Massively OP's 2016 awards debrief and annual recap
As we did in 2014 and 2015, today I'm going to recap our annual awards and other meta articles from the end of 2016. We gave out 19 formal awards this past year, seven of them more or less new to the site and proposed by readers, all in addition to dozens of other recaps, roundups, listicles, predictions, bloopers, oddities, polls, provocations, and retrospectives. It was easily our biggest content dump to date, and I'm pretty proud of it. In fact, I'm already planning December 2017!
Following our deep-dive into our awards and the attached reader polls, I'll be recapping all of the end-year articles in one convenient place in case you missed something over the holidays. This sucker's gonna be long. Let's do this.
MMO of the Year: Black Desert (2016), Final Fantasy XIV (2015), Nothing (2014), Final Fantasy XIV (2013), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Star Wars The Old Republic (2011), Global Agenda (2010), Fallen Earth & Dungeons & Dragons (2009)
In 2014, the year Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar, and ArcheAge launched with so many problems between them, the Massively-that-was staff voted to name "Nothing" for our GOTY. At the time, our GOTY award was reserved for a brand-new game, so older games weren't eligible. It was a controversial decision, but one an overwhelming number of our readers agreed with; in fact, "Nothing" won our reader poll that year by a higher margin than it won with our staff. It was a disappointing year on the whole, to put it mildly.
In subsequent years, we've relaxed the rules on our MMORPG of the Year award and allowed in older games. That's how Final Fantasy XIV won last year (we had already bent the rule for its 2013 relaunch). This year, however, 2016 Korean import Black Desert won the award without much fuss, with only World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls Online, and EVE Online emerging as contenders. The community once again pushed Elder Scrolls Online to the fore in the public vote -- my own pick this year, so I'm not sorry to see it.
Most Anticipated: Star Citizen (2016), Star Citizen (2015), EverQuest Next/Landmark (2014), EverQuest Next (2013), WildStar (2012), Guild Wars 2 & WildStar (2011), Star Wars The Old Republic (2010), All Points Bulletin (2009)
Ignoring Star Citizen is almost as hard as ignoring World of Warcraft, so why fight it? It took the staff award easily, topping Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, Peria Chronicles, and Project Gorgon to do so. I do notice the trend that games seem to linger in this category for a couple of years before we give up on them or they're canceled, so if the pattern holds, Star Citizen better make a big move in 2017.
Camelot Unchained just barely edged out Star Citizen among our commenters this year, perhaps because it's a bit more of a standard MMORPG and isn't mired in quite the same drama.
Best Expansion/Update: World of Warcraft Legion (2016), Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns (2015), Guild Wars 2's April Feature Pack (2014), Guild Wars 2 Super Adventure Box (2013), RIFT's Storm Legion (2012), Lord of the Rings Online's Rise of Isengard (2011)
While it'd be easy to say that after the dreadful Draenor expansion and 18 months of content drought, World of Warcraft had nowhere but up to go with Legion, our writers on the whole think it's a pretty good expansion all unto itself. Likewise, our community crowned Legion too -- though Elder Scrolls Online's One Tamriel was close behind both for our team and in the polls.
Though my pet favorite, CSE, couldn't grab the staff pick this year, I'm content with our winner -- ZeniMax, better known as the Bethsoft studio behind Elder Scrolls Online. "ZeniMax deserves it this year with its reinvigoration of Elder Scrolls Online, from killer DLC to One Tamriel and next year, housing," I wrote of the studio's obvious attention to its community and feedback from the last few years: "They listened." Cryptic, Funcom, and Blizzard also received nominations.
ZeniMax likewise took the reader poll, with Blizzard (World of Warcraft) and Grinding Gear (Path of Exile) close behind.
Wanna feel really bad? Look back at how SOE used to mop up this category years ago, over and over.
Our writers and community were fairly well united on this pick: We agreed that no MMORPG was as improved in 2016 as Elder Scrolls Online, given its multiple DLC packs and One Tamriel level scaling overhaul. World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Landmark also got nods.
I always worry this award will seem like a back-handed compliment, since to be improved, you have to have been lacking to begin with, but as my colleagues argued, this award by design goes to an older MMORPG that is putting in tremendous effort, and that's deserving of the accolade -- and a relook if the original version wasn't to your taste.
