Funcom – the new good guys?

I don’t know about you, but for me, i’ll always support the “good guys” in the genre. Last year, i thought SOE might shape up to be the new good guy on the block, but since SOE went Daybreak, the news we got were more in line with what happened to Trion after Scott Hartsman returned to the company as CEO. Remember Trion? They are the company behind Rift, and they were- i think- the most popular developer of MMOs up until Rift went free-to-play, although Defiance had put a stain on their white vest already. When it was announced that Trion would be publishing ArcheAge, it was met with great positivity.

Nowadays, Trion isn’t so popular anymore. And even pressed hard, i don’t think i could come up with any studio that’s regarded in a similar way. City state entertainment (Camelot Unchained) seems to be quite popular, but in reality, this is easy for people who haven’t released a game yet.

If we’re looking for a good guy in MMORPG development space, for me, there’d need to be some qualities i’d like to see:

  • quite open communication
  • an honest, straight-forward business model in their game(s)
  • a noticeable will to do what’s best for their games and players
  • not outright abandoning any games that don’t perform so well

With all that in mind, my current favourite would be Funcom. Yes, they messed up launches in the past- Age of Conan and Anarchy Online are famous for that. And maybe there were “misunderstandings” when you played through Tortage and realized that the game was quite different later on. Also, they seem to be unable to create a compelling crafting system/economy. But i have the feeling, they’re doing the best they can.

Doing what’s best for their games and players

We know their financials aren’t looking too good, and it seems The Secret World is carrying the weight of the other games in Funcoms portfolio- so it is understandable that their main focus in development would be in TSW. But they haven’t forgotten Age of Conan. New content has been released, the achievement system, while not content in a strict sense, is a system where you can play around even if you are a dedicated long-time veteran of the game.

Still don't like Tortage, though
Still don’t like Tortage, though

With the focus of the guild project turning to AoC, i also found that the atmosphere in AoC is interesting, very unique (i thought about another MMORPG with that kind of mood, but i don’t know any) and very well done. Funcom were able to deliver on that even before TSW.

Also, their games feel different. The Secret World moreso than Age of Conan, but to call any of them a “WoW clone” would be quite wrong. You won’t find a game similar to TSW (yet), with the huge focus on story, a brave attempt at cutting down on quest log entries which in effect makes quests more noticeable and important as well as easier to follow and pick up again after some absence.

For instance, in TSW i relogged into my character in the Blue Mountains and it was an easy return- she only had one quest open (two if you count the main story quest) and only one hotbar with abilities- getting reacquainted was an easy task. I also found out how their EPE update made life better- the current quest took me to fight Ah’kabs…lots of them. See, i’m pretty sure they were the reason why i logged out the last time i tried to play TSW and haven’t really returned since. This time, they were still annoying, still not easy to fight mobs, especially when you pull more than one of them, but fighting them was enjoyable.

So they also do what’s in the best interest of their games and players- i’m including the current sales which seem to have brought a lot of new players to the game. In game, it almost feels like a relaunch similar to what happens after a business model change.

Business models in Funcom games

I find The Secret World and Age of Conan to be honest in their business models, as well. They are different- TSW is buy-to-play, Age of Conan basically is free-to-play for levelling and a subscription game at level cap. Both heavily rely on dedicated players to pay the bills which is a nice change to all those PLEX/REX/CREDD/WoW token games that monetize new players. With TSW’s sales, you can get all the currently available content (with the exception of the side-stories, maybe) for 50$.

In the laundry
In the laundry

 

In Age of Conan, i looked for a reason to subscribe, but there’s really no reason to if you aren’t at level cap. My main reason for looking is the ability to unlock a character with a level above 20, so i could create a guild for the guild project- the perks i’d have for subscribing would be menial, though. A little Alternate Advancement that only really starts at level-cap, anyway, more bag space and…that’s it, i think. Well, some Funcom points.

I can’t talk about Anarchy Online because i don’t know the game and business model, but these two, i find to be quite easy to understand, fair to the players and sensible in what they do.

Yes, it seems there is a little bit of complaining around as somehow deals for new players to join are seen as “screwing” their loyal customer base. I don’t agree- games always go into discount some time after release and, especially in MMOs, free-to-play, item shops and digital sales have stabilized prizes somewhat. I mean, Elder Scrolls Online, for instance, was sold for 20$ in january, when they announced the change to buy-to-play. Nowadays, it’s 60$ again, and still one of the best-selling games on Steam and Amazon.

Open communication

I don’t really know how it is nowadays, after Joel Bylos went to his new project, but when he was around, he communicated very open and honest in the official game forums.

So, for now, i declare Funcom my current favourite developer. I feel like they’re doing their best within their financial abilities, they treat their customers like adults and they aren’t afraid to try new things in their games or change their games in ways that ultimately benefit all their customers.

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8 thoughts on “Funcom – the new good guys?

