So I've been thinking recently if I had won the lottery or otherwise came into a lot of money, what I'd do with it. One of the answers that I came up with was to buy out TSW from FunCom. Now the probability of my winning the lottery are nil, particularly as I don't buy lottery tickets, but I started formulating a plan for how I would approach the game's future development. I've organized this plan into short, mid, and long term tiers and sorted the items in these tiers according to priority.
With all of my proposed goals, I keep in mind a set of underlying objectives or values I believe require more focus to help improve TSW's viability as an MMO. These include:
Enhance the game's accessibility to new and existing players.
Encourage socialization and interaction among players.
Provide a more engaging experience by improving opportunities for player agency.
Incentivize monetization by building on premium services without jeopardizing game balance.
This is not meant to be a selection of tweaks, feature suggestions or a discussion on mechanics but a high level look at the direction I think TSW should take to reach its next level of development. Many of the points I bring up have already been raised by other members. My focus is to form the basis of an action plan that addresses the three things I believe should be FunCom's top priorities when implementing anything in The Secret World: player acquisition, player retention, and player contribution. Improving player experience is a critical means toward achieving those goals, but it is not itself the end goal. In other words, I am trying to approach the issue of what I would change or build upon in TSW from a design rather than a gameplay perspective.
Short Term Goals
Short term goals are projects that could be done relatively quickly, in months if not weeks. They usually involve either interface changes or tweaks to existing systems.
1) Formalize Sanctuary as an official channel. It doesn't make sense to me that the only way to reach the newbie channel is to use a poorly documented telnet command in the chat prompt. Newbies are stuck in a catch-22 where that the best way to learn how to get on to the newbie channel is through that same said channel. So my number one priority would be to establish Sanctuary as an official game channel to which new players are automatically subscribed. Veteran players can easily turn it off but this would immediately expose newcomers to one of TSW's strongest features: its helpful and welcoming community.
2) Haute Couture. The sale of vanity items is one of the most accepted practices of microtransaction and it bugs me how little attention the cash shop receives. I would remove the clothing vendors from the Haitian market in London and make their wares and most future clothing available from the cash shop. I would then place all vanity clothing in a monthly rotation so that only a sampling is available at a given time. Furthermore I would reduce the prices by about half but increase the account-wide markup to 80%. The intent here is to make clothing items inexpensive enough that players won't miss the money while instilling a sense of artificial scarcity, encouraging players to check out the cash shop regularly and purchase any items that they might miss after its scroll back into the queue.
3) Improve access to in-game e-mail. If I get cell phone service in the Carpathian mountains, why do I have to go to London to check my e-mail? I can understand wanting to limit the availability of attachments and bank access; however, my next priority would be to create a new interface that enables players to, at the very least, read and compose e-mails from anywhere in the game. Making it easier for players to have off-line communication would greatly help social cohesion.
4) Dailies. I think the addition of daily challenges proved a great benefit to TSW in providing a reward to players for experimenting with different activities. I would only make a small change to this system. As it stands, Dailies reserve the highest reward for players who engage in hard core activity, putting in many hours a week. I think this detracts from the system since hard core players don't really need an incentive to play on a regular basis; they're already hard core. What I would do instead is focus on rewarding consistent engagement by putting the focus on a wide array of shallow dailies; one such would be simply to log onto the game. Daily achievements would contribute to a single weekly quota, and meeting that quota would contribute to a monthly quota. The current Doomboard challenge is a good step in this direction, but its focus on a single goal of many achievements rather than consistent play over time will burn out players rather than invigourate them. Dailies should feel like a pat on the back for being part of the community rather than just another thing to grind for.
5) Expanded Tutorials. For as complex a game as TSW is there is a surprising lack of in-game tutorials. And for all the effort put into creating the Issue 8 video on augments, it told me very little on how to actually use or craft them. I would make an effort to go through the game and set up a help service to explain the finer points of TSW, crafting and the various character build systems in particular. As an aside, I would also look into the viability of updating the in-game web browser (really a mid-term goal) so that it is able to read the TSW forum pages.
6) Continue to improve Member Perqs. One of the best decisions FunCom has made in recent memory was to improve membership bonuses to give more worthwhile benefits. I would continue in this tradition by examining where the TSW experience could be made more convenient and offering them as member benefits. Note that I wouldn't restrict anything that currently exists to Buy2Play players (I'm looking at you SWTOR), but instead focus on finding ways to improve the experience of subscribers. Two improvements I would look at from the get-go would to be to extend the time-out of e-mails to 60 days and to extend the duration of their auction listings to 14 days. Neither of these changes would impact gameplay but serve solely as a convenience to people willing to pay for premium service.
