Massively OP’s Best of 2015 Awards: Most Improved MMO


Massively OP’s end-of-the-year awards continue today with our award for the most improved MMO of 2015.

All MMOs, regardless of release date, were eligible for this award, provided they made improvements this year. Last year’s award, you’ll recall, went to Final Fantasy XIV.

Don’t forget to cast your own vote in the just-for-fun reader poll at the very end.

The Massively OP staff pick for Most Improved MMO of 2015 is…

Carbine’s WildStar


Brendan Drain (@nyphur): Guild Wars 2. While it would be easy to point to any of the new features in the Heart of Thorns expansion or the Revenant class as big improvements, probably the biggest and most unexpected improvement was Guild Wars 2’s base version going free to play. That helped me get several friends into the game who had never played before because of the box price, and playing with a full group of friends has brought the game back to life for me too.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): If I had opted to sit this vote out, we’d be looking at a four-way tie, no joke. I can see legitimately giving this award to any of the four nominated games, but I cast my vote for WildStar. Considering how badly off WildStar was and how it’s sitting right now, I think it deserves it, even if it does still have a long way to go.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Only time will tell if WildStar can make the leap from “most improved” to “fully viable,” but it’s gone from being the punchline of lots of jokes – including mine! – to having some genuine buzz and interest floating around. This time last year, the game looked to be in a death spiral, but it looks like next year might be its watershed. Not that it necessarily will be, but it could be.

Jef Reahard (@jefreahard): Elder Scrolls Online. That thieving system was pretty cool. I didn’t see a lot of real improvements this year, though. 2015 was more of the same old grind in every game and every patch.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): WildStar. Free-to-play was only the start of WildStar’s lengthy roster of improvements in 2015. Practically every weak system was either strengthened or overhauled entirely while its assets were given more focus. It helped that Carbine noticeably backed off its “arr hardcore!” stance to embrace the more casual set. And the game’s first two holiday events were actually pretty awesome. Also Marvel Heroes. It’s hard to argue that Gazillion has been lazy, what with adding a new hero (class) every month on top of many great features and content additions.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): When there are many games that have started pretty high, it’s hard to name one that has been the most improved. But my pick is Elder Scrolls Online, even though I still this it has problems. The game itself changed from this strictly linear game to something that’s a little more do-as-you-like. Of course, there is still a primary story and fairly straightforward zone-to-zone leveling, but the number of things that players can do as they level up has increased. Half of the justice system, the Imperial City, and even the latest DLC Orsinium have added a lot to the game, and there is far less hand-holding overall.

Matt Daniel (@Matt_DanielMVOP): Oof, this is a tough one too. I don’t honestly feel that I’m qualified to speak in this area because I spend so much of my time hopping between games that I rarely stick around enough to see how much a given game improves over time. That being said, I feel like Final Fantasy XIV has improved immensely, though my memory is wibbly-wobbly, so I’m not sure all of the improvement I have in mind has happened over the course of the past year. Still, I feel like between the updates that have hit FFXIV over the course of the year, plus the launch of Heavensward which I absolutely adored, FFXIV has improved enough to get my vote in this category.

Tina Lauro (@purpletinabeans): For me at least, Guild Wars 2 has been drastically improved by HoT’s launch back in October.The expansion has drastically improved and refined the endgame of the game, opening up the title to the raiding community and providing several new mechanics that enhance and reward the exploration that the game is known for. I adore the new zone and I think it’s a much better experiment in verticality than the team’s previous attempts were. It actually got me into PvP too with the introduction of Stronghold, which I thought would never happen!

WildStar won our pick for most improved MMO of 2015. What’s your pick?

What's the most improved MMO of 2015?

  • WildStar (20%, 314 Votes)
  • Guild Wars 2 (8%, 130 Votes)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (25%, 383 Votes)
  • Marvel Heroes (3%, 41 Votes)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (6%, 88 Votes)
  • ArcheAge (1%, 14 Votes)
  • RIFT (1%, 13 Votes)
  • World of Warcraft (2%, 27 Votes)
  • TERA (1%, 13 Votes)
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic (13%, 202 Votes)
  • Neverwinter (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Star Trek Online (1%, 18 Votes)
  • The Secret World (3%, 39 Votes)
  • EVE Online (2%, 32 Votes)
  • Trove (0%, 5 Votes)
  • EverQuest II (1%, 10 Votes)
  • Lord of the Rings Online (2%, 30 Votes)
  • DC Universe Online (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Elite: Dangerous (7%, 113 Votes)
  • RuneScape (1%, 11 Votes)
  • Defiance (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Ultima Online (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Dark Age of Camelot (0%, 5 Votes)
  • EverQuest (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Darkfall (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Aion (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Age of Wushu/Wulin (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Landmark (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Something else -- tell us in the comments! (2%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,549

Loading ... Loading ...
Poll options include all games nominated plus several other major MMORPGs.


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I thought Wildstar was fine at launch. I didn’t see any issues. The only reason my wife and I stopped playing was that we had level capped a couple of characters and would normally be raiding but prefer smaller groups for that (10-person). So there still isn’t anything interesting to bring us back.


Quincha sray155 My position was never that the sub model is the only reason for the game’s decline: I said it was a contributing factor and that at this point their insistence on it is keeping customers away. As far as I can tell, you’re saying subscription has zero to do with the decline, and that is absolutely not true as we have seen time and again that the subscription model has had a negative impact on the number of people who will play an MMORPG, and WoW is no exception to that rule: there are millions of gamers will simply refuse to play any video game with a subscription only business model; and that obviously cuts into what Blizzard can make with WoW. 

