The Secret World may have fared better if it had stuck with a level system: ex-Lead Designer

The Secret World

By on October 9, 2012 at 10:52 am

The success of The Secret World seemed all but assured: a new and intriguing modern-day occult setting, a level-free system, an evolving personal story, and of course the brand-name power of Ragnar Tørnquist. But despite this, sales of the game have been much slower than anticipated — to the point where Funcom laid off up to half its staff, including the Lead Designer.

That Lead Designer, Martin Bruusgaard, has now come forward to reflect on how The Secret World reached this point. “Looking at the numbers from our (million-player-strong) beta where – and I don’t know exact numbers – but it was something like 80% thought the game was good or great and would recommend it to their friends… the numbers were really, really positive. We thought we must’ve done something right, that people really liked us.”

Asked to identify what they could have done differently, Bruusgaard pointed to the level-free system. “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 concluded: “I think we probably should’ve gone for something that was maybe a bit more familiar (…) If I’m thinking about making the game a more commercial success, I think we should’ve gone more commercial.”

Source: PA Report

11 comments (Leave your own)

It’s such a sad state of affairs, but the population really does seem to feel more comfortable with the familiar – Why did the endless Call of Duty knockoffs sell so well otherwise? – than with trying something new and innovative. I’ve not played TSW myself, but in playing (and enjoying) Guild Wars 2 I’ve also read so many complaints from people knocking the level scaling system that prevents them from going back to a low level zone and feeling like a god….

It must be pretty frustrating trying to innovate as developers these days, players complain about a lack of new features or that the devs don’t try new things; But then turn around and complain when something genuinely new comes along because they don’t feel happy outside their comfort zone, learning something new…


“The success of The Secret World seemed all but assured…But despite this, sales of the game have been much slower than anticipated”

Who ever thought that a quirky/niche, new IP, MMO with a flat subscription fee would have assured success is crazy. The person who anticipate high sales should be fired, because it was pretty clear that it would have taken a miracle to allow this game to flourish in a world where WoW takes up most people’s monthly subscriptions and the subscription-free Guild Wars 2 was launching to catch all the other people.

The addressable market for this game was always pretty small, though the game might have actually been successful if it has been free to play from the start. I haven’t played it but I hear it’s an enjoyable game with a fresh take on many MMO troupes, so it’s a shame that Funcom completely missed the boat with this one.


I didn’t find it hard to figure out if i was strong enough for a particular area or dungeon really.

They just shifted character level to the gear instead, so instead of “Looking for healer for level 70 blah dungeon” it became “Looking for healer with (insert certain abilities here) with gear level (Insert here).

It’s really not that difficult to wrap your head around tbh.
You need the right amount of points in both abilities and gear use to be able to equip the spells/abilities and the gear itself.

Where they screwed up was with not explaining what the colors of the dots on enemy nameplates meant at any point during the tutorial.I had to work that out by trial and error.

You need to look at the dot to the left of the name – the color of that will indicate how safe it is. White is and even match, blues and greens will probably be pretty easy, orange and yellow are going to be tough, and red means “Run away!”.

The TYPE of dot indicates linking behavior (a single dot is normal, three dots indicate monsters that move in crowds, skulls and crowns indicate lieutenant or rare type monsters).

The color of the name indicates how aggressive the monster is.

Too much to ask of the player to remember, i don’t think so.
Not mentioning any of that at all during the intro area, maybe the big mistake on their part…


The real problem with this game is that its just AoC with a new skin.
Its terrible game mechanics are straight from AoC.

If you’re going to make a game like this then do away with the magical spell abilities for weapons and make it in the FPS style where you’re doing the aiming of the gun .etc [this game with war of roses combat would be great].
want to snare the enemy? then actually shoot them in the legs.
want to daze someone? then actually hit them in the head.

Its just like the claims they were making for AoC about how it was going to be awesome and revolutionise mmo combat .etc

it didn’t.

I wish I hadn’t wasted $50 on this game.


I found The Secret World as boring as every other MMO that only tried to be slightly different. The only thing I really enjoyed were the Investigation Quests, but that wasn’t enough to pay a subscription for.


“1 million strong beta”

So everyone who wanted to play it played it for free?


There’s nothing wrong with levels. Even with a game like world of warcraft, levels these days have become more and more meaningless. Wow the game has 90 levels, with maybe 6 stages of actual character progression.

Levelling a monk from scratch has left me completely bored out of my head because every level is just meh, the times I do get to customise my character are so far and in between that 90 levels is just that a number.


They need to realise there are so many MMO’s on the market now it’s hard for new IP to be on top from the get go. Look at WoW, it took years to get the status it has now. I liked the beta of TSW and the free weekends but I haven’t got the time for another MMO so can’t justify buying the game and subscriptions. If it was free I could play it every now and again in my spare time. Having the subscriptions only pressures you into playing regularly purely to get your moneys worth from the the subscription and that’s not enjoyable.


No MMO is an unqualified success. GW2 sold far below expectations. It’s what caused the death of City of Heroes. It was, actually a failure too, in terms of profits.

Also, Funcom has recently released an official position on what needs to be changed in the game:


…and I still find the game fun.



If you’re going to make a game like this then do away with the magical spell abilities for weapons and make it in the FPS style where you’re doing the aiming of the gun .etc [this game with war of roses combat would be great].
want to snare the enemy? then actually shoot them in the legs.
want to daze someone? then actually hit them in the head.

Oh and they’re actually bringing exactly this out soon. It’s in the link I gave above.


Personally I think they let too many people into Beta. A lot of the bad commentary came from people who stated they only played Beta.

The Beta was a beta – buggy and unfinished. People played it like a game preview instead of a beta and left the game before it was even released. This I think is the core problem TSW has had – recovering from bad beta impressions.

Games aren’t commonly regularly improved from late Beta and post release states. Not in a meaningful way. So players who didn’t play because combat animations seemed meh in beta would not expect that to be significantly improved.

This is a shame because TSW has really put a lot of post release and post beta improvements in – a staggering amount actually but it’s somewhat too late as a million people have already tried the game and left it before it even got released.

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