Long-time Funcom designer Joel Bylos recently stepped into the position as Game Director for the company’s recently released modern-day massively multiplayer game ‘The Secret World ’, and today the newly appointed lead released his first letter on the state of the game to the press and the community. In the letter, Mr. Bylos reflects on the game’s initial reception and what the team wanted to achieve before he goes into both short-term and long-term plans for the game.
“I need to do everything in my power to convince gamers out there who still have not played ‘The Secret World’ that this is a universe worth immersing yourself in,” says Game Director Joel Bylos in his letter. “It is a crowded market out there and we have a lot of competition, so I know that we will need to make improvements but also expand on the game’s unique strengths to make it stand out even more clearly. It is definitely going to be a challenge and fortunately I am bringing one of the most talented teams ever with me into the fray. Our sleeves are rolled up. We have our war paint on. We are ready for battle.”
The letter in full:
Are you sitting down? Comfortable? Good. Let’s talk about our game.
I say our game because once an MMO goes live it is no longer a collection of ideas, features and dreams in the heads of a group of developers, but rather a living, breathing thing. It belongs as much to the players as the designers. It becomes, in essence, a collaborative project.
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Joel Bylos and I recently stepped into the new position as Game Director on ‘The Secret World’. For the past two years I have been the Lead Content Designer for the game, and my primary responsibility was to lead the team who developed content such as the investigation missions. Before coming to ‘The Secret World’ I worked as Lead Designer on the critically acclaimed ‘Rise of the Godslayer’ expansion for our ‘Age of Conan’ MMO. I live and breathe MMOs and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in a position where I can help shape the future of ‘The Secret World’ and lead a team whose ambition is to push the genre forward and create new and different MMO experiences.
As I step into the new position as Game Director, Ragnar Tørnquist will remain in his role as Creative Director and I very much look forward to continue working with him. We have been a team for many years now and we will continue working closely together even though his role has shifted a bit and I am now in charge of the game’s vision and development.
‘The Secret World’ may not be the perfect game for everyone; in fact, I think it is safe to say that it is one of the most divisive MMOs ever made.
Looking at reviews, ‘The Secret World’ scored everything from 90 to 40. I have never before seen an MMO that has been both praised and criticized to such an extreme extent as with ‘The Secret World’. One minute PC Powerplay gives us a solid 90 saying ‘I love this game unequivocally’, next Quarter-to-Three slaps us with a 40 saying we have been ‘…unable to make the game we designed’. Some reviewers loved the game, others did not and that is completely understandable. On the other hand, if we look at user scores, we are one of the highest rated MMOs on MetaCritic the past decade and on MMORPG.com we come in second place on the list of top voted games in front of some the most critically acclaimed MMOs ever released.
I think you can interpret that in many different ways. To me personally, it tells me that ‘The Secret World’ hit a nerve. When we set out to make ‘The Secret World’ we made a decision to at least try and breathe some new life into a stagnating genre. We play these games, we love these games and we tried to listen to what people wanted – what they were saying in forums and chats and blogs about how and why the MMO genre was becoming stagnant. And then we set about changing the formula, rethinking old concepts and introducing new ideas.
When you raise the bar like that, it is easy to miss a few targets. For ‘The Secret World’ it meant that some things worked wonderfully, while other aspects of the game did not. Depending on what is important to you when playing the game, ‘The Secret World’ may either be the best MMO experience of your life or it may simply not live up to your expectations.
As a team we need to identify and improve areas that made it fall short of those expectations so that everyone can appreciate what we and so many of our players firmly believe to be true:
- That ‘The Secret World’ is one of the most fun, exciting and unique MMOs ever made.
- So below you can read a mission statement – what am I planning to do to make sure that ‘The Secret World’ becomes the game that we all want it to be.
First and foremost I need to provide our players with good, solid content updates on a regular basis, just as we have released three substantial updates since launch. I also need to do everything in my power to convince thousands of gamers out there who still have not played ‘The Secret World’ that this is a universe worth immersing yourself in. It is a crowded market out there and we have a lot of competition, so I know that we will need to make improvements but also expand on the game’s unique strengths to make it stand out even more clearly.
It is definitely going to be a challenge and fortunately I am bringing one of the most talented teams ever with me into the fray.
Our sleeves are rolled up. We have our war paint on. We are ready for battle.
What… you want details? Some more meat on that bone? Oh, alright.
After I took over I have had several exciting and incredibly inspiring meetings with the team where we have evaluated the game and looked at what we want to do to improve and expand upon the game in the months and even years to come.
