Do you own any tools? I own some tools. I have a screwdriver, a hammer, a wrench, and a key that doesn't actually go to anything, so I use it to open cardboard boxes. Apparently, though, Funcom's utility belt is even more expansive than my formidable arsenal. In fact, if the sadly struggling Secret World developer is to be believed, it even possesses the mythical Free-To-Play Tool. Yes, that's right. It does exist. Even in Norway.
Funcom CEO Ole Schreiner explained his company's current stance on a F2P Secret World in an interview with GamesIndustry International.
"The Secret World was developed as a subscription-based game and the decisions made during planning and production was based on that business model. If we had designed The Secret World as a free-to-play offering we would have made some different decisions along the way, for example in terms of how the in-game store works and how our post-launch content plan would play out. We tried leaving our options open during development so that we could launch with a different model should we have decided during development that's what we wanted, but eventually we did settle on the subscription model and that's what informed much of the game's design."
"That said, we definitely have the tools to turn The Secret World into a free-to-play game - or even hybrid - should we decide to do that somewhere down the line. We did that with Age of Conan with significant success. We all know that trends and expectations in the gaming business, and perhaps particularly the MMO genre, is evolving quickly, and we're regularly re-evaluating our business model against the changing currents of the marketplace and our own player base as well. Not only in terms of The Secret World, but also our future games."
However, Schreiner also dropped a couple other interesting tidbits. First off, The Secret World is now apparently profitable. Granted, layoffs were required to make it possible, but for now, Ragnar Tornquist's brilliant yet often flawed brainchild isn't hemorrhaging funds or anything like that.
Schreiner also elaborated on Funcom's plan to shift away from massive productions like Conan and The Secret World. He explained that it's not necessarily a matter of reducing scope, but rather crafting systems that allow the games to drive themselves - ala EVE Online. "What's important to keep in mind is that a systems-driven MMO is no less of an MMO than a content-driven one," he said. "EVE Online is the perfect example of a popular systems-driven MMO that has truly engaged its audience and shown great longevity. A solid systems-driven MMO has the potential to live longer and be an even more engaging experience than a content-driven one."
Which doesn't sound all that bad on paper - assuming Funcom can figure out the secret to EVE's rather singular success. Granted, Funcom also thrives on creating original, highly detailed worlds and putting brainy words in the mouths of the characters that populate them. It'd be a bit of a shame to not leverage that obvious strength. I wish the whole company the best of luck, though. It's produced some really special things in the past, and it'd be utterly heartbreaking to see that screech to a halt because shifting business models sent the whole operation careening off a cliff.