7) End the Death Tax. I would eliminate equipment degradation altogether. It serves no purpose in TSW except to irritate the player with busy work. For wealthy players, the loss of Pax to repairs is inconsequential and for poor players it simply disincentivizes the experimentation and practice needed to "git gud". The player's biggest incentive to avoid dying is death itself, that is the time wasted either in having to track down their body or re-engage a dungeon boss. In a game where the economy is a focus I could see this mechanic being useful but TSW really isn't such a game.
Mid Term Goals
Mid term goals often involve changes or additions building upon existing systems, making them more resource intensive.
1) Holy Cannoli Batman, Sabotage Missions! The notion of stealth missions in an MMO is unique and interesting. Unfortunately the way that TSW handles this is obscure and frustrating because there's no mechanic to telegraph NPC detection. What I would do is try to implement a Batman style "detective mode" that would enable the player to see a mob's cone of vision at the expense of disabling skills, forcing the player to alternate between action and stealth modes. At the very least I would implement a Thief-style light gem so that players would at least be aware of their detection risk. Giving the player adequate information is essential to turning Sabotage missions from an exercise in trial-and-error to an engaging form of gameplay. I count this as a top priority as it would provide TSW with a distinct competitive edge over other MMOs.
2) Currency. I know that this has been a long standing issue and one that basically led to an armistice after the consolidation. Unfortunately, this only mitigated the problem, failing to solve it. The root the issue isn't the number of currencies but in their lack of a defined role. As an example of the correct way to implement currencies, look at how abilities function. You have builders, actions that accumulate "weapon currency", and consumers, abilities that expend that currency for a spectacular bonus. As applied to abilities, this system works well because it is clearly defined and intuitive to the player.
But as applied to wallet currencies, the current definition of each is obscured because of the myriad ways in which they are earned and spent. Black bullion is required to upgrade equipment, but so are pax and marks of the pantheon, muddling the utility of all three. Instead I would streamline the utility of each currency so that their application can be easily communicated. The following is an example of one way the currencies could be restructured (with little modification in some cases) so that their purpose can be understood in a phrase.
Marks of the Pantheon: Earned by achieving daily challenges. Spent on rare drops (e.g. signet bags) or may be converted into other currencies. This "pat on the back" currency is designed to give consistent players additional flexibility in tailoring their in-game experience.
Black Bullion: Earned by completing objectives (i.e. quests and PvP matches). Spent on weapon, talisman and glyph upgrades. This "equipment" currency is the gateway to improving the player character's combat stats.
Pax: Earned by killing mobs and completing objectives. Spent on consumable items, non-exclusive vanity items, and player conveniences (e.g. gear slots). Also used for market transactions. This is the "generic" currency, granting access to services and player experience improvements.
Marks of Venice: Earned from Fusang Quests. Used to purchase Fusang turret and custodian buffs. This "PvP" currency is exclusive to PvP applications in its accumulation and expenditure.
Lucky Coins: Earned from various cash shop purchases. Spent on exclusive vanity items. This "cash shop" currency can pretty much remain as is but may be expanded upon in the future.
Issue Sequins (multiple, various): Earned from completing quests respective to specific Issues and spent on exclusive vanity items. This "Issue" currency is a reward for players who have purchased content packs and serves as additional incentive for Buy2Play users to upgrade.
3) Set up a cabal bulletin board service. Creating a bulletin board where cabal mates could write public messages would help facilitate intra-guild communication. These messages would scroll off after a set period of days though officers would have a quota of posts they can sticky for long term use as general announcements. Since the content would be changing each time a person contributed to it, players would be more inclined to see announcements on the bulletin board than the oft-ignored MOTD. This would help cabals coordinate events and other group interactions.
4) Revitalize Scenarios. In concept, scenarios are a good idea. Unfortunately they're a (very) dull grind as implemented in TSW. I would overhaul scenarios in three ways to promote a more engaging experience. First, I would deprecate the waves of trash mobs and focus on bosses with adds thrown in to harass the players. Next, I would implement a second thread of random events to run in parallel with the existing one. This would add a layer of complexity and tension to scenarios by forcing teams to assess and engage multiple simultaneous threats. And third, I would look at applying additional mechanics to make Nightmare scenarios more distinctive in the same way that NM dungeons are to Elites. Choosing to play in nightmare mode should alter the player's approach to a scenario, rather than just the health and damage of the opponents faced.