Best Business Model: Guild Wars 2 (2016)
Community Vote: Guild Wars 2 (2016)
Best Business Model (along with its "worst" counterpart) was a brand-new award for the site in 2016, and I think Guild Wars 2 is a worthy recipient for the inaugural banner. While GW2 does have some minor annoyances (like lockboxes and goldselling), its relative lack of pay-to-win elements, its excessive amount of free content, and its buy-to-play expansion model have allowed ArenaNet to steer clear of the genre's big business model pitfalls and support an MMORPG that is relatively clean and player-friendly with a truly inconsequential cash shop. The Secret World and EVE Online also nabbed staff nods.
Our readers plainly agree with our pick by a wide margin; Guild Wars 2 took over half the community votes. World of Warcraft, which you might think would earn praise for its subscription model (however double-dippy it might be), is currently in a distant fourth place, edged out by Final Fantasy XIV and Warframe.
Intriguingly, as I was digging back deep into our past for award winners -- not exactly easy since historical poll data was lost thanks to Frankengadget -- I realized just why we stopped running reader award polls for a few years there: It was pretty obvious that certain studios' fans brigaded the votes, rendering them worthless. As Eliot put it last year, "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."
I bring this up because that's precisely what happened to the community poll for Most Underrated; Dungeons and Dragons Online fans organized a campaign to vote up their game (then seemed confused that we weren't going to switch our staff award to their pick). Then again, DDO is a fairly underrated MMO, so it's not really a bad choice anyway. The staff was terribly split and Final Fantasy XIV won with only two votes, owing mainly to its continuing solid but strangely subdued performance in the upper echelons of the genre.
Story of the Year: The Death of EverQuest Next (2016), Daybreak's Drama (2015), ArcheAge's Drama (2014), EverQuest Next's Reveal (2013), 38 Studios' Doom (2012), Monoclegate (2011), Blizzard's Real ID Fiasco (2010)
Daybreak's abrupt cancellation of EverQuest Next after months of silence about it brought to an end the only western AAA MMORPG in production at the time (New World has filled that gap). Its impact on the genre on the whole simply can't be overstated, and it marked the second year that Daybreak's slow collapse won this award both from our staff and from our readers. Can it go for three?
Worst Business Model: Star Wars The Old Republic (2016)
Community Vote: Star Wars The Old Republic (2016)
OK, SWTOR. We need to have a talk. I like you. I think you have literally the best IP ever and lots of entertainment value to offer the genre. But when a majority of our staff -- including our SWTOR fanboy and columnist -- and over two-thirds of our readers agree that your business model is literally the worst in the genre, in a genre already overstuffed with lockboxes and pay-to-win cash shop junk? I think it's time for you to go home and rethink your life, if you know what I mean, and you do because you're Star Wars fans. You really don't need to pry money out of SWTOR like this. Star Wars milks for itself.
Even Trion games mustered only 10% of the community's wrath, all together.
While several of us on the team cheered for the dominance of content scaling in MMORPGs this year -- enough to help it win our staff award -- and were joined by almost 40% of the reader vote, a small but vocal minority continues to rail against the concept down in our comments, which has now taken root in nearly every single major western MMORPG, from World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 to SWTOR and Final Fantasy XIV and most recently Elder Scrolls Online. Suffice it to say that this is one debate that is far from over.
Oh, Pseudo-MMO of the Year, you unloved award. We award you to "MOBAs, online dungeon crawlers, ARPGs, online shooters, survival sandboxes, and other games that tread into MMO territory but aren’t full MMORPGs," and yet we may as well just title the article "hey y'all come fight about what's an MMO right here" and save ourselves the trouble.
A full quarter of our readers agreed with our writers that Overwatch deserved this one. Literally nobody agrees on the definition of MMORPG, MMO, and pseudo-MMO, however, so hold the trophy on that one.
Best Popcorn MMO: Marvel Heroes (2016)
Community Vote: Marvel Heroes (2016)
True story, so many of our readers thought this award was for popcorn drama that they forgot to argue about whether Marvel Heroes constituted an MMO or not. But in the end, they, like our staff, voted that it was the best jump-in, jump-out MMO for the first-ever version of this award. Next year, though, we'll try to call it something else.
As for actual drama? No Man's Sky won that popcorn award.
