Ask Mo: Massively OP’s 2015 awards debrief

Massively OP’s formal 2015 awards technically ended on Friday, though we’ve got a few stragglers and roundups left to go. As I do every year, today I’ll round up all the awards in one place, discuss the thought process behind the selections, and compare our staff votes to the popular votes (which are still technically ongoing for another week). Follow along for a deep-dive into our 2015 awards!

Most Underrated: Trove

Trove is a remarkably fun game for how inexpensive it was to produce and how much content has been jammed into it, and yet it is repeatedly dismissed as being a kiddie game because of its voxel-based graphics. I feel good about this one. Elder Scrolls Online has taken the public vote so far, and it’s a worthy runner-up: It’s come a long way; it’s just not getting anywhere particularly fast.

By popular request, we tossed in a quick vote for most overrated too. World of Warcraft won handily, you hipsters you.

Biggest MMO Story: Daybreak

SOE’s implosion took home both the staff’s and your vote for the biggest story of the year. I think this was an easy win, if you can call it a win. SOE was a beloved stalwart of the genre, and 2015 turned it on its head, first with the sale to Columbus Nova, then with massive layoffs that took out some high-caliber MMO devs, and followed by the high-profile departure of John Smedley, who’d been leading the company for two decades. And that’s without getting into the major EverQuest franchise drama of the year. SOE was once considered one of the more stable outfits; this made a lot of us step back and reconsider the MMO field.

winterfest-mall2

Most Improved MMO: WildStar

In a way, this award is almost bit of a mean compliment since to have improved the most means you had a lot of improving to do. WildStar had a rocky first year-and-a-half — I don’t think anyone will deny that. And though I don’t think free-to-play was its salvation, the effort put into the game’s patches over 2015 ahead of the free-to-play transition (to say nothing of the effort made to fix the game’s wannabe hardcore stigma) bumped it to the top of the list.

As I write this, WildStar has just barely edged out The Elder Scrolls Online in the popular vote as well.

MMO Studio of the Year: Square-Enix

I have the distinct impression that Square took our vote this year in part because its literal distance from players in the west protects it from the criticism leveled at local studios, but nevertheless, Square managed to navigate 2015 without any major disasters and put out a crowd-pleasing Final Fantasy XIV expansion. Some years, that’s all it takes to rise to the top.

Cloud Imperium took 45% of the player vote, suggesting a bit of a swarm there for a studio that has yet to actually publish an MMO.

Biggest Disappointment: WoW’s decline

I admit to worrying a lot over this award. The writers were particularly divided in the voting, and I didn’t want it to seem as if we were hating on WoW — because we aren’t. I am deeply disappointed to see WoW slipping into decline and not being rescued by the one group of people that can do it, partly because I have such fondness for WoW, and partly because it’s a bellwether for the whole genre. Disappointment is precisely the right word.

EverQuest Next’s silence was my own second pick, so I’m neither sorry nor surprised to see it dominate the reader poll. Come on, Daybreak.

Pseudo-MMO of the Year: ARK: Survival Evolved

Everything that isn’t a traditional MMORPG falls into this category, from MOBA to online shooter to Diablo clone. This year, the choice wasn’t a hard one, for the staff or for the popular vote; ARK: Survival Evolved has been tearing up the Steam charts and winning hearts with a unique dino survival sandbox all year.

All this and more dinosaurs besides.

Most Likely to Flop: Blade & Soul

Now this one hurt. I even buried it on a weekend rather than rake in extra hits because, ug, this award. It shouldn’t hurt. I didn’t feel all that bad when Star Citizen “won” last year; they were adults with huge wallets, so they could take it, right? And really, NCsoft can handle it too. The staff who voted for Blade & Soul did so grudgingly, as if forecasting an unfortunate thunderstorm on the way. No one wants that damn storm. It’s coming here so late!

You voted for Star Citizen, though. And you call us pessimists!

Best MMO Trend: Expansions

Some of you complained about this award because expansions weren’t new. You’re right. They weren’t new. But the award was for trend, not innovation. Full-fledged MMORPG expansions had been on the downslide for a few years as major MMO studios started trying to push out smaller updates instead. We’re glad to see them on the uptick once again, and apparently so are our readers, who (at the time of this writing) have made expansions the winner of the popular vote too, just slightly ahead of sandboxification, which we’re also glad for!

