Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Community That Slays Together : The Secret World

It's July 2012. The Secret World has been Live for just a week. I'm immersed but already I'm speculating. Will I still be playing in a year's time?

"It's a safe bet that I won't be playing TSW with this intensity in July 2013, but will it still be in the mix? If there's some kind of Free-to-Play option, then absolutely. No question at all".

Turns out I can see the future. TSW is very definitely still in the mix and never more so than with the current slew of First Anniversary events; events that, perhaps unintentionally, exemplify how a common cause can bring an MMO community together.

TSW has an oddly disparate community to begin with. In roleplaying terms (and the game probably has a higher proportion of roleplayers than the average modern MMO) the three factions don't trust each other, which leads to a certain degree of separation. Then there's the issue of the largely anonymous servers, or Dimensions as they call them. In most MMOs I'd always know the name of the shard or server where each and every one of my characters lived but in TSW? No clue.

For the anniversary Funcom chose to do several things
  • They had a sale in the cash shop. 30% off, threw in a couple of giveaways, a flare gun and yet another tee-shirt. So far, so meh. 
  •  They handed out double xp potions. Handy but no big deal. 
  •  They doubled both Ability and Skill point gain for a couple of days each. Getting interesting.
  • They woke Gaia up and she's not happy.  And that's where the fun really starts.
In every zone there's a Guardian of Gaia. They take the form of towering elementals appropriate to the land from which they arise, so the Kingsmouth Guardian that spawns in the mudflats near Edgar's scrapyard is a tangled mess of metal and barbed wire, the Blue Mountain Guardian is a living boulder, the Shadowy Forest Guardian is twined in roots and so on.

Fine and dandy but in the normal run of things, well that's just it: there'd be a lot of running. The Secret World has an idiosyncratic transport system, The Agartha, a kind of hollow earth Metro. It's atmospheric and impressive but something of a pain to use, especially if you're in a hurry to, say, get to the other side of the world to bring down a giant elemental and grab some Phat Loot.

The Guardians spawn in all Dimensions either at random or on some pattern no-one seems to have figured out yet. The first sign is the appearance of The Gatekeeper, the cheery, mutton-chopped Victorian stationmaster previously only ever seen at his eternal post in the Agartha. He makes his ponderous way through the World Above to the summoning point. When he gets there he does something that I've yet to see and up pops a humungous elemental. 

After that it's All Pile On.  Or it is if you have enough All. The Guardians have 15,000,000 hit points and some very powerful attacks. Even with bee power that takes some whittling. Which is where the community comes in.

TSW has a lot of inbuilt tools to help people communicate and find each other, none of which are obvious. You can make and join global chat channels that span all Dimensions, for a start. I never knew that until this week. You can click on anyone's name in chat and add them to your Friends list, from where, with another click, you can Meet Up. Meeting up not only transfers you to your friend's Dimension, it moves you to their zone, so you can jump from Blue Mountain to City of the Sun God without the inconvenience of having to go through anywhere inbetween.

The result has been ad hoc MMO community-building at its finest. Within a minute or two of logging in on the first day I'd been advised in local chat to join the Anniversary channel and after a few more questions and clarifications and a couple of false starts I was zipping between Dimensions and continents like I'd been born to it.

In the first day or two The Gatekeeper only visited New England. The crowds were intense and so was the lag. Most of my fights were in freeze-frame. As the event rolled on the Gaian love spread across Egypt and into Transylvania and we spread with it. The upside is less lag; the downside less firepower.

The community steps up. People call the spawns, track the Gatekeeper, give co-ordinates and Dimension references, offer piggybacks. In the fights someone always tanks; just one person. How it's decided who it'll be I have no idea. Everyone else stands back and shoots. I heal with my assault rifle. Talk about a Magic Bullet...

For the while Guardian Hopping's a thing. There's an Achievement (of course there is) for killing them all and there's a Lore collection to complete as well. Then there are the Lucky Bags, one per kill, don't come back for the same one in under two hours. Inside the bags, plenty goodies; a pet of every Guardian, an eyepatch, glowing green eyes, signets, Black Bullion, lots of very desirable stuff.

