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Making free-to-play work for The Secret World

July 27, 2017 | By Bryant Francis

There’s been a lot of change in the online games market over the last few years. If your game’s not doing well, you might realize it’s time to sunset your game and bid your community farewell. 

Or, if you’re more ambitious, you can walk in the shoes of the developers at Funcom, who recently released Secret World Legends, which is a free-to-play reboot of the original massively multiplayer role-playing game The Secret World. 

To learn about surviving the shift to free-to-play, we invited developers Scott Junior and Romain Amiel to the Gamasutra Twitch channel for a conversation earlier today. You can watch the full video above, but in case you’re rolling a new character as we speak, here are a few takeaways for developers in the MMO space. 

Tab-targeting combat is off-putting to new players now

Though its longtime playerbase felt comfortable with it, the first thing that Junior and Amiel brought up in our discussion was a need to improve The Secret World’s combat when making Secret World Legends. The older MMORPG relied on a combat type known as ‘tab-targeting,’ a slower, command-driven mode akin to the classic controls of Everquest or World of Warcraft. 

Now, combat involves aiming a third-person reticle and compels players to be involved in every moment-to-moment decision. To achieve this, Amiel and Junior explained that they needed to adjust a lot of different abilities and increase the hordes of monsters that players fight in an individual encounter. 

To survive this transition, Funcom needed to reset all players

At one point in the conversation, Amiel and Junior casually dropped the fact that Secret World Legends takes place on an entirely new game server, with all players reset to zero. Stripping away THAT much player time seemed like a surprise to us, but it turns out it went over pretty well. 

Amiel then explained that because so many changes were going in to abilities and in-game loot, it wasn’t going to be possible to preserve all the high-level characters without modifications that would defeat the purpose of the free-to-play transition. It was a risky move, but he said the promise of vanity items and special rewards for longtime players kept the community together, and helped them survive the transition from premium to free-to-play games. 

If you want to work in live games, get to know your community

As our show came to a close, we wanted to ask Amiel and Junior for their advice to developers entering the live games space (as many different genres are in the field now.) Their advice? Get to know your community, so you can know where they’re coming from even if they’re posting angrily on the forums. 

As Amiel and Junior describe it, they’ve found that having developers themselves keep up with players has helped mitigate negative feedback about changes to the game. You could even see this in the chat during our Twitch stream. The Secret World Legends players who joined us were often critical of decisions made in the free-to-play switch, but they were also responsive to developer explanations for some of those decisions. 

If these tips were helpful for you, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary. 

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