Perfect Ten: The biggest MMORPG news stories of 2015

    
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For as long as Massively Overpowered exists, this will be one of the most memorable years in our site’s history. It was the year that, after seven year of operation, old Massively got abruptly shuttered by AOL along with Joystiq and WoW Insider. It was also the year that the community rallied around us and Kickstarted the hell out of a new site, giving us the chance to create MOP as an independent MMO entity.

2015 will no doubt be remembered for a lot of other things too, of course. I don’t think anyone could have predicted all of the craziness and unexpected turns that happened in our genre over the past 12 months. Let’s take a walk back through the year-that-was to cover the biggest, strangest, and most exciting stories that we covered.

1. SOE is turned into Daybreak, John Smedley departed

Just days after old Massively got the boot, SOE found itself in a corporate transition as well. The legacy MMO studio announced that Sony had put it up for sale and investment firm Columbus Nova purchased it, turning it into the Daybreak Games Company.

The change had significant fallout for the rest of the year. SOE Live was canceled, and many developers either quit or were let go. The development of most of Daybreak’s library was thrown up into the air and a miasma of uncertainty settled on the studio’s future efforts. Things got even stranger when longtime President John Smedley left Daybreak in July to found his own game studio.

2. Crowfall dominated Kickstarter

One of the earliest stories of the year revolved around a new MMO IP named Crowfall that was being developed as primarily a PvP game. Veteran developers spent weeks building up to a Kickstarter campaign before launching a textbook-perfect campaign. After asking for $800,000 in funds to get the ball rolling, fans stepped up with almost a million more than that. Since then, Crowfall has remained on our radar and is taking steps to putting out a pre-alpha test in the near future.

3. Guild Wars 2 offered its base game for free

ArenaNet took command of a panel at PAX Prime and didn’t waste the opportunity, announcing that it would be making the base (non-expansion) Guild Wars 2 game free as of that night. It’s certainly debatable how much that helped the game, especially considering some of the restrictions that came with the free model, but it was sudden, surprising, and somewhat welcome for those who had been wanting to try out the game.

4. Subscription MMOs fled to other models

Speaking on the opposite end of the spectrum of surprising, two MMOs that stubbornly launched with subscriptions only in 2014 both switched to more accessible models this year. Elder Scrolls Online embraced the pay-once-play-forever format that echoed its offline brethren while churning out DLC and cash shop items to keep the revenue flowing. The title also finally launched on consoles in early summer, although it wasn’t as big of a splash as many anticipated.

Meanwhile, WildStar announced in May that it would be going the free-to-play route later in the fall. Several months of testing later, and the game’s new business model and large content update came out, flooding the servers with so many players that the game was almost unplayable for a week afterward.

5. Pathfinder Online got torpedoed

In September, Pathfinder Online ran out of money and was forced to lay off most of its staff in one brutal stroke, turning over control to the IP’s company. It didn’t look good for the game and its population of early subscribers, although a glimmer of hope was seen in November when news came out that there were talks with potential investors to help fund the title’s development.

6. World of Warcraft lost 45% of its subscription base and revealed Legion

After crossing back over the 10 million subscriber barrier following Warlords of Draenor’s launch last year, World of Warcraft began a sudden and drastic slide this year. Earnings report after earnings report revealed that the fantasy title was bleeding subscribers in the millions, eventually losing 45% of its population in nine months. However, the big reveal of its next expansion, Legion, has some thinking that WoW’s population will return in droves in 2016. We’ll probably never know for certain what future numbers will be, as Blizzard said that it will no longer publish subscriber counts for the game.

7. MMO expansions made big waves

This year wasn’t huge on actual MMO launches (although we’ll cover that in a bit); instead, it was all about expansions. Four huge expansions dominated the news cycle for months at a time: Destiny’s The Taken King, Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns, Final Fantasy XIV’s Heavensward, and Star Wars: The Old Republic’s Knights of the Fallen Empire. What’s even better is that all of them launched well and were generally embraced by their respective communities.

Even older games like Ultima Online and EverQuest pumped out expansions this year, showing the industry that the expansion model isn’t dead — not by a long shot.

8. Early access continued to reign

The concept and popularity of early access for games — including MMOs — wasn’t new to 2015, but it certainly didn’t wane this year either. Titles such as H1Z1 and ARK: Survival Evolved made big bucks and racked up thousands of players despite being only half-baked.

9. Blade and Soul announced its western launch

For just the longest time, MMO players had been clamoring for NCsoft to bring Blade and Soul to the west. After all seemed lost in that department, the company finally announced that it would be adapting the wuxia title to the west in January 2016. Excitement over this game might not be what it was a year or two ago, but there’s still a crowd out there waiting to get their hands on what Blade and Soul has to offer. How big of a crowd? We’ll be seeing in January.

10. A few MMOs launched and very few closed

As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t the biggest year for MMO launches or cancellations. The two biggest titles to come out in 2015 were Trove and Skyforge, perhaps followed by by Devilian. Cabal II is on the list as well, but if we’re going there then you know we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for more entries.

While plenty of small fry met their end this year, 2015 actually had fewer shutdowns of big-name games than in years previous. Dragon’s Prophet was retired in North America and Infinite Crisis wrapped up its run shortly after its launch. And… that was it, really, unless you want to quibble about games like Archlord 2, Raiderz, and Face of Mankind.

Of course, that’s not all the news that happened this year. You know it was an interesting run when even some high-profile space game vs. space game drama didn’t make a top 10 list. So what stories interested you this year?

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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Actintous
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Actintous

I was more surprised WoW went back UP to 10000000 players. Demonstrates that for all its faults people still come back to it.
I feel sad for those working for SOE/daybreak. My guess is they are having it tough.

ausj3w3l
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ausj3w3l

bondoboblives Armsbend Damonvile wasteland 2 and divinity as well

BigJohnny1982
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BigJohnny1982

Destiny is not an MMO, and if any game did well with Kickstarter this year it was SC, not crowfall.

bondoboblives
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bondoboblives

Armsbend Damonvile Lots of good RPGing in 2014-15.  The Witcher 3, Dragon Age, Fallout, Pillars of Eternity, Sword Coast legends and others I’m sure I missed.

vinicitur
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vinicitur

It has to be all the SOE/DBG fiascos. I mean seriously it actually lasted all year. All the games they torpedoed, the promises they made with Landmark and H1Z1 that never materialized, going back to the drawing board for the 4th? time with Neverquest Next. All the Lizard Squad/Smedley drama. And finally the early access milking of their games. 

The only thing that seems to be succeeding is their everquest progression servers.

breetoplay
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breetoplay

Armsbend Damonvile I can’t remember the last time someone didn’t say that. Literally, every single year as far back as I’ve been MMOing, someone says this.

Armsbend
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Armsbend

Damonvile 2014-2015 were horrible for all of gaming.

Ironwu
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Ironwu

Sony selling SOE.   Nothing else even comes close.
Then, the subsequent gutting of the heart and soul of the new DGC.
RIP SOE.

Siphaed
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Siphaed

The GW2 base game F2P thing would have been a surprise, had IGN not completely botched their press release date for the announcement.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

Syppi Wratts 
A tempest in the teacup blown out of proportions? o.O