Given enough time, Star Citizen is going to bomb, or at least fail to live up to its own lofty promises -- both our staff and our community are convinced of it. Joke's on us; if the game never launches, it can't really flop! What's most interesting is that many of the same people who gave Star Citizen our Most Anticipated award also think it will flop, an interesting contradiction we've seen before in our awards showdown.
Most of us have little hope that WildStar will survive the year either, enough that it tied for the banner (it's in second place for the readership with a quarter of their votes).
As an aside here, I wanted to note that we received a lot of criticism over our more negative awards (flop, blunder, disappointment, and this year, worst business model), as we have every year since we began splitting our awards into individual posts, even though it was only four awards out of 19. In 2014, the first year we switched to this new style of awards, this is how I explained the process and motivation of the "sad trombone" awards to our readers:
We may combine some of these awards or maybe separate them from our complimentary awards next year -- we'll see.
Best Player Housing: WildStar (2016)
Community Vote: WildStar (2016)
There's another contradiction for you: As Larry noted on our roundtable podcast, it's a testament to how fair MMORPG players can be that WildStar took our staff and community award for best housing in the same year it was voted Most Likely to Flop. The sad reality is that a lot of bad or small or underrated MMOs have fantastic systems. Here's to hoping WildStar's housing system won't wind up a future casualty of the fickleness of industry.
Several readers asked what makes WildStar's housing so great compared to games like RIFT and EverQuest II. Allow us to explain.
And here's another award for a game that became the black sheep of 2016: Landmark, the sad remains of Daybreak's EverQuest Next, which just yesterday we learned will be sunsetted unceremoniously next month. And yet several of our writers put up a strong defense that an MMO literally about building and crafting deserved the award for Best Crafting far more than another WoW clone where you just click click click to make a sword surpassed by raid gear. Yeah, I can get behind that. It's just a shame that it's all for nothing now.
Final Fantasy XIV just barely edged out Elder Scrolls Online among the commentariat.
Biggest Disappointment: EverQuest Next & No Man's Sky (2016), World of Warcraft (2015), WildStar & ArcheAge (2014), DUST 514 (2013), City of Heroes' Sunset (2012), Star Wars Galaxies' Sunset (2011), Aion (2009)
EverQuest Next just kept on winning awards this year, though not the kind Daybreak would have wanted. Our writers were split, resulting in a tie between our disappointment in EverQuest Next's death and our disappointment that No Man's Sky's multiplayer turned out to be one big lie.
Forty percent of our readers agreed that Next was the biggest blow.
EverQuest Next took yet a third nod from the commenters here, but our team turned on the perceived virtual reality obsession creeping into the fringes of the genre instead, referring to the VR stylings of Star Citizen, Elite Dangerous, CCP's Valkyrie, and Snail's new ARK Park.
Historically, our staff has done pretty well on this award, though it often takes some time to prove accurate. MMO players were extremely angry at us in 2013, for example, when we voted that both ESO's and WildStar's sub models were mistakes doomed to fail.
This was one of those awards that I thought would be fun but that didn't seem to resonate with our staff or readers at all. EVE Online and Black Desert tied for the staff, while Guild Wars 2 just barely (by 1%) beat Elder Scrolls Online, EVE Online, World of Warcraft, and Nothing for our readers. I'm not sure we really got a clear winner out of the mix -- definitely an award we'll reconsider next year.
Best Holiday Event: The Secret World (2016)
Community Vote: The Elder Scrolls Online (2016)
MJ and Justin cleverly crowned The Secret World winner of the Best MMO Holiday Event of 2016, which we handed out on Christmas Day to be cheeky. The rest of us were too scattered to stand against them, but it's always nice to see an older, underrated MMORPG take an awesome award for content all the same.
While 17% of the readers agreed with us, a larger portion -- 19% -- went for my own pick, Elder Scrolls Online, which only just this year began doing holiday events at all.
And that's a wrap on our awards for 2016! For those of you who missed other special content over the holidays, we've rounded up all our blooper awards, our weirdest story series, end-year content from some of our feature columns, our monthly news recaps, our staff roundtables, and our favorite top tens right down below. If you're strapped for time, definitely hit the biggest stories list, healthiest MMOs list, best-value MMOs list, biggest surprises list, and our big list of every MMO coming next year!