Massively Overthinking: The best of PAX East and GDC in 2018


The past couple of weeks has been wild as we dispatched writers to GDC in San Francisco and PAX East in Boston to gather up and bring back everything they could on the MMORPGs large and small on the spring convention circuit. In fact, as I type this, we’ve got Brendan in Reykjavik for EVE Fanfest too! So for this week’s Overthinking, we’re rounding up our coverage and then reflecting on the best and worst as we pick out what most excites, surprises, and disappoints us: First the roundups, then our thoughts. Read on!


GDC 2018

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I don’t know about the “worst” from PAX East, but I was a bit disappointed that Elder Scrolls Online didn’t wow Eliot either, but happy to hear I wasn’t crazy for getting that “so it’s ESO but more” feeling. I did enjoy hearing about Pantheon, especially as I’m playing kind of a throw-back MMO myself at the moment. Eliot’s coverage, for me, is exactly why I’ve been rolling my eyes at most MMO coverage by non-MMO sites: We catch details the other guys don’t, and that allows our writers to place things in a context that our readers (and ourselves!) can appreciate. I feel like I’ve moved away from the scenarios Eliot experienced, but in the hands of non-MMO specialist, there could have been major hype or major disappointment. The details were things simply watching a stream might not have highlighted because Eliot let us into (the safe part of) his head and hit the notes I hope resonated with you all as well.

Oh, and his interview with Feathers. That’s Hall of Fame stuff right there.

For GDC, I’ll tell you about the worst: nothing you saw me write about! GDC was awesome because I often got to talk to developers instead of just company reps. When the latter were sent out, I often had my time wasted. Admittedly, though, we generally found someone who understands that I’m not being sent out to grab swag and hype games, so we’d get a crack at someone higher up, and I really respect those teams.

As for what I thought was the best? The business stuff! The game specific stuff was awesome, and I got to talk to some great developers who I really hope break the industry into something better. However, the panels and industry interviews often talked about the meta-context of our hobby. The good, the bad, the potential improvements, the niche stuff the mass (gaming) media ignores… things that should give any gamer not waist-high in the industry or secluded fandoms reassurance that our hobby won’t just be flashing lights and gamble boxes in the future. Even better was that some commenters asked us to cover that kind of stuff. I’ve never been more proud of you guys than when I see ya’ll looking through articles even the experts expect you to ignore. You wowed people, and I’m so glad I had the chance to present that to you fine folks!

(You can’t see it, but I’m bowing as low as I can right now).

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Man, I love con season, and I also can’t wait for it to be over. The peeps who go to them and work them are real heroes because as Feathers can attest, it’s really not that fun – it’s a job.

I know Eliot didn’t have the most enjoyable experience at PAX, but he brought home such great stuff. For example, the fact that he came away impressed with both Pantheon and Ashes of Creation, about which I’ve had more than my fair share of doubt, actually filled me with hope that they will actually 1) happen and 2) work. Ship of Heroes continues to impress me with how fast the team is getting the game playable too. SOH and Ashes in particular really haven’t been in production very long and they’re showing at cons. This makes me happy!

GDC is a totally different beast, much more meta – in fact, we hadn’t been to a GDC in probably four or five years or so until Andrew piped up and volunteered for it, chiefly because there hasn’t been much MMORPG content, but he made it work! Out of that one, I was happiest to see the first efforts toward industry unionization, the academic work on the trust spectrum, and the epic Ultima Online panel. My first MMO love!

Disappointments? Probably the fact that Elder Scrolls Online didn’t bring a flashier demo to show off what’s probably going to wind up one of the top two expansions of the year; I wanted them to have a much bigger showing. I also came away from the GDC pieces much more worried about SpatialOS than I already was and deeply, deeply concerned about the somewhat flippant way data scientists are helping the bean counters wring the life out of the industry.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): My feelings on our recent event coverage is screwy, just because… well, I was on the floor for PAX East, and a lot of the things I saw were the same things or similar to what Andrew saw, thus meaning that we hit a lot of overlap. However, I feel pretty confident in saying that the game I’m most interested in out of the lineup of “coming soon” stuff is still Rend; I was really impressed by the title when I first saw it and remain impressed by it. Most of the more classic MMO stuff either covers games I already play or games that I can respect but are meant to solve problems I don’t have.