The Anniversary event was supposed to last five days. What a feeding frenzy that would have been. Funcom, spotting the opportunity, extended that by a week. Whether the community spirit will last that long we'll have to wait and see but, as with the Secret of Southsun in GW2 not so long ago and numerous other Big Ticket open events in other MMOs over the years, yet again we see it proved:

If you build a giant loot pinata they will come.



  1. My main issue with TSW is that everyone swallowed a magic bee... Oh wait no, I mean because it isn't completely free. But good work on your prescience skill Bhagpuss! :P

  2. I guess this kind of content, stuff to encourage random grouping, isn't normally in the game? It's a feature I still like in GW2 and may well like in FFXIV. I'm not that attracted to TSW but the two friends I'm playing SWTOR with probably would really like it. I suspect at some point I'll get them to try it.

    Is the lag mostly a client issue or does TSW have the dreaded "lag-monster" that used to so badly affect DDO?

    1. The lag is entirely due to the vast numbers of people gathered in one place. Prior to this I've never had lag in TSW ever. The numbers of people yesterday evening were really extraordinary. My PC actually crashed during the Shadowy Forest event.

      And no, TSW doesn't have this sort of content in the normal run of things - it's based around solo and small group play, mostly. It doesn't have the kind of auto/hot grouping features of Rift or GW2 either, but it does have shared quest credit outside of group so de facto you can do most outdoor stuff just by tagging along with anyone else who's doing it. Like most things in TSW, that's another great feature Funcom doesn't tell you about. They seem to like to treat their own game systems as some kind of an Investigation Mission.

  3. Just a few comments. First, unless a second channel was created by players, the channel to join for the spot reports and anchors (people who spot the reports and serve as "meet ups" for others, so people can get into the zone and to the boss) is called "Anniversity".

    On how you find a tank, it's a dynamic process. Several hours over the weekend i was in a Cabal group with a tank (and me healing), so wherever we turned up, a tank was provided. Outside of that Cabal activity, the event very much showed the flexibility of the game and community. Sometimes a fight with a guardian was started without a tank present. Trying to keep the DDs alive i was able to pick up the names of the people who died. I quite often saw a DD with 1970 health die, just to return from the anima well with over 10k healt and a tank setup. Flexibility for the win. :)

    Extra points for the healers who have "assist enemy" bound to a key and press it regularily. No, by assisting the boss you are not attacking your own tank, but you get him as defensive target. A good healer at those guardians presses this button every few seconds, so healing is always delivered to the person who currently has agro.

    @Joseph Skyrim8:
    If you want to give it a try, anybody with an existing account for any FunCom game can get in over the anniversity event. Now take a look at Age of Conan or Anarchy Onlines free trial... :D

    And on the random grouping stuff: Indeed, you don't get auto-squeezed into a group in TSW, but most missions by design can perfectly well be done together by several players, without being in group. (With collections being the only exception. If you want collected items to count for more than one player, you need a group. If you are ungrouped, you might end up in the competition of who grabs the stuff first. )

    TSWs system here is very logical and feels very much "real life style", but TSW never used such fundamentally useful new game mechanics for their advertising campaings. Other games which replaced the ancient "tag-this-now-is-my-mob" system with different concepts advertise these changes loudly, although their system indeed is noticeably weaker than TSWs. (GW2, i am looking at you. )

    Taking a look at the whole atmosphere and personal story in GW2, my sarcastic nature tells me exactly why GW2 needs to use game mechanics to advertise, while TSW rightfully is able to focus on story and atmosphere in their adds, albeit at the price of most players not having a full overview about the games mechanics and how superior they actually are to many other games.

    Thus yes, FC "failed" here to some degree, more information about the games systems could've been deliverer to the new player. But considering that the game has tutorials included and knowing that many players skip them (my Cabal regularily accepts and trains new players), i guess more information overload wouldn't do much good, either.


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