UPDATE 4/12/2017: I asked a follow-up question regarding PvP in The Secret World and in Secret World Legends. I have added that question to the bottom of the interview.
With the announcement that Funcom was essentially sunsetting future development on The Secret World (but allowing players to still play on the servers) and releasing a free project called Secret World Legends, we were all very interested in how this project tied in with TSW. I got to chat with Executive Producer Scott Junior and tried to nail down some more details about the upcoming release…but on some things, understandably, Funcom just wasn’t ready to go into details yet.
Magicman (MM): Thanks for spending some time with us today and chatting about Secret World Legends. Before we get started, can you please introduce yourself to our readers and give us kind of a “day in your life” on what you do for The Secret World/Secret World Legends?
Scott Junior (SJ): Hi! My name is Scott Junior and I am an Executive Producer at Funcom. The team working on Secret World Legends is based in our RTP, North Carolina studio. For Secret World Legends specifically, I’m the “product owner” for the game and I’m in charge of the financial aspects of it. Day to day activities include setting goals for the team, managing the NC studio, and working with external partners.
MM: So getting started at a high level, TSW will go on basically a maintenance mode (i.e. you can play still but the game will no longer receive any updates) and Secret World Legends moves into the limelight. While as an MMO player I can see pros and cons here, what drove this decision? To be fair, rightly or wrongly, there is a bit of a feeling that TSW fans (like myself) were kind of just being abandoned in this news.
SJ: We wanted to expand the audience on Secret World Legends so we would be able to keep telling the original story from The Secret World. Going F2P is one step in doing this, but we felt that for SWL to be successful, we were going to have to make it easier for new players to get into the game. There were also many outstanding things we’ve wanted to do with the game since it launched, but never had the chance, or we simply couldn’t do them given the varied status of the players on the live servers. This now becomes a unique opportunity for us to embrace all those improvements to make the foundations of the game stronger and more engaging.
After we had evaluated all the changes we felt were necessary, we were left with a big decision: do we force all of these drastic changes onto a player base that has been playing our game for the past four years and leave them no alternatives, or do we start a fresh server/product and give them a choice to start new with all the new players that will be on Secret World Legends. We knew either way was going to be polarizing.
That said, for those that make the jump, we’re going to try to make the transition as easy and appealing as possible. We will have a bonus in Secret World Legends for players that owned The Secret World or the Ultimate/Massive/Complete Editions of the game. And we will attempt to copy over as many of the vanity items they had earned on TSW as we can. We will also copy the membership status from TSW to Secret World Legends.
MM: I think when we first heard the F2P announcement, many TSW players looked forward to the game getting some quality changes and a new influx of players. What made the team push in this kind of “stand alone title” direction? Did Conan Exiles’ progression have an impact here as in “maybe this would be good for TSW too?”
SJ: Conan Exiles didn’t have much of an impact on our team here. The vast majority of the work for Conan Exiles was done by the team in Oslo. The F2P game changes, relaunch, and new marketing direction have been in works since late last summer (2016).
MM: SWL takes one of the great parts of TSW, the story, and improves the rest of the game around it. How so?
SJ: We feel that the story and quest content in TSW are the best in the MMO industry. What our metrics were showing us was that we were losing a lot of players due to how we had set up the “systems” parts of TSW. This includes horizontal/no level character progression, the ability wheel, lack of levels and other innovations that we made on the genre that were not instantly familiar to MMO players that had played other games. TSW is very hard to get into since the player has so much freedom and can make so many mistakes while building their character.
MM: Am I, as a long time TSW player, playing large portions of the same story over again in SWL then?
SJ: The overall story of the game and a majority of the cutscenes remain unchanged. This was the main strength of TSW and our goal is to encourage everyone to experience it firsthand. For long-time and returning players however, they will notice that in several places, the flow of the story has changed. It has been improved to fit the new gameplay better, and on many occasions the actual storytelling has improved, filling in some of the logic gaps that existed in the original game, and answering some long-standing questions. In short, it’s the same, but better!
MM: Investigation missions, side missions, all that content I’ve played through must also be done again? If so has it changed in any meaningful way to accommodate TSW players?
SJ: Given the work done throughout all locations, a lot of the side missions have been reworked to fit the new gameplay and layout of the story flow. Several new side missions have also been added to fill in some of the gaps and encourage further exploration of each playfield.
Thanks to their nature and intricacies, the Investigation-style missions will remain largely unchanged, aside from improvements here and there.
MM: Progression has changed to a more level based system and the scale of groups has been lowered to more solo or small group play. Can you talk about these changes specifically a bit, like the ability wheel for instance?
SJ: The ability wheel has been broken up into weapon-specific sections. There are still hundreds of active and passive abilities that you can earn in the game, we have just presented that data in an easier to understand format.
Levels were always present in TSW in one form or another; zombies in the earlier zones were easier than the vampires in the later ones. We simply consolidated that data and made it more apparent to the players.
The overall story of the game was made more engaging to experience by yourself or with your friends. There still is some optional group content in the form of dungeons and raids with various degrees of difficulty.
MM: Can you talk about monetization a bit? I see that you are leaning more towards vanity items, but I also saw character slots on there…will there really be much of a reason to play different characters in an essentially single player game? Does this mean the story changes based on faction still then?
SJ: Your faction will still change how your character sees the events that are happening in the world. You’ll also have access to some faction-specific missions in the game. There will still be a reason to play through the game with more than one character. We see that a lot of our players in TSW have multiple accounts with different genders, factions, etc.
MM: I’ll be able to bring some vanity items with me from TSW to SWL, but not my character, not even my character’s appearance, correct?
SJ: The character you create on Secret World Legends will be a brand-new character. We will give you an option to copy over a lot of your vanity from TSW to your new account in Secret World Legends. A lot of improvement has been done to character creation; new faces, customizations and plenty of haircuts will be available.
MM: Is there anything else you’ve heard from players already that you’d like to reply to or get the word out about here?
SJ: Over the coming weeks/months, we will be releasing more detailed information on what is new in Secret World Legends. Stay tuned for more info!
Our thanks to Scott and the team at Funcom for taking some time out of their schedules to chat with us!
MM: What does this mean for the PvP players of The Secret World? Will Secret World Legends offer anything for them or are they supposed to stay in The Secret World servers for that? If that’s the case, wouldn’t that effectively just kill PvP gameplay as no new players are coming into TSW and old ones leave over time with no updates?
SJ: We want to build a strong PvP community in Secret World Legends. Our first step will be relaunching with a modified version of Shambala which is the newest and most popular pvp map in TSW. There are certain aspects of the map that need to be updated to support the changes we are making to the base game. After the SWL relaunch we will be looking at Fusang, El Dorado, and Stonehenge and seeing how we can properly integrate them in Secret World Legends.