Biggest Blunder: The Star Citizen drama

Biggest blunder was a confusing award to some of our commenters. We once called this award “biggest trainwreck” and generally use it to slot the biggest genre embarrassment or screw-up of the year. We handed this one to the Star Citizen drama promulgated by everyone’s favorite Internet Warlord. So embarrassing for everyone involved.

But you folks carry your grudges long and hard, and you singled out ArcheAge for this dishonor with your votes. Not like a specific thing. Just the whole game. That’s dedication.

MMO Expansion/Update of the Year: Heart of Thorns

Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns squeaked by to win this award among the writers by half a vote, just topping Heavensward. For my part, I found this award difficult to separate from MMO of the Year. I tried to make myself look at the expansions themselves apart from the drama and the state of their home game before and after the expansion. Looking at just the expansions, it seemed to me that Heavensward played it safe and went with more of the same, whereas Heart of Thorns was, as I argued in the comments, a frankly ballsy entry that really shook up the way we think of Guild Wars 2.

Heart of Thorns took the public vote by a far wider margin.

Most Anticipated: Star Citizen

Star Citizen has clearly wooed the commentariat, winning the popular vote for most anticipated MMO with ease. It wasn’t such an easy call for the writing staff, however. This award sat undecided for almost two weeks, locked in a three-way tie between Star Citizen, Crowfall, and Camelot Unchained until one writer changed his vote to crown a winner. Voting drama! I think it’s safe to say that these three games are the ones to watch going into the new year.

Terrifyingly, EverQuest Next wasn’t even nominated this year in spite of winning in 2014 and 2013.

MMO of the Year: Final Fantasy XIV

And here is where my vote flopped. While I thought Heart of Thorns was the better expansion, I didn’t think Guild Wars 2 has a particularly good year before the expansion, and I don’t think it came out on the other side of Heart of Thorns a significantly improved MMO — it has so many serious PvP and endgame problems that I just couldn’t vote for it. Final Fantasy XIV may have played it safe with Heavensward, but playing it safe kept the drama low, the content flowing, and the players happy. I’m glad it won the writers’ vote.

Final Fantasy XIV was winning the public vote as I wrote this, but Elder Scrolls players swarmed in over the weekend and ran off with it!

And hey, at least we didn’t have to go with “nothing” this year!

Are video games doomed? What do MMORPGs look like from space? Did free-to-play ruin everything? Will people ever stop talking about Star Wars Galaxies? Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and mascot Mo every month as they answer your letters to the editor right here in Ask Mo.
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39 Comments on "Ask Mo: Massively OP’s 2015 awards debrief"

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Arrobee
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Arrobee

If what you say is correct, and I believe it is: that a fair majority of WoW players are in it for WoW and won’t migrate when the game dies. Then their numbers mean nothing to the genre.
The only ripples felt by WoW dying, are to the games designed to poach those WoW players. And we seen how that plays out dozens of times since WoW rose to power.
You don’t poach WoW players. They came for WoW, and they will leave with WoW.
WoW dying will only benefit the genre. It will put the scope of what a successful game looks like back into a proper perspective.
When WoW dies.. that is when we will see the genre reboot itself into an enjoyable collection of games for everyone to enjoy.

thatchefdude
Guest
thatchefdude

Speaking for the major 3 awards – best MMO, best expac, and best dev, I think the general consensus on this website (without outside influence that is heavily swaying the polling) was well represented by the staff….

The consensus among most reader in the comments is a general gravitation towards FFXIV or GW2 for bestMMO and best expac, which were well represented by the staff…

As far as best dev, IMO, it should only apply to a dev with a released final product, and therefore crowdfunded efforts such as Star Citizen, Camelot Unchained and ARK would have to wait til they have a full retail/digital release to qualify for awards…
Having said that, that would leave best studio to the makers of FFXIV, Marvel heroes and GW2, which was well represented among the staff.

thatchefdude
Guest
thatchefdude

mordorax Wow, you mean polls where rabid fans can just rage at the polls and as a result they don’t accurately reflect this website’s community at all…

ESO Message Board – “hey guys, go to this link and click ESO so it wins!!! Thanks guys!!”

Enikuo
Guest
Enikuo

Eliot_Lefebvre Enikuo mordorax That makes sense. I’d be fine if you guys dropped the voting altogether, given that it can be manipulated. We can always tell you how much we do or don’t agree in the comments.

