Funcom's Ragnar Tørnquist has said the idea that MMOs can't have an involved ongoing story is "complete and utter bollocks".
"'MMOs are playgrounds!', it's been argued. 'There's no room for storytelling. Narrative gets in the way. The only story is the story written by players!'", The Secret World's creative director wrote on the game's official blog.
"This is, quite clearly, complete and utter bollocks."
Tørnquist denied the existence of pure sandbox games, and argued that virtual game worlds inherently contain narrative.
"Even in MMOs that have, ostensibly, placed no great emphasis on 'telling' a story, or even acknowledging one, the very idea of a persistent virtual world filled with non-player characters and quests, different breeds of monsters, vibrant cities and ongoing conflicts means that of course there's a story there, and an important one at that.
"These are cold, digital worlds given life through fiction and narrative, and that's not only storytelling; it's effective storytelling," he explained.
The Secret World famously uses multiple storytelling techniques, embedding puzzles and clues in the environment and leading players through extensive AR games, alongside traditional arching plots and questlines.
So what is that story? We know what it's not:
"Ours is never a story about The Chosen One, a single hero rising to the occasion and saving the world," Tørnquist said.
"But rather about an army of 'heroes', where the player is just one of millions; sleeper agents awakened in these darkest of days to battle the rising tide of darkness, recruited by three powerful secret societies and sent on missions -- often dubious ones -- across the globe."