.

The main issue I see is that the mmo crowd in general has very strict expectations as well as a large breadth of experiences that govern thought. We play our chosen game type a lot, more so then most genres so it is understandable given the amount of time, that we have grown familiar and overly dismissive with generic mechanics. The more time and energy you invest into a hobby, the more attached you’re likely to become to it. MMO players tend to spend a LOT of time on our hobby, and so we manifest the same tribalism that other people do… only we do it about our games, and we do it quite strongly.

Questing and Combat

Our main issues I guess would be the style of combat and questing mechanics as these really haven’t remained relatively the same for a decade or more now with very little iteration involved. Tab targeting and hugely inflated skill bars are slowly starting to change but the questing mechanics remained tried and true.

I think that is the biggest issue here in that we have been doing the same pattern now for years, and it is really starting to irritate. It just feels so static as well as pushing people away from their regular group since levels and quest lines are a pretty effective barrier. While TSW claimed to be a level free affair it still had an artificial barrier about it and while you could theoretically group up with others to complete harder content you really would have just been a dead weight, and no-one wants to feel like that. So to feel that sense of accomplishment it leaves you questing and killing mostly on your own or with strangers.

Combat is quite possibly the worst aspect of TSW, it is rather repetitious with it’s resource building mechanic and I guess we are even more critical of combat than we should be because it is invariably the largest part of our gameplay. But mmo combat in general is usually a pretty lack luster affair, coming into the game, the poster just explained how great the setting was and didn’t even refer to the awkward combat style. I think as a reference point the combat more comes down to your average single player rpg, like skyrim in a way that you have a limited tool set but large level of customisation. Consoles in general have a greater range of combat styles leaving a playerbase who is more adaptive but less plagued with similar iterations.

The other thing people are quite over with is quest givers in general, go here and pick up quest and while TSW iterates on this with phoning in for rewards in most cases it still feels like a similar foundation. It is no reinvention of the mechanic and left you with a feeling of sameyness, nothing can detract you from the wonderful story but when the greater part of your play time is spent doing things that feel too familiar it detracts from the experience. Again while TSW does share traits from its mmo roots I think it more closely resembles the RPG in the way it focus’s on the individuals inhabiting the world and weaving in a greater story emphasis on the reasoning behind them.

The other expectation we have that extremely contested at the moment is the different payment models at hand. By and large there has been a huge swing away from the pay to play market towards the many freemium type options, and although some still oppose FtP due to many reasons a large majority see it as the future of the genre. The Secret World’s pricing structure caused a relatively large amount of rage as not only did it have a subscription but also a cash shop. Coming back to other genres though we are seeing a move away from just a box price towards far ore options, DLC, elite services and a range of different purchases so it might be understood why those coming from another genre wouldn’t have as many hardships with a payment model they are relatively new to.

In a sense it was also bad timing, with GW2 coming people have gotten a taste of rather different playstyle in terms of general questing, it made it look and feel far more natural and less constrained. While if GW2 hadn’t been on the horizon TSW would have been judged by how well it iterates on the tried and true style, rater than on how far behind it is when compared to the evolution of the questing mechanic and as a whole.

Build Diversity

The ability wheel was another part that was highlighted, he said that he just played to have fun, creating whatever combinations were enjoyable to him. There wasn’t any over thinking the model or working out the most optimised spec like us mmo’ers tend to do but just playing to have fun. The move away from skill trees and such actually makes it more to other genres on pc and console, this free-form development style and working towards your own individual playstyle rather than something more constrained.

Such a diverse system may actually be a drawback for TSW as well, since being in an online environment where people are competing against each other, it is no wonder people try to make builds that perform better than others. We have builds being compared against each other and with such a range of possibilities, balancing for the many combinations becomes a truly herculean effort

Individualistic Approach

MMO’s generally need a reliance on others to build communities and to just generally make it feel like it’s massively multil-player, this has been missing in many of the current iterations in the market but there are a few points in TSW that make it feel far more individualistic than most.

The large open skill wheel pretty much allows you to build whatever combinations you need to tackle all the missions available by yourself. Given the time this would be a possibility and while admirable for an RPG, it quite strongly detracts from the social elements. The system allows you to create the build you need to tackle just about any scenario the game can throw at you, and if people don’t need to group they usually won’t. Numerous times while questing instead of enlisting the help from others I would switch around a few actives and passives to make survival a little easier, it was a remarkably adaptable systems but the times I needed to group becasue of it were very rare.

The one thing I find with Story elements is that they are not conducive to playing with others, they’re a great indulgence that has entered the mmo genre but I can’t hepl but feel they are harming the social aspects. They can take quite a bit of time away from actually playing and when in a group there is no doubt this irritates some. It is hard not to feel guilty sometimes as there will usually be someone that for various reasons won’t be watching the cut-scenes and making them wait makes you feel bad in this always active environment of ours, an idle moment is often a wasted moment to many. They really are a double edged sword as they are the main focus and best part of TSW, you feel you must watch them because they really are that good and having seen them already you just want to skip. It is quite a pressure to put on people especially during end game dungeons and such when most of the population has already seen them and wants to finish it as fast as they can.

Another issue was that many of the storied parts of TSW are instanced so that friends can’t join the same scenario leading to a solitary play anyway. It is quite annoying when all you want to do is play with your partner, friend, or loveable puppy and you keep getting split up… Playing with others is always a lot more fun and placing arbitrary restrictions on grouping styles hurts this. Even when your grouping with strangers there is then this pressure to complete the instance as fast as you can to not leave people waiting. Mistakes and deaths become a harsher penalty then they should, it makes you compare your success or failures against the others and can make you feel a little incompetent if you take too long.

Everyone has such widely differing playstyles from those blasting through content and others whom stop to smell the roses, we even differ in the ways we want to tackle certain missions and TSW really doesn’t account for this with many of mechanics being harmful or restrictive to group play. You really want playing time to feel fluid for an individual or group so people can continue on their own pace and enjoy their gaming, and due to the wide ranging styles of play this might not e possible and it sours the experience.

Wrap Up

Even after writing all this I don’t think any mechanics are the true fault behind the failure, the tried and true mechanics work as a whole in this always online environment of ours. In the end, it, like many mmo’s at release just didn’t live up to expectations. There are numerous arguments about where it didn’t fulfill, each as likely and as valid as the next. The main issue I think is that they have been marketing to an mmo crowd that only see’s the inherent weakness of the product and the genre in general when they really should have broadened the approach and marketed its strengths (great story, skill decks, setting) to the console crowd or even general rpg or better yet it would have made an excellent open world rpg with maybe a co-op function.

I said this on the forums; TSW deserved its aggregated score on Metacritic, as a game it does some things exceptionally well while other mechanics are really quite average. It has a great foundation but needs work, the epitamy of a 7.5 score and in this day and age where MMO’s are getting viewed in much higher esteem by the general press (ToR so didn’t deserve its score) it is no wonder many have been turned away. I still stand by TSW being a great game, it surpasses many with its wonderful story and background and is worth the play for that part alone. It is however a rather average mmo and when your marketing that to a crowd that has been plagued by average iterations your going to suffer for it.

An Update to the story as well is that the Q2 2012 Funcom earnings call was really not very promising. They only sold 200 000 and all I have to say is ouch, I thought it was way more than that so it really is no wonder that they are thinning the herd. I really have a lot of reservations now as to how long TSW will keep running since reaching a profit now is probably beyond their reach.. Hell breaking even probably won’t happen. Such an utter failure like that is the thing that sends game companies bankrupt, They claim some new initiatives are in the pipeline for garnering more players so good luck to them since they really did try to broaden the genre.