The Secret World subscription model Q&A with game director Joel Bylos
Earlier today it was announced that The Secret World is dropping its mandatory subscription requirement. After a subterranean dive into a lost temple of the Elder Ones, we were able to speak with Game Director Joel Bylos through an ancient standing stone about the change. The answers below will only be legible during a brief planetary alignment, so check them out while there's still time!
PC Gamer: The Secret World has taken a pretty strong subscription-only stance from the beginning. What made you change your minds?
Joel Bylos, Game Director: I think the team has always been in favor of providing the best experience to the players regardless of the business model. So when we were told to make a subscription game, So we asked ourselves the question “What does a responsible subscription look like?”
We concluded that delivering regular content updates gave people the value for their money that they would expect from a subscription, and we delivered out issues with that philosophy in mind. Since launch we have released four major content updates—over the course of just five months—including everything from auxiliary weapons to new storylines and even a raid.
We believed that it was the best way to deliver on a subscription and thus we believed in the way we were making the model work.
I think The Secret World had a lot of factors going against it when it launched—everything from an extremely competitive launch window to the fact that it was a new, and very different type of MMO license. We didn’t manage to draw in as many players we had hoped for, and at this point, we felt that we had to make a non-subscription offering in order to remove the entry barrier and have more gamers make the jump into the game. Because we know that once players experience The Secret World, most of them tend to have tons of fun with it.
And so the switch to a model that we hope will grow our community.
What types of items can we expect to see added to the in-game store?
JB We’ll add a few more convenience items; such a XP boosts and Run Speed upgrades. Our focus for the store has always been on cosmetics and not power, and we will keep that focus—we won’t be selling weapons, talismans or anything that can be considered power in the store. So we’ll definitely dream up more clothing, pets and other great stuff that people can get their hands on.
What are the purchasable Content Packs going to include? And what can players expect to pay for them?
JB: Currently our updates—called Issues—include features, fixes and content. Going forward the features and fixes will continue to be free, while we will bundle up the content into optional DLC packs. Our goal is to provide between 5-10 hours of entertainment in these DLC packs, with new missions, cinematics and story arcs. So there will definitely be something for everyone with each issue—regardless of whether you want to purchase the optional DLC component of it or not. I think we have proven so far that we are able to create a lot of great content for these updates, and we are not planning on slowing down!
The price for each DLC will vary depending on its size.
What kinds of things are going to be given out to subscribers as items of the month?
JB: The first Item of the Month is a Mayan Headress, which is a head item that players can show off to prove that if the end of days is coming, they are fully prepared. Each month it will be themed around the Issue that we are releasing—the next Issue is primarily set in Egypt and so it will be an Egyptian style item. Seeing that the Item of the Month is one of the subscriber rewards, we want to make sure it holds great value for the player, without going overboard and making non-subscribers feel they’re missing out. That’s very important to us.
From what I understand, you're still charging for the game itself. What made you go this route instead of completely free to play?
JB: There are a few reasons why I think buy-to-play is a better idea than free-to-play for The Secret World. First of all, free-to-play would put enormous pressure on us to include items in the store that I am not comfortable putting in there. If you’re going full free-to-play, I think we would have had to be much more aggressive in terms of selling power, and that would really change the dynamics of the game and create a greater divide between the optional subscribers and the non-subscribers. That’s not the game we have made, and it’s not the game we want The Secret World to turn into.
Secondly, I think still having a client fee (even a relatively low one) discourages gold farmers and troll accounts and other malcontents.
Finally, I think it implies a willingness on both sides to get the most value for the money. I think that when people pay for something, they value it more and are therefore more willing to invest their time in it. From the development team, we know that we are working for people who care about the game, not people who create a free account to make fun of us or ridicule our work.
Will the cost of the base game change with the removal of the subscription requirement?
JB: Currently the client price is 30 USD/EUR and 25 GBP and that will remain the same. We really feel this is great value for money, there is just so much content for players to experience here—especially considering the four updates we've put out since launch are all included. For those who buy the game in December, I understand that we’re also including a free Initiate Pack with lots of good stuff in it!
Is story/mission content going to be exclusive to the Content Packs, or will free players continue to get new stories with the regular updates?
JB: There will be a mix of free and paid content in the updates, but the ratio and exact setup will again be determined as we get closer to rolling out the next issue. We have a strong, dedicated live team working on The Secret World, and for me it’s important that I have those resources available to continue pushing out great content on a relatively frequent basis. In order for those wheels to go around, we need an additional income source beyond the initial client price. To put it bluntly—we’re not the biggest company in the business, and if we want to continue putting out updates at such a frequent pace, we need to make sure we have the money to do that.
Considering the quality of the updates we have released so far, I’m confident that we’ll be able to continue delivering great stuff that holds great value for money. We would never charge for something that’s not worth it, and that’s also why we’ll release differently priced DLCs depending on their size.
I just want to take the time to underline how important it is to us that all players feel welcome in our game. There are no second-class citizens of The Secret World. Buy the game, and you will receive the full experience and every update that is in the game thus far.
And if you haven’t played the game yet, please do so now. Come December 21st it’ll all be too late. If you don’t believe me, just Google it. Really. Google it!
Thanks to Joel and Funcom for the info. You can read more about the change on the official blog.