As far as the expansion bounce that is some “proof” that the subsciptions are not in decline: your own chart repeatedly shows a thirty to sixty day subscription bounce followed by immediate decline that consistently results in a lower population low than the previous year which means the game is seeing tourists, not real returnees. The fact that expansions tend to come with thirty days “free subscription” show that there’s likely a large number of these returnees that have no intention of staying once real subscription kicks back in, again pointing to the subscription doing some level damage to player retention. 

WoW subscribers, for whatever reason, become disenchanted with the game and leave: increasingly, many of them are finding their way to other MMORPGs without the box price and subscription as a barrier to entry, and not returning to WoW. No not all of them, but many of them. The number of non-subscription alternatives, and the revenue they are generating, has been rising in direct correlation to WoW’s undeniable year after year decline. It doesn’t matter that it’s not at the exact same rates, the continued rise of one, and fall of the other show that there is absolutely a connection.

No, not every ex-WoW player is suddenly playing Rift, SWTOR or Wildstar, but many of them are; and many of them are doing so because they don’t have to pay $25 to $50 just to get through the door, then having to pay another $15 a month to stay there. And that is affecting Blizzard’s numbers.


Wandris sray155 I never said they were sub only. They’re a subscription game with an extensive free trial. There is no game out there that promises unlimited access to everything for free. Yes, their model is meant to bully you into subscribing: and it’s successful at doing that.

And their bullying model, distasteful as it may be to some, allows them to skip obnoxious crap like loot boxes with top end gear that you have to buy keys for, or high end crafting materials that can only be purchased via real cash, or flat out selling high end gear. It’s a merciless to those who aren’t interested in subscribing, but it also allows them to absolutely avoid faintest whiff of real pay to win items on their cash shop. There is no limitation that can’t be lifted for $15 a month, and what you get to keep if you only subscribe for even a single month would be worth hundreds in virtually any other “F2P” game on the market.


Quincha sray155 Their numbers conclusively show a population in decline. Your chart’s numbers show the story:rise for an expansion, and then shortly thereafter fall; and they fall lower than the previous year’s lowest number. Just because some players return for an expansion doesn’t mean that the population isn’t declining. At the same time as their subscription base is declining, the number of non-subscription alternatives is rising, and the amount of money that these alternative are making is rising. These are all facts.

Correlation does not equal causation, but when a trend is consistently seen over five years, it’s time to admit that there is some relation: non-subscription alternatives are taking some, not all, but some of WoW’s business; and WoW’s insistence on maintaining the sub only model is likely hurting their business at this point.


sray155 Wandris SWTOR is sold as F2P, they sell unlocks for everything, and you can spend $100-$200 on upgrading your account easily. Even though it is stingy most of it is within reason with the exception of the credit cap and absolute forum restrictions. These two things go beyond any other F2P MMO and essentially cripple the play experience. You are forced to spend real money to buy half the stuff on the AH or to unlock legacy perks. This is a deliberate and underhanded deception. Absolutely unacceptable. At every possible point they try to make you sub, it is excessive and unnecessary. They stopped being a sub only game years ago and they did go F2P, yet they impose ridiculous restrictions to make people sub.


Quincha sray155  Players showed up for one -one- expansion in numbers equal to the previous one. An exception doesn’t disprove a trend. The numbers for Cataclysm and MoP were both lower than their predecessor: fewer people for Cataclysm than Wrath of the Lich King, and fewer for MoP than for Cataclysm. This shows that even the annual expansion bounce in population was in decline. Then after each expansion, the population fell lower than the previous year’s lowest point.

Even with a returning population equal to March of the Pandas for WoD, the expansion bounce is still significantly (over 2 million subscriptions) lower than the game’s population height four years earlier. And now players have left in even greater numbers, continuing the trend. The number for the expansion bounce isn’t the issue, it’s the number of the year’s lowest subscription point that shows the game in population decline; and that decline is happening while WoW insists on maintaining a box price + subscription, while the majority of its competitors have ditched that business model. 

Is the rise of games that have an alternative to the subscription only model the only reason for WoW’s subscription decline? Not likely. Is it a large contributing factor? Undoubtedly it is.


Wandris sray155 They don’t sell “Free to play”. They say you can “play for free”, which you can: the amount of access that you get isn’t unlimited, but more extensive than any subscription only game’s free trial.

Coincidentally, WoW also advertises that you can “play for free”.


Baemir I’ve got love for EVE, but I also do not think it was the most improved MMO of the year, so I didn’t vote for it. I certainly love playing it, and loved what improvements we got, but it most certainly was not, in my opinion, the most improved.


Your chart only backs up my point.
WoW stopped gaining new players at the same time that other MMORPGs moved into free to play and subscription optional models. Each year WoW releases an expansion that bounces their sub numbers up for a few months, and then they drop again, at least 1 million lower than the previous year’s lowest number. Many of those players are finding their way to non-subscription/optional subscription games and not returning for the annual expansion pack. The current content drought has only exacerbated a condition that has existed for several years, and directly correlates to the rise of alternatives to WoW’s subscription only model.


sray155 It’s a lie. Why should they get away with selling “F2P” and then not meeting basic expectations of their customers. They have made it impossible to even dispute within game channels.