Eliot_Lefebvre
Guest
Eliot_Lefebvre

Enikuo mordorax My first year working on Massively-that-was, we handled our awards through reader polls rather than via staff picks. And the winner of game of the year? Runes of Magic.

I generally feel like sending off a banner saying that such-and-such is the game of the year means that I’m signing my name to it. I prefer not to sign my name to something that is determined almost entirely outside of my influence.

Eliot_Lefebvre
Guest
Eliot_Lefebvre

CistaCista “Had to” nothing. This is something that we’ve talked about for a while, because while our old way of doing things worked, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Last year, we were all talking about the awards and largely agreed that Final Fantasy XIV deserved the “of the year” award. The game had been an enormous hit out of the gate. But we could not vote for it, because it had been released the year before. It was clearly the year of FFXIV, but it wasn’t eligible for the award. Instead, we gave it to nothing.

The fact is that MMOs are not like single-player games. They do not need to be new to have relevancy. The game of the year could very well be around for several years while enjoying a sudden surge back to relevance. Trying to treat our end-of-year awards as if we were giving out single-player awards was leading to discontent on all sides.

Siphaed
Guest
Siphaed

mordorax

That is every offence because your calling their picks as not good/bad.

Reader pools can be heavily manipulated by social media and account dooping

Enikuo
Guest
Enikuo

mordorax Apparently the polls get vote-brigaded, so those aren’t necessarily the best choices either. Usually it’s just the case of a poll getting linked on a fan forum, so it gets way more votes than it normally would from people that visit the site regularly. But, I’ve played games that actually offered rewards if their game won a players choice award on another site.

mordorax
Guest
mordorax

Do you have any intention of publishing an article about Public Poll award winners?

I’m pretty sure most of us consider those the “real winners”.

No offence, but the staff picks weren’t really the best choices, as reflected by the actual polls.

tobascodagama
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tobascodagama

Superbrak Quincha Made more short-term money, perhaps. I don’t think releasing HoT as an expansion will be good for long-term retention of the kind of people who like to drop $20 into the game every time a fancy new skin or mini lands in the store (which, on GW2’s cadence, is pretty damned often).

Sorenthaz
Guest
Sorenthaz

MikedotFoster Sorenthaz Well at the very least there’s still Tom Chilton and then Alex Afrasiabi came back on board after his departure during WotLK.  
And yeah that’s why I said it’s been in a decline.  It could simply be running to the end of its course like every other MMO before it has (some sooner than others).

cheesybites76
Guest
cheesybites76

Sorenthaz I agree with basically all of what you said.  The thing about WoW, though, is that despite its decline over the past several years and the homogenization of classes and the devs tripping over themselves and the horrendous state of PvP for the past several years, it still somehow manages to hang on to legions (no pun intended) of long-term players.  I know several folks who have been with the game for its entire life, and I would posit that the total number of vets who are going to remain devoted to the game regardless of what it becomes (unless it goes f2p, which is still a long way out) is much larger than the combined player base of several other games that get tons of press and hype.  Many of those people simply are not going to move to another MMO, no matter what.  If WoW were to shut down tomorrow, I’m thinking there are probably a couple of million gamers worldwide who would just drop MMO playing entirely.  They aren’t going to magically become fans of Gw 2 or ARR or anything else.
And I think that this gets lost in the discussion many times.  For all of those who cheer WoW’s slow decline, they seemingly forget that if WoW were to actually go away, so would a large chunk of the overall MMO player base.  So even though I haven’t played WoW since early MoP, I am holding out hope that Legion will improve the game and that it will see some sort of resurgence.  Because if it keeps dropping off, the effects are going to be felt throughout the genre, and they won’t be good.

Superbrak
Guest
Superbrak

tobascodagama Quincha Sure the fan reaction would have been better.
But I feel confident saying releasing HoT as an expansion generated much more buzz, created a greater influx of players and made Anet MUCH more money.

