…And Now Your Republic Shall Fall

Posted by on Sep 17, 2009 in MMOs, Story | 4 Comments

In the comments on my post “The Point of Levels and Experience,” Helmsman ended his insightful comment with this: “So I guess my question is, what is it you’re really after in an MMO?”

First, a disclaimer: As a distinct type of game, I’m about as far from an expert in MMO play and design as it would be possible to be.

However, my reaction to reading about The Secret World on Kotaku (that I couldn’t be less interested) was so completely different from my recent experience watching BioWare’s trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic (that I was excited to the point that I may well invest extremely precious time in playing it) that I think it’s worthwhile to compare and contrast the marketing, and what it reveals about what the creators are trying to sell.

Here’s the Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer:

As a counterpoint, skim Kotaku’s The Secret World piece. And just to move the comparison a little closer to apples and apples, here’s a teaser trailer for The Secret World:

For me, the different is astounding, entirely apart from the obvious differences in production values.

The marketing for The Old Republic sells a story, and sells my character’s place in it. There’s not a half-inch of gameplay information sticking out anywhere, and who cares? The emphasis on story and world are carried over to the SW: TOR website as well.

The written piece for The Secret World, on the other hand, goes totally to gameplay. Its genuflections toward story are to talk about the philosophical differences between the factions. Nothing whatever is said about whatever larger struggle is going on in the game, save that the opposition is “evil.” The teaser contains broad, “mysterious” platitudes, with nothing of substance about the game’s story whatsoever.

Yes, we’re talking about marketing here, but on the other hand, neither of these games have been released, so there’s not a lot more to go on. But I think this pair of games are a good illustration of what it would take to really turn me on about an MMO, versus what leaves me completely cold.

You’re shocked, no doubt, to discover that I’m half of the crew behind a website dedicated to the intersection of games and stories.


  1. Gregory Weir
    September 17, 2009

    That’s interesting, because as a player who considers himself story-focused, I had the opposite reaction. SW:TOR seems like a heavily authored story in a well-established setting. I’m sure a SW:TOR player will be telling a story, but it will be Bioware’s story, in a setting that’s been in the public consciousness for thirty years or so.

    The Secret World, on the other hand, is being directed by Ragnar Tørnquist, creator of the well-storied The Longest Journey. The teaser trailer you embed here is uninspiring, sure, but is clearly from the primordial stages of development. I think the comparison is best made with a trailer like this one or this one. Normal-looking (albeit pretty) people coming across unnatural monsters in mundane settings. Combine that style and premise with the factional conflicts that occur when three rival groups are working to fight the same enemy, as described in the Kotaku article, and you’ve got me interested. TSW seems like a game where I can tell my story, in an original and rather cool world. The factional conflicts are not a distraction from story; they are the elements of story.

    So I’m much more interested in TSW than in SW:TOR.

  2. Will Hindmarch
    September 17, 2009

    The Old Republic trailers haven’t done much for me that the Clone Wars cartoon didn’t do, too. That is, as little animated candies, they’re fine. But I don’t see The Old Republic‘s gameplay being much like the (incessant, OMG-Sith-Are-Awesome) trailers, really. The trailers show us what the gameplay might be suggestive of, I think, but that’s not the same.

    When the SW:TOR trailer debuted, my first reaction was to tweet about how OMG they’d nerfed the Jedi and obviously everyone only plays lightsaber classes, ’cause look how they outnumber everyone else, and etc., etc. An obvious joke, I thought, but I got taken seriously! The joke, of course, is that you can’t tell anything about that game from the trailer, but apparently that’s lost in the glamorous animation and husky-voiced dialog.

    I have no useful opinion on Secret World, for perhaps obvious reasons.

  3. Gunther Smallberries
    September 18, 2009

    I don’t play anything that doesn’t side scroll as 3 dimensions is too much for my gaming brain to handle.

  4. John Arcadian
    September 19, 2009

    To me these two trailers are trying to sell the same thing, the world you’ll be playing in. There is a definite quality difference in the two, but they each seem to be saying: “Here is the story you’ll be playing.” The Old Republic trailer lays the background of the struggle and says your experience will be this awesome (it won’t) and the experience will be polished and neat (it will. The secret world trailer says that the experience will be different from what you are used to in an MMO (seems like it will) and that the production is nowhere near finished. I’m definitely drawn to the Old Republic more. It’s shinier and the geek in me likes that, but it’s still not enough to get me into playing an MMO.

    I’m always a fan of player driven stories, but realize the incredible difficulties any videogame faces in achieving that. MMOs have an easier time in creating player driven stories because of their nature as communities as well as games. Conversely, they fail in creating a unique player experience because of the multitude of people playing. It’s hard to be THE HERO in a group of heroes playing the exact same quests. Usually when I play any kind of videogame I’ve got a side story running in my head that trumps the larger story. I enjoy being part of the larger story, but I’m always adding in the bits they can’t. I’ve never been able to do this in my brief dalliances into the MMO worlds. The the concessions you need to make to the mechanics of the gameplay experience (LFG! Need Healer! Hey, I’ll help you do this quest, blow by those NPCS they aren’t important and don’t give good enough loot.) break any kind of story I’m working in my head about my character’s place in the world.

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