With the turn of every new year, I know we are entering unexplored territory in the field of MMO news. No matter what we may predict, it’s inevitable that the bizarre left turns and out-of-nowhere stories will defy our prognostications.
It’s actually what I love about covering MMORPG news — the unpredictability. And boy howdy was it an unpredictable year! Looking over the list of the Top 