Unless I can mention that it’s hard to be excited for anything after a two-hour drive becomes three and a half hours because of traffic which exists for basically no reason well outside of rush hour.

You know what, I’ll just go with “hooray, I met Yoko Taro at PAX East.” That’s exciting for me.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I was truly heartened to see both many and varied MMORPGs and other online titles showing up, from the big boys like FFXIV and World of Warcraft to smaller indie fare like Ship of Heroes and Pantheon. Major props to Eliot and Andrew for working their butts off to cover all of this and bring us back reports that we can read in luxury without having our feet fall off in the process.

My most positive impression from reading through the pieces is just how many “pleasant surprises” there were in the bunch. Even if I don’t always agree with the tone or direction of certain projects, I do want MMOs to succeed and to cultivate more variety. So yay for Ashes of Creation achieving solid combat, Pantheon successfully bringing back that old gameplay feel that it wanted, seeing Legends of Aria leap forward in quality, hearing Ship of Heroes’ enthusiasm, and of course, getting the announcement of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth’s launch date.

Sure, I wish more games and studios could have been there. Trion is having a stellar year with lots of interesting news, but it was at GDC and not PAX. But I think we got a fantastic amount of reports that might give some players hope for the future.

Your turn!


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Toy Clown

Awesome work reporting from GDC. Thank you MOP writers!

From the seat I occupy, I was most rooting for Ashes of Creation and enjoyed seeing what they’ve managed to pull off in such a short time. I was also surprised to note that many of their dev team came from working on EQ1 and 2, as well as SWG. I often wondered what happened to the dev team outside of Raph Koster from those days! That probably explains why I’m warming up to AoC so much!


So, I think the coverage by MOP was great. I rely on sites like MOP to show me what is going on because I can’t go to PAX or GDC every year, or maybe any year. Even though, to be honest, I will someday. Lol.

Credible sources are important listening posts at Pax because of the hype. After all this is nothing but a big marketing shindig. And yet, relevant information can be had and Eliot parsed and brought it to the fore with regard to our interests.

GDC is another beast, IMO, but similar. The marketing spiel is less to a great degree and there are almost cerebral conversations. Almost. Lol. You see, IMO, they over hype is still there but in a different guise.

Take SpatialOS for example. A buzzword to many gamers outside of GDC as the great dev hope for the future. But is it really? I loved when Andrew but Roper through his paces with good solid questions that dove into the details (which Roper didn’t seem to want to get into). LOL! Yup, pierced right through the hype.

So, I feel like I get more from GDC in terms of what the devs are thinking and pushing themselves, but more fan service from Pax and yet important info on the state of games in production.

The best coverage would be to go myself. ;) But, unless someone starts to pay me for playing games, I don’t see it happening.

Kudos MOP.


Really didn’t follow PAX all that much beyond wanting to see where Ashes and Pantheon were at. Rend wasn’t on my radar until the PAX info started rolling in, so now i am intrigued and have started looking into it. Thanks for that MOP! Ashes looks like it’s coming along very nicely, so that’s exciting. However, as someone who KSed the game, i am a little disappointed in what i can only assume was them spending a shit-ton of money for their huge booth rather than on development as a crowdfunded game. Hopefully it make them more in the long run. I am very pleased and continue to be impressed with Pantheon’s progress with such a small team. 2019/2020 should be a couple of good years for MMO players!


There wasn’t much that came out of PAX that caught my attention, however I was intrigued by REND, I didn’t really know much about it and it looks like they’re doing some interesting things.

GDC was much better. Favourite was Koster’s piece about the trust spectrum. I really love that deep research and how it gets applied to games and as a community-minded player, his work on the trust spectrum got me really interested. Also enjoyed the UO panel, whilst I never played the game it’s always interesting to hear frank discussions from behind the scenes rather than the usual fluff/pr crap that we get.

Also liked the Yokozuna piece. Like Bree, it fills me with dread as to how much manipulation of player behaviour is possible when you have the data. However, I am a big believer in data and firmly believe that data, but itself, is neither good nor evil, it’s the way you use it that counts. I hope that companies like Yokozuna get used for their data analysis and that the outcome gets used to make more enjoyable, engaging games rather than just how to wring more money out of players.