The Secret World and the Tough Road Ahead

Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander has penned an article-style interview with The Secret World's new game director Joel Bylos and creative director Ragnar Tørnquist on the "tough road ahead" for the MMO, following its unspectacular performance at launch. Here's an excerpt:
The game's Metacritic score was lower than the team hoped for, Tornquist admits. "Being different can sometimes be a big disadvantage, particularly when the threshold for losing patience with a game is low," he says. "We don't blame the reviews, of course. It's obvious that The Secret World is quite divisive, and it's also obvious that we could have done more to ease players into the reasonably complex mechanics in a smoother and more user-friendly way."

Tornquist says he has a hard time understanding why the game has been so divisive. "If you read most The Secret World reviews you'll see that nearly every critic found a lot to like and love, but for various reasons the scores would sometimes end up somewhere between 60 and 80, which naturally affected our Metacritic average," he says. "Curiously, we also have a lot of reviews in the 80s and 90s -- and even a couple below 60 -- which boggles the mind. That one game can be so many things to different people, from the 'best game ever' to a 'great disappointment', it's almost incomprehensible."

Given that kind of polarity, and the clear challenge reviewers seem to have with achieving consensus about a long-term game, maybe there's something to be said about the idea of re-reviewing MMOs into the launch window. Bylos thinks it might be a good idea: "Three or four months down the line... you'll often see where the game is heading, whether the developers are working hard to evolve the game, add content, and take action where needed, or whether the game is being left to rot and die," he says, citing the over ten-year lifespan of Funcom's own Anarchy Online as evidence that these games can have incredible variety over time.

So could Metacritic scores potentially be destructive to online games, since the game's condition at launch can be hard to judge and have such little relationship to the long-term nature of the product? "I wouldn't say that it is destructive, but it is very much an influence on window shoppers," says Bylos.

"The fans know what the game is about, they have read up on the features and most of them had the opportunity to try it in beta. But there are hundreds of thousands of people who will be looking for a game to play, see something about The Secret World, be intrigued by the premise, but then will dismiss it on the basis of a low Metacritic score," he says. "Steam does everyone the favor of posting the score right next to the game in the store."

But it's "not fair" to blame Metacritic, Bylos continues. "The reality is that the game had mixed reviews and as such is indicative that the game is divisive," he says. "There is plenty to be learned from reading and watching professional reviews and taking away points of the game that could be improved."