Scott Jennings

More on Funcom’s Secret World Woes And Why It’s All Your Fault

I guess we could have predicted the Illuminati were day traders.

Ryahl at TSWGuides (which TSW players are probably already familiar with as a site for build discussions) posts an in-depth analysis of why Funcom shot itself in the foot with The Secret World’s launch – covering both the missteps made in planning and pitching the game to investors post-Age of Conan failed launch, in a post-WoW, post SWTOR, and quite possibly post-subscription model environment, but also that, well…

The Secret World is NOT an easy game.  It’s challenging and complex in an industry where content is generally spoon fed.  To mine a quote, “no one has ever gone broke underestimating human intelligence.”… …It’s hard, it’s different and it’s innovative on a number of fronts.  Contrary to what fans will tell you on boards, that’s not always what they want.  They claim it, but they often buy what they know (risk aversion).  Games that break the mold usually have to grow into their business model, they don’t get to start that way.


The Secret World A Great Step Forward For MMOs, Funcom Somehow To Recover From This Failure

The Secret World kind of snuck out to the market in between all the loud explosions of SWTOR and 38 Studios collapsing and Guild Wars 2 ramping up to cover the world in fire or something. Which is a shame, because it’s pretty much everything MMO pundits have been looking for – a classless somewhat free-form advancement system where you can literally ‘respec’ between fights, with quests that actually reward out-of-the-box thinking (such as map coordinates in morse code, left for the player to decipher) set in a smart modern-day world of zombies, demons, snarky Illuminati and magic oral sex.

Yet, thanks in part to launching with some fairly broken quests, the final Metacritic listing wasn’t that good – based on a dozen reviews of that early fairly broken release such as this very low score by Tom Chick. And in today’s market, METACRITIC IS EVERYTHING.

As seen by this briefing by Funcom to stockholders:

While there are very positive reviews, there are as well mixed or average reviews from various press outlets, giving an aggregated score for The Secret World of 72 out of 100, which is to be considered low, and not in line with the positive feedback received during the beta phases from both press and players. Funcom is of course disappointed with achieving such a Metascore. A game like The Secret World, which is not based on a well-known brand, is normally dependent on positive press reviews to achieve successful initial sales, in addition – but not limited – to other factors like word of mouth.

Funcom has on several occasions presented two financial scenarios for the first 12 months following launch of the game; please refer to page 17 in the 1Q 2012 presentation *). Funcom does not consider it likely that either of them will be met.

This update, as you would expect, caused Funcom’s stock to tank.

(Update: and also the Funcom CFO to announce that layoffs of at least 10% of the workforce are incoming.)

For future reference: this is why we can’t have nice things.

Mark Pincus Just A Poor Boy Whose Intentions Are Good; Please Don’t Let Him Be Misunderstood

Similar: abuses employees in profane tirades, has nice cafeterias
Different: APPL valued at a bit more than ZNGA, not literally a force of pure evil*
* unless you’re Richard Stallman

In case you’re wondering why Mark Pincus of Zynga is compared to Steve Jobs so much (maybe you hear voices in your head, I won’t judge) Slate publishes a four part ‘interview’ with Pincus where Jacob Weisberg answers that burning question, while also remarking on just how awesome Pincus is, and how he can’t understand why people would ever have a poor opinion of the company. Pincus replies that it’s really just because he’s too busy
being concentrated awesome to care about what the peasantry thinks.

Stay tuned for Part II: “Gameplay is Overrated” and Part III: “The Stock Market is Gnarly”!

Change Your WoW Password

Blizzard joins the illustrious ranks of the hacked.

Even when you are in the business of fun, not every week ends up being fun. This week, our security team found an unauthorized and illegal access into our internal network here at Blizzard. We quickly took steps to close off this access and began working with law enforcement and security experts to investigate what happened.

At this time, we’ve found no evidence that financial information such as credit cards, billing addresses, or real names were compromised. Our investigation is ongoing, but so far nothing suggests that these pieces of information have been accessed.

We also know that cryptographically scrambled versions of passwords (not actual passwords) for players on North American servers were taken. We use Secure Remote Password protocol (SRP) to protect these passwords, which is designed to make it extremely difficult to extract the actual password, and also means that each password would have to be deciphered individually. As a precaution, however, we recommend that players on North American servers change their password.


Michael Pachter: SWTOR Will Have More Players Than World Of Warcraft

Don’t you..
forget about me…
I’ll be alone…
dancing, you know it baby

From GI:

Specifically on the Star Wars news, Pachter noted, “We believe the free-to-play option and lower retail price will combine to significantly increase the number of Star Wars players by the end of the year as the two largest barriers to entry for potential Star Wars gamers (apart from an appreciation for the franchise and PC gaming) have been significantly reduced or eliminated.”