Loopstah
Guest
Loopstah

chernabog I am a huge fan of FFXIV and i have to admit that aside from the main storyline, questing has been severely sub-par in HW. The amount of “kill x of y” and the “find 8 of these unique items across multiple vertical planes” was a big turn off. I was ok with ARR having a good mix of intuitive quests alongside the silly fetch/deliver quests, because it wasn’t consistent. To be fair – i was hoping that HW (as a first official expansion) would significantly streamline quest progression, but i personally do not believe they have.

tobascodagama
Guest
tobascodagama

Quincha Agreed 100%. I think Heart of Thorns is a stellar example of this. I feel like fan reactions would have been much more positive to everything if they had rolled out the same amount of content at the pace of one of their Living World seasons. Spend a month in each map, and you solve both the narrative problem (the Personal Story assumes you stop to do each meta-event before continuing, which is most obvious with Dragon’s Stand and the final battle) and the mechanical grind problem that peoplecomplained about with Masteries locking out map completion.

chernabog
Guest
chernabog

Did they fix the crazy Heavensward grind in FFXIV? Getting from 50-60 when Heavensward came out was an interminable slog.   Forcing your players to grind “kill 10 rats” quests is about as lazy as it gets, design-wise.    I haven’t logged in for months because of that.

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

Rumm  I rolled white mage and I think I only ever want to play white mage, but it’s real hard to get friends into the game right now. “Hey, come try this game, level to 50, and then spend two weeks doing old old content and you’ll be able to access the early expansion stuff I did five months ago!”
Feels like a bigger burden than usual, anyway. At least you can switch classes to hang with your pals.

Rumm
Guest
Rumm

I definitely feel for that. I luckily chose Scholar/summoner for my first class so I had the variety without having to grind up a different class. I wonder if they’d be able to pair other classes in a similar way so that getting more to max level wouldn’t be such a chore. I also think that side quests should reset for each class so that you don’t have to fate/dungeon grind all the way up.

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

Rumm  The only downside being the 20-hour slog from max level to expansion access as you catch up on quests. I love FFXIV, but Square needs to solve that problem for new players.

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

CistaCista  I think this format is better. MMOs are bigger than any single year, and there’s no reason Guild Wars 2 (as an example) can’t be the game of the year in 2017 if it truly deserves the title.

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

Sorenthaz  There’s another big question to ask about WoW, which is how many of the original leaders are still on the project? From the outside, it’s easy to say “Blizzard can’t figure it out,” but the real cause might just be that the people who DID figure it out are either no longer with Blizzard or no longer working on WoW.
Kaplan is working on Overwatch, Pat Nagle is on Hearthstone, and a bunch of folks went to Carbine or other studios. Making a game takes a special mix of folks; Blizz may be struggling to find that mix again eleven years after the original was brewed.
Blizz is one of the best in the industry when it comes to understanding their IP (and what players expect from it), so it would be unwise to ever count them out. Besides, WoW has already succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations — there’s always the possibility that it’s just destined for the junkyard like so many other hugely successful games. The industry is time-sensitive; nothing lasts forever (except Solitaire).

MikedotFoster
Guest
MikedotFoster

I love FFXIV so much. Even though some work friends and I just re-rolled WoW characters, I keep hoping they’ll make the hop.

Despair
Guest
Despair

So ESO basically Won 3 Awards: 

– Most Improved MMO of 2015 
– Most Underrated MMO of 2015
– Best MMO of 2015

And also earned the #3 spot in the Best Expansion/DLC of 2015.

PS: You didn’t have to go with nothing last year either. ESO won the Best MMO of 2014 on mmorpg.com, just as it was winning here too, beating wildstar with 21% of votes against 7% votes. You rather went with “nothing” just to mock ESO, but hey that wasn’t popular anymore at the end of 2014. At least the main mmo site mmorpg.com acknowledged that, and awarded ESO the best MMO of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

WildarX
Guest
WildarX

Biggest blunder award should go to AOL for shutting down Massively that was.  I’m glad they did, because MOP is way better now without the big brother oversight, but it was a source of a lot of stress for Bree and her team and they deserve better.

Caec
Guest
Caec

Whether I agree with them or not, I can largely understand why each winner won, but I do have a hard time seeing what the big deal with HoT was, and I think (putting aside how few expansions are released anymore in the entire genre) that Heavensward is clearly a bigger, better entry in that race (though I’m sure there are far more people who play GW2, so perhaps I just answered my own question). 
As for most anticipated MMO, the lack of EQ Next isn’t what’s “terrifying”. It’s that there are no real MMOs on the horizon. One is a space sim, and the other two are limited pvp games (don’t get me wrong, I intend to play the heck out of CU). I sincerely hope this is just a lull as the genre re-tools itself so that the next big ones that come out do so for the right reasons (to make a great game, and not to try to chase the crumbs and box sales WoW’s expansion into the market in 2004 brought), but I’m also equally concerned that perhaps we really are seeing an end of an era for a genre, and that we’ll be waiting still 10 years down the road, and suddenly realizing the next big MMO isn’t ever coming.

