Perfect Ten: The biggest MMORPG stories of 2016

As we start to come to grips with the fact that we will be turning over the calendar into 2017 in one short month, it might just be for the best. In the real world, 2016 was a rocky, unpredictable year, and even among our collective favorite hobby, it featured some highs and lows that very few saw coming.

This will go down as the year that Daybreak broke our hearts, a mobile game erupted into a global phenomenon, drama over an illegal emulator sparked multiple stories, and some of the biggest MMORPG launches came from eastern imports.

So while there might be a few more huge stories left in 2016, let’s spend some time revisiting the major headlines to get a better feel for the shape of the year that we are about to leave behind.

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Eastern MMO launches dominated spring

It almost didn’t seem fair that 2016 front-loaded its two biggest MMO releases instead of spreading them out. Blade and Soul was first out of the gate in January, offering players a colorful, action-packed theme park that has since seen multiple updates.

While Blade and Soul saw a good deal of success, the community seemed to bestow its favor upon Black Desert. The title came out in early March, delivering a gorgeous sandbox with more features than people knew how to handle. Concerns grew over its cash shop and business practices, but the MMO seems to be ending the year on a strong note.

Expansions came roaring back into fashion

If 2016 was particularly light on major MMO releases, it certainly made up for it with all of the expansions that it pumped out. The industry shifted back to the expansion model big-time this year, and older games benefited from the publicity and sales that they generated.

Among the 16-or-so full-fledged expansions that came out this year included Trove: Mantle of Power, Destiny: Rise of Iron, Star Trek Online: Agents of Yesterday, EverQuest II: Kunark Ascending, SWTOR: Knights of the Eternal Throne, and RIFT: Starfall Prophecy. It was crazy-busy, is what we’re saying, and we still have more expansion stories to cover in this list!

EverQuest Next dies prematurely

We here at Massively OP might have traveled around the block more than a few times when it comes to MMORPGs and the industry, but even we don’t have a clue what’s going on in the seemingly chaotic offices of Daybreak these days.

The studio stunned — but perhaps did not surprise — fans by canceling the development of EverQuest Next back in March after years of work. Daybreak stated that the game as it stood “wasn’t fun” and did not meet the team’s expectations. Considering that EQN was one of the very last big-budget western MMOs in development, it was a harsh blow.

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Blizzard starts a cold war with a World of Warcraft emulator

In early April, Blizzard threatened legal action against Nostalrius, one of the largest World of Warcraft vanilla emulators in the world. Instead of closing down quietly, the Nostalrius shutdown triggered a wave of player outrage, calls for an official World of Warcraft vanilla server, a summit between the emulator devs and Blizzard itself, a slight concession that the studio had discussed the idea of “pristine servers,” and an admission that a legacy server announcement wouldn’t be coming this year.

When Blizzard did not step up at BlizzCon to voice support to vanilla or pristine servers, the Nostalrius team triggered its nuclear option by releasing its source code to the community, allowing for another emulator startup. And if there wasn’t enough drama with all of this, former WoW dev Mark Kern stuck his nose in the business just because.

World of Warcraft: Legion recaptures the magic

With the overall disappointment of Warlords of Draenor and the rapid exodus of subscribers, a lot was resting on Legion’s shoulders. Fortunately for Blizzard, the expansion was a strong success, selling 3.3 million copies by the end of the first day of launch, garnering positive reviews, and boosting the game’s concurrency levels significantly. With a more aggressive patch rollout for this expansion cycle, Blizzard is giving its players more of a reason to stick around than ever before.

Elder Scrolls Online abolishes level-locking

With the advent of October’s One Tamriel update, Elder Scrolls Online traded up from its old level-specific zone structure to a more freeform system that allowed players to explore the game in any order, with the content auto-leveling to their character’s progress. The move was seen as inclusive, making it much more simple for players of disparate levels to group up and hang out together.

Needs more space dragons.

EVE Online goes free-to-play

One of the last holdouts of the classic subscription model, EVE Online finally bowed to the pressure — or appeal — of the free-to-play model. It’s Ascension expansion gave new and returning players a cost-free option to enjoy the game, albeit with restrictions. Coupled with the tutorial overhaul, the expansion was definitely a bold move to draw in a larger crowd to the space sandbox. It seems to have paid off, at least initially.

Pokémon Go takes over the world

Before June 2016, alternate reality games were a sideshow attraction on the video game circuit. But then Pokémon Go launched, and overnight this ARG became a global phenomenon.

For a good while there, practically anywhere you went, you would see Pokémon Go players hunched over their phones like the world’s most good-natured apocalypse cult. It took a long while for things to calm down, and while Pokémon Go isn’t quite the hot stuff that it was back in the summer, it’s definitely here to stay and has undoubtedly inspired countless other ARG projects to start development.

Neverwinter and Star Trek Online expand to consoles

Perfect World saw tremendous success with Neverwinter’s Xbox One launch last year, and so the publisher decided to double down in 2016 by introducing Neverwinter to the PlayStation 4 and bringing out Star Trek Online on both consoles. The different versions might not be cross-platform and essentially host their own gated communities, but it’s hard to deny that the larger audience is a boon to the future of both titles.

What would you add?

These are but a tiny sampling of the thousands upon thousands of stories that Massively OP covered in 2016. What would you add to the list of biggest stories of the year and why? Let us know in the comments!

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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