  1. I very much agree on everything you say, except the part that you had hopes for SOE. No matter what the company did, the filthy spewing figurehead Smedley always tainted their reputation for me. The best move they could’ve made would’ve been to gag him and lock him into game development, where he actually did some good things in his past and probably still is a very valuable asset. He just needed to be separatedf rom twitter or any other outlet, so he couldn’t have insulted the players several times a year and things would’ve been good. Perhaps the new owners understand that and discretely dispose of him in time, to save the hard working employees who deserve better than repeatedly having their reputation tained by him.

    On Funcom, yes, it seems like as long as the company is alive you can expect to be able to play their MMOs. I mean, according to the summary of their last financial record (i didn’t read the actual report, but due to their business model they have to publish their record), currently TSW is their only product actually making money. Everything else, even the LEGO thingie, is currently a loss. Despite that they keep everything up and running, so they clearly are loyal to their portfolio.

    I know of no other company who would do that, so kudos to them. Additionally, i just see a lot of love for the games and references to earlier games throughout. I mean, i have a leet pet in TSW. The leet originates from Anarchy Online, where it was a mob found close to cities and in city backyards and also existed as pet. (With a very primitive pet combat system included. ) And there are many other eastereggs, Agartha portals in some missions show places in AoC and AO for example.

    On your return to TSW, while i fully understand and agree on what you say there, i dare to say that this is more a nice side-effect of the system. I think that many other MMOs would be glad to also have this advantage, but they were designed along the EQ/WoW lines and have no chance to ever get there. Still, i would not credit this to FC being “good”, but rather on the design. (Guild Wars 1 is similar and thus also as accessible. GW2 clogs itself down with traits and stuff, making it a little less accessible, but it’s not far behind. )

    In contrast the rebalancing of the TSW i see a bit critical. I understand that things had to be made a bit easier for the casual player, but i think they missed the biggest goal of the redesign: teaching the player better. Very often when people run into issues in the first zones, they simply don’t have a good setup, which is understandable as the game doesn’t really tell or teach how to make a good setup, without spending plenty of time studying the skillwheel. (You can’t expect a new player to understand skill synergies and mechanics like block, penetration, etc. without providing information at the right time. ) So while they somewhat improved the tutorial at the start, the game should do even more there.

    On Funcoms games being different, at least for those i played i absolutely agree. I also still have fond memories of Anarchy Online and while the game by now is terribly outdated, some things there were never seen again. (Though, the return there is much harder, you have a plethora of abilities and have to study them before being able to use them well. So this game does have the “hard return” problem. )

    For the business model TSW at launch got a lot of flack, when it still had a subscription, while the one big competitor (GW2) came without. But this problem (which never was one for me, as i saw that GW2 at launch very much aimed at the player to spend money at the item store, while TSW at launch had only a little fluff in it) was remedied on time.

    So by now, i’d know of no MMO with a better business model. GW2 looked better till Heart of Thrones was announced. Now the two games are on par again, with TSW bringing more frequent (but cheaper) updates, while GW2 goes for the full-price mega-expansion every few years.

    And on open communication i also mostly agree. I also like the support, while there are sometimes bugs and you run into issues in the run of time, waiting times at Funcoms support are much lower than in any other (live*) MMO i ever needed support.
    (*I’ve experienced even faster support in some MMOs in beta, but in either case, this quickly changed after launch. )

    My only worries are, what Joel Bylos is assigned for now and i hope that his absence doesn’t negatively affect TSW. But i can understand why they want him on the new project. TSW is the -one- lucrative product they have at the moment, and the community credits a lot if its success to him, so it’s quite understandable that they want him to design their next product, hoping that it’ll be a success, too.

    1. Wow, thanks for the great comment! I’d like to talk about some points, but won’t be able to cover all of them, so i’ll just start with SOE and Smed.

      First of all, SOE because they tried this “open develoment” thing- i also respect them for how long they kept Vanguard – first in maintenance mode, later even trying to do something with it. It didn’t work out, but they kept the game running MUCH longer than many other companies would have.

      For J. Smedley- i don’t know- i mean, if i want “open communication” i can’t also expect them to only say things i’d like to hear. Granted, not everything he tweets comes of as very professional (carebear servers for H1Z1 and others), but i find it to be at least authentic. With Smed, i’m at least allowed to have the illusion of knowing who i’m dealing with.

      I’ll take time tomorrow to see if there’s anything else i’d like to comment in your comment, just wanted to say thanks!

      1. Different points of view, i guess. I played some SOE games when i started out with MMOs and have to admit that i enjoyed them. I left SOE a little after WoWs launch, but only spend 4 months there before being bored and moving on to other titles.
        Since then almost any time i actually heard anything from SOE, it was Mr. Smedley insulting players and customers. He “learend” this diva-like behaviour from old Everquest (and SWG) times, where they had no noteworthy rivals and the customers just accepted and went with that trolling since SOE at that time dominated the market and other offers were rare and usually of low quality.

        Unfortunately he apparently never heard the news that by now there are many other MMOs from other companies on the market. And if there are several options, all of them are fine and fun to play, i rather give my money to those, who treat me with respect or at least don’t insult me on an almost regular basis.