“We expect the network effect to augment the number of gamers further. In the long-term, we believe the adjustments will result in incremental revenue and earnings growth as high-margin Cartel Coin purchases by a much larger pool of gamers and additional advertising generate more revenue than was lost through declining subscription fees and the lower MSRP.”

Ultimately, Pachter believes that Star Wars now has the potential to “attract at least 10 million MAUs indefinitely, with upside to perhaps 50 million.” He added, “Thus, we believe that contribution from the model shift could be significant for years to come.”

MAU is industry jargon for “Monthly Active Users”. Given that Blizzard just announced they had dropped t0 9.1m users globally, that is a fairly bullish  prediction of market domination from Pachter, who went on to state that whipped cream is a perfectly cromulent floor cleaner, crunch is really good for you and builds character, and that Ratt’s “Lay It Down” was the greatest song the 20th century ever produced.

And The Sixth Seal Opened, And Lo, Lawyers Poured From The Dark Places Of The Earth

“Your move, Mark.”

EA announces they are suing Zynga for copyright infringement, claims “The Ville” is a clone of Maxis’ “The Sims Social”.

This is kinda a big deal. Zynga’s somewhat loose respect for intellectual property of game design has been an open secret for quite some time. Now it’s going to be legally tested. To quote EA’s unusually well-crafted public statement on the matter:

Maxis isn’t the first studio to claim that Zynga copied its creative product.  But we are the studio that has the financial and corporate resources to stand up and do something about it.

Or Zynga is going to give EA a LOT of money. Which at the moment is not a pleasant prospect.

Zynga’s response: “noobs

It’s unfortunate that EA thought that this was an appropriate response to our game, and clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic copyright principles. It’s also ironic that EA brings this suit shortly after launching SimCity Social which bears an uncanny resemblance to Zynga’s CityVille game.

If you’d like to be Armchair Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, the actual complaint is here.

“Scott Hartsman, Why Are You So Awesome?” “Well, Internet, It’s Like This…”

I have occasionally gently mocked the budding cult of personality around MMO developer emeritus Scott Hartsman, but that cult exists for a reason: not only did he lead the effective resurrection of SOE’s flagship Everquest 2 after a disappointing launch into the teeth of a certain World of Warcraft, but then turned around and helped to ship Rift, which to date is still one of the most successful subscription MMOs not named World of Warcraft.

So that makes his Ask Me Anything turn at the Reddit wheel particularly relevant. You know, if you’d like tips on how to actually run an MMO or something.

SWTOR Going Free To Play


It was foreshadowed for quite a while, and today EA finally made it official: SWTOR is going free to play.

The matrix listed at first glance is fairly reminiscent of SOE’s offerings – theoretically, you could play the entire game for free, but realistically, you run up against walls pretty quickly that ‘encourage’ you to switch to a subscription plan. The site is light on details (and most likely rushed out in time for EA’s earnings call to be held soon) but the cash shop items listed seem to run towards the intangible and not, say, unlocking a race or warzone.

So, as SWTOR players (which, by the way, I still am, to a fairly frightening degree) we still don’t have a lot of information on how this pending change will affect us. As industry pundits, though, it’s fairly easy to draw conclusions:

The subscription model is rapidly becoming the “new car price” initial markup of even the largest budget MMOs – once you get past the first year, that markup devolves to the default free-to-play model quickly. Even The Secret World, this year’s Most-Successful-MMO-Shipped-Until-Guild-Wars-Two-Consumes-All release (which, by the way, is launching as a free-to-play title), is already straightforward about how in a couple of years it will be a free to play title as well. The number of MMOs that do not have some free to play element are limited, indeed. And if you think World of Warcraft is some kind of exception? Well, they certainly don’t want you to think so judging from ads aimed at people who don’t play World of Warcraft (all seven of them):

Everything is free to play, because the financial barrier entry for MMOs is fiercely competitive and in the end it’s very difficult to compete with zero. However much grognards may grumble, the vast majority of players prefer that revenue model. They’ve voted as such with their pocketbooks, and MMO developers who fail to recognize this (all six of them) are committing malpractice.

The other conclusion, which somewhat contradicts the above: going free to play is seen as a sign of giving up. Would Bioware prefer to be making $15 from millions of people every month? Of course they would. Will they make $15 million a month in microtransactions from millions of free players? No one knows.  It’s a risk. And with a title as heavily weighed down with budgetary requirements and licensing fees as SWTOR? Risk is not something you easily sell. Which makes this decision all the more important: at this point there are X hundreds of millions of dollars in budgetary outlays to make back up, and clearly someone at EA saw the trend of subscriptions going down and said “uh, let’s try something new.”

2012, without a doubt, is the year of The Old Republic. And it has not been a good year.