Damonvile
Guest
Damonvile

A Dad Supreme Damonvile Rheem Octuris vicariousfan Rumm Of course they don’t count for anything. If they did the “award” such as it is would go to the top vote, not the staff pick. The polls are our version of crayons to play with while the adults decide what’s best.

And as meaningless as they already are, yes some fans decided it was important to have the most people coloring ;)

A Dad Supreme
Guest
A Dad Supreme

Damonvile Rheem Octuris vicariousfan Rumm So does that mean none of the votes by ‘readers’ for anything counts?

Sorenthaz
Guest
Sorenthaz

Nyres Sorenthaz Yeah I don’t see how they’ll really top Legion going forward.  It’s like they’re trying to pull a WotLK-level expansion out again but they’ll have nothing really big to follow it up with.  
Granted I’d totally be on board for a South Seas expansion where we actually get to build our own ships and have naval combat and stuff while trying to figure out where Kul Tiras drifted off to after the Shattering.

Nyres
Guest
Nyres

Sorenthaz Legion seems to be a good step in the direction in some ways but I also worry about it since it seems to be basicly throwing so much fan service stuff in to the point it almost comes off as a desperate Hail Mary pass.  I mean I hope it works out but I kind of worry when we see not only Illdian but Alleria and Tyralon, a full scale Legion invasion, the Emerald Nightmare/Dream, Aszhara, the demon hunter class and finally with the shards of frostmorune being  the basis of the Frost DK weapon,

Sorenthaz
Guest
Sorenthaz

CistaCista I mean honestly there was nothing really big or great that came out this year.  Skyforge is the only real notable MMO to come out this year.

Sorenthaz
Guest
Sorenthaz

” I am deeply disappointed to see WoW slipping into decline”
It’s been in a decline for about 5 years or so now.   That’s the reality when you’ve got an MMO that’s largely an anomaly that was too successful for its own good, to where it completely warped the MMO industry and the perception of what a successful MMORPG is for roughly a decade.  League of Legends will likely meet a similar fate within the next 5 years.
The only real disappointment from it, imo, is how Blizzard can’t seem to get their shit together and have been repeatedly tripping over themselves as they figure out wtf to do.   While Legion definitely sounds and looks like an extremely solid expansion that could make up for the wait, it doesn’t excuse the fact that Blizzard keeps dropping the ball with content delivery.   They seem to be trapped in a hellhole of bad development practices that likely won’t change anytime soon.   Maybe that will change when Legion is released, but who knows.   Blizzard has been notoriously bad with content delivery which IMO is the biggest disappointment out of their whole thing.

CistaCista
Guest
CistaCista

I am tired of being the MMO doomsbringer, but just let this be noted: this was the year that the Celestial Powers (Bree) gave up on awarding the Game of the Year to a game from the actual year. Imagine that. It’s not a good sign for the genre folks.

Karl_Hungus
Guest
Karl_Hungus
Damonvile
Guest
Damonvile

Rheem Octuris vicariousfan Rumm Well…. readers implies everyone that votes actually reads the site not just clicked a link on reddit and made an account to swing a random vote or the game they worship/hate

Rumm
Guest
Rumm

The thing with FFXIV is they had numerous content patches leading up to the launch of Heavensward, and then unloaded all those new zones (with flying) and content on top of it. Not playing like WoW where they say f it for a year before releasing meh.

woolydub
Guest
woolydub

I completely agree with your opinion about GW2 not having a good year. The first 10+ months of the year literally saw nothing happen in that game sans the LA update. People seemed really pleased with FFXIV for the most part so good on them. I’d like to say I’m approaching 2016 for GW2 with cautious optimism but I’m actually going to look at it through the lens of a microscope. You really have to with how much reading between the lines that is required with their overall communication techniques. Oh, and reddit. They only talk to people through reddit.

Rheem Octuris
Guest
Rheem Octuris

vicariousfan Rumm  By the staff. Readers (us) voted for SC.

vicariousfan
Guest
vicariousfan

Rumm no Blade and Soul was voted most likely to flop.

Rumm
Guest
Rumm

So CIG won the poll for studio of the year even though they don’t have a game yet, and the game that they don’t have yet was voted most likely to flop.
Maybe next time they can post the flop poll in the SC reddit like they did the studio poll, then all the bases will be covered.

wpDiscuz