        So in my case, and i suspect i am not the only one, their products after some time just got no attention any more. Maybe Vanguard would’ve been good and fun, as well as some others of their games, but whenever i considered picking one of them up, Mr. Smed reliably made some news by insulting us players again, and i just opted to rather try some other game instead. So unless i am the unique snowflake, which i somehow doubt that i am, his trolling of the playerbase cost them a number of costumers and as result quite certainly killed some jobs of hard working developers.

        Open communication is good, but good manners are a virtue which should never be underestimated. Since Mr. Smed had many years to learn but obviously decided against (he has shown that he is not stupid, so he could’ve gone for manners if he would have chosen to) his removal as public figurehead would be a smart move. Maintaining good communication but hiring somebody who knows manners to communicate would be another one.

    2. You’re right of course. Open communication doesn’t make manners obsolete. I didn’t follow SOE in the early days, so i don’t hold a grudge for their behaviour in, let’s say, Everquest times or for the SWG NPE.

      For TSW, i think it had a great balance before- for grouping. Solo, the mobs were annoying- i didn’t die much, it just took me forever to kill something. Maybe that could be helped with different skills and gear, but to be honest, i don’t understand much of it, either. The only thing i can say is that whenever i researched a build and put it in place in game i found it to be worse than what i had build myself earlier. But that’s one thing i should look into while i’m playing TSW for the double AP week- getting a better understanding of the combat mechanics.

      Once i played TSW in a dedicated group of three players for some time- it was a great experience! The mobs in game were strong enough to make group play more satisfying while still weak enough to be manageable solo. Unfortunately, you don’t want to group up all the time.

      The business model of TSW is the best- of course it had been strange to introduce a game with a subscription and an ingame shop, TSW was too expensive early on. On the other hand, they stuck with cosmetic items in the cash shop and the conversion to b2p was that much easier for them, because the structure was already in place. We all knew it would come at some point.

      Nowadays, the shop isn’t too invasive, provides much in terms of outfits and they sell their content- i feel selling content is the honest way to do b2p. Possibly this doesn’t generate as much money as the companies would like, so i can see why selling other things is a good idea. I don’t want these games to be “cheap”, but i’d like to see them doing fair business.

      1. Just the note on the setups you looked up and did not perform that well, this can be because of several reasions:

        1. Shortly after launch people published a number of “great” setups which actually also were not all that good. If you stumbled over those, you indeed probably had problems.

        2. Setups often are published as a combination of abilities and that’s it. I can’t blame people doing so, after all it’s the very same the game does with its predefined decks. But actually this is wrong, any deck is strongly dependent on the gear used. If your deck includes some healing, be it active or passive, it only works well if you also have some heal rating on your talismans. If your deck builds around blocking (including abilities like Cool, Calm & Collected and You’re Next), you better also have some block rating glyphs on your gear to make it trigger often enough.

        If you take a deck from somewhere, even if it’s actually a good one, but your gear is not composed to support it, it will never really shine.

        3. Using a deck still is a lot of personal “touch and feel”. I’ve read and tried many decks which were said to be good. For many of them i also saw how they could work and understood that they could do a great job when used properly. But they just did not fit my personal playstyle, so i could not get myself to use them for more than a testrun.

        So the best way for many players indeed is not to grab a “fixed” deck from somewhere, but rather look up some hints and pointers on how to combine conditions and effects but build a setup for yourself. It might not be perfect right from the start, but it will get better if you continue playing, try stuff and refine your setup and it should always feel “right” for you.

        And here some pointers which i just like to give on the subject:
        – find your way of bringing some survivability. Options are to have some tankish abilities (block, dodge, evasion) on the bar, be it active or passive, or bring some healing. For healing, i personally prefer active healing, but there’s enough people out there who rather put in some of the passive healing effects (Lick your Wounds, Immortal Spirit, Leeching Frenzy) and are perfectly fine.

        – A good way to reduce an enemies damage output (if the fight is not over in a few seconds) is debilitation. There are several ways to deliver it. The most reliable is in the inner wheel of shotgun, if you’re not using that, you might like to use “12 Gouge”, which is on the outer wheel of shotgun.

        – As 12 Gouge requires you to land enough penetrating hits to work reliably, you might want to find a way to increase your penetration rating. The most commonly used methods for that are “Dark Prophecy” and “Iron Maiden”, both from Blood. (Iron Maiden is the better one if you already have some acceptable penetration rating. )

        – As those both rely on affliction, you might want to bring one or another way to deal that. There’s many options to do that, strewn thoughout all weapons, but if no option really is convenient for you, you might want to look at “Bloodsport” from Fists.

        – And of course, if you already bring this setup for increased penetration rating, you might want to look into abilities which profit from penetration. (e.g. Twist the Knife or Sudden Return)

        This is far from a complete deck and there are some good decks out there which are built on completely different mechanics. I for a while ran a nice fist/chaos setup which relied a lot on the attacks being all burst. I also found that a hammer/shotgun setup with all strike abilities can be used for good effect. There’s plenty of options, i can’t tell you which one suits you best, but i wish you good success in finding it. 🙂

      2. Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll look into it! The combat system of TSW is quite complex- haven’t really tried to “understand” it, just read descriptions and so on. Maybe it would be a good idea to read a basic guide.

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