I am very happy about how quickly the team is delivering the new updates; the fact that we have released three solid content updates in less than three months after launch is a good indicator of our commitment and we hope that our subscribers feel that they are receiving the value they deserve. Going forward we will continue to crank out more content-laden updates. And while parts of our team are already working on creating the content that will be introduced to the game next year, we are also hard at work wrapping up Issue #4 which will be in not too long, as well as Issue #5 and Issue #6 that will appear in the next few months.
‘Issue #4: Big Trouble in the Big Apple’ is going to be a treat for people who enjoy amazing battles. We are packing tons and tons of good stuff into that update that truly builds on the strengths of the game. We are reaffirming the strength of the modern-day setting by introducing the first raid set in a devastated New York City where players must battle a towering Eldritch horror in the ruins of Time Square. And you can forget about trash mobs and gunning it to get to the end boss as fast as possible; in true ‘The Secret World’ style we will be using the raid to tell a story and immerse our players into our world’s rich atmosphere.
Of course, Issue #4 has plenty of other content as well. We’re introducing the second auxiliary weapon – the Chainsaw – to add even further depth to our freeform progression system. We are also opening the doors to the Albion Theatre in London where players can put on plays for each other and receive rewards. It may sound like a small thing, but I am excited about the fact that we can provide our role-playing community with more content and that we can make London, which is our primary social hub, an even more interesting place for players to hang out.
I am also happy to reveal that Issue #4 will be introducing one of the most requested features during Beta: reticule combat. This is something I wanted to bring into the game from the moment I put on the Game Director shoes as I feel it makes combat a lot more direct and exciting. We are not forcing it upon anyone, though. You will be able to freely switch between traditional targeting and the reticule depending on what you feel is best for you.
I will actually be showcasing this feature in a livestream that will be held Friday, 12th of October. We will provide everyone with the details on how to tune in as we get closer.
Now all of that is short-term stuff, Issue #4 will be hitting the live servers in not too long. We are, of course, also making plans that stretch well into the future.
I have often encouraged journalists to make the comparison between the game and a television series. We launched with the first season, and we are winding towards the big end-of-season cliff hanger, which will then kick off the second season. Questions will be answered and replaced with entirely new questions as you dig ever deeper into the secret world. The second season will include a wealth of new content, including Tokyo, a major new region that brings with it new monsters, myths and legends to the game.
Our ambition is not just adding more content and fleshing out more of the storyline. We want to make improvements and enhancements to the core gameplay and mechanics of the game.
A few concrete examples include the work we are currently doing on improving the animations in the game. We know this was one of the major complaints both in the beta and after release, and we are looking at how we can make player animations feel more fluid and natural. This entails implementing an entirely new animation backend for the Dreamworld engine, which will allow us to make improvement in both ‘The Secret World’ and future Dreamworld projects.
The systems team is also taking a close look at the current abilities in the game and will be attempting to make sure that every ability has its place and that nothing feels like filler. We are also looking at combat and how to make that even better experience. You will see some of the changes coming on the new auxiliary weapons, and then, as time permits, we will be going over some of the older abilities and freshening them up with new mechanics.
One of the things that players have requested we improve on is the secret society conflict. I feel this is perhaps the feature we strayed furthest from for launch. We did a good job of establishing the identity and feeling of three unique factions, but I do not think we managed to firmly establish a conflict between those factions in context with the gameplay. So the team is designing several features which will serve to bring this conflict back to the forefront, and while it is a little early to talk about what they are, I can say that I am really excited about their potential in tying together both PvE and PvP into the overall conflict.
Another thing we are working on which I am really excited about is what we internally like to call ‘puzzle raids’. One of the most heralded features of ‘The Secret World’ at launch were the investigation missions that merge adventure-game puzzle-solving based on real-world research and brings it into an MMO setting. ‘Puzzle raids’ are sort of group investigation missions and a throwback to our alternate reality gaming (ARG) roots which ‘The Secret World’ were such an important part of the game prior to launch.
How do they work? Well, for example, in London there are red phone boxes scattered all over town. One day, those phones will begin to ring. Answering those phones simultaneously with a group of people will provide every member of the raid with a single phrase…
… and there you go, tumbling down the rabbit hole.
‘The Secret World‘ is a journey, one that began as an idea in the mind of Ragnar Tørnquist then grew to envelop a development team, a community and finally hundreds of thousands of players all over the world. We have created a game that offers something unique not only to MMO gamers but to anybody who enjoys mature, intelligent gameplay and interesting characters in a darkly detailed world.
We are committed to this journey and we are committed to the unique vision of ‘The Secret World’. Together – heads unbowed – let us continue to battle the rising darkness.
Oh, and before I forget: we would greatly appreciate it if you helped us spread the word by sending your friends and family to our website where they can register for the free trial. I have heard the Illuminati, the Templar and the Dragon are all looking for new recruits!