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I asked Bruusgaard where things got off-track. What was the cause of The Secret World‘s troubles? “I think we probably should’ve gone for something that was maybe a bit more familiar,” Bruusgaard admitted. “No classes, no levels, different weapons, and you have the skills. Yes we have quests, but some of the quests are weird, where you look up on the browser to get the solution… it’s all familiar, but with a twist, and I don’t think we should’ve twisted that many things.”
“I have to stress I really like the game the way it is now, but if I’m thinking about making the game a more commercial success, I think we should’ve gone more commercial,” Bruusgaard said. “That’s what I mean about not putting our twist to the degree that we did.” Bruusgaard pointed to the level-less progression system as a problem for the game.
“This may be a radical thing to say, but I think it would have helped if we actually had levels in the game. I’m sort of ashamed to say it, but I think that might’ve made things feel more familiar when it comes to players tracking their own progression and telling how strong they are, and knowing where to go. I think people got lost because they don’t have this number telling them how strong they are,” Bruusgaard said.
The timing of the game’s release presented its own problems. “I think it was a very difficult window to launch in, between Star Wars and Guild Wars and TERA. A lot of big MMOs out there,” Bruusgaard told the Penny Arcade Report. “I think we also could’ve done a better job when it comes to marketing and making sure people know there is a game called The Secret World. I think too few people had heard of it, even though again, our numbers seemed like we were tracking really well.”
Bruusgaard didn’t sound happy listing off the changes, and he reiterated several times that he’s proud the game was willing to take the risks it did. His critiques aren’t complaints, just business-minded hindsight. I asked Bruusgaard if he felt developers needed to make a choice when they got into the games industry: make the game you dream about, or make the game that will make money? “It’s a shame to say, but I think it’s very, very few cases where you can sit down and make the game that you really want to do, and it turns out to be a success,” Bruusgaard said. “Unfortunately I think that in order to be a success in today’s market, you need to make the game a bit more commercial.”