5) Adventure Zone Downscaling. TSW already has character upscaling for PvP, allowing low tier characters to have comparable stats as high tier veterans. I would apply this to PvE adventure zones, downscaling the stats of veteran characters to an authored ceiling. Kingsmouth, for example, would scale characters to the maximum stat allowed by QL3 equipment. This would make these areas threatening to veteran players who would otherwise one-shot mobs. While we tell ourselves that we always have the option manually equipping low tier items, let's face it; nobody actually does. The importance of downscaling is not to make starter zones threatening to veterans but instead to equalize their capabilities with lowbies so that they two can work as a team, rather than have one carry the other. Lowbies don't learn the game, or necessarily have fun, when someone else is doing all the heavy lifting.
6) Campaign Scenarios. One complaint I've seen levelled at TSW is that for a game that prides itself on its quest design that the campaign quests can't be repeated without starting a new character. I would look at taking the campaign's single player instances and allowing players to access some of these in the Sunken Library as an expansion of Issue 8. Lore-wise this would be explained as the Council of Venice observing your performance by having you relive important moments of your career.
7) Group Instance Quests. It's jarring doing missions with your friends only to run into a solo-only instance. I would look at the solo instance missions to determine if they can be repurposed to give users the option to play either the original solo mission or a group version with increased difficulty as a kind of mini-dungeon. Friends that play together should get to stay together.
8) Defibrillate a Telltale Heart. TSW's strongest component was always its narrative, lore, and presentation. It's a world that people are interested in exploring and many have suggested that it might have been more successful as a franchise of single player games. Accordingly, I would take this strength and approach Telltale games about licensing the IP for them to make a single player adventure game in the TSW unvierse. Telltale has demonstrated over, and over (and over) again that they're willing to work with licensed media, including other game franchises. Even if TSW didn't earn any money directly from the game, a single player game by a developer with the proven chops of Telltale would draw a lot of welcome attention to the MMO.
Long Term Goals
Long Term projects are ambitious efforts usually involving the creation of new content. The time and money demanded for completion rend them ineligible as immediate priorities but serve as target goals that can be undertaken once TSW's growth curve rises.
1) Nightmare Adventure Zones. Referring to PvE maps like Kingsmouth, Scorched Desert, Besieged Farmlands etc, I would create Nightmare mirrors of these levels. The map, environment, and quests would remain as-is; however, the mobs and their positioning would be completely revamped. This wouldn't just be a matter of swapping existing mobs for high powered lookalikes but instead change the core experience by treating the level as a map-wide lair. Solo players would have to use sabotage-type stealth tactics to avoid encounters while open combat would be a group activity requiring teamwork. The idea is to provide veteran players a new experience at familiar and much loved locations.
2) Crowdfunding!!! TSW originated as a by-the-month subscription service that was quickly scrapped. It's managed to carry on this far under a Buy2Play with microtransaction model but that's no longer enough to consistently produce new content. Without new content, the existing membership will continue to drop off. I think there are a lot of people who would be willing to contribute money to TSW if there was a clear idea of where that money was going. More than there are people willing to purchase cosmetic items or member perqs. There would be two additional benefits to pursuing this model. One, it would actively engage the player base, making them feel more involved in TSW's future. Secondly, it would provide clear indication of the kind of content player's want to see by allowing them to vote with their dollars.
3) Hub City Adventure Issue. We have these lovely maps in the city hubs but they are underutilized as story zones with the exception of one-off campaign missions or special events. New York and Seoul in particular could benefit from more attention. I would start looking at an Issue that focuses on these locations. Obviously we can't have zombies running around the streets of London but we can use some of those static doors to serve as conduits for single or multi-room interiors to provide the setting for clandestine faction operations.
4) Go to Hell. I would also start laying groundwork on a Hell Adventure Zone. Given that there have already been a lot of assets created for the Hell environment yet player's exposure to Hell is relatively limited compared to the amount of time spent in Maine, Egypt, or Transylvania, this would be a good way to provide new PvE content without the expense of fabricating all new assets. The other-worldly quality of Hell would also allow for the implementation of interesting environmental effects, like the storm at the start of Hell Fallen.
5) PvP Scenarios. In conjunction with addressing my above concerns regarding scenarios, I would look at creating a new arena map combining both PvP and PvE elements. One could think of it as MOBA-lite, where players work to support mobs attacking an opposing team of mixed players and mobs.
The Elephant in the Room
There is one more topic that I would like to address. Unfortunately, it's very controversial and I'm afraid that by mentioning it here the conversation would focus on that one point at the expense of viewing this set of proposals as a whole. So I'm going to hold off and see how this post is received before I actually go in to what I think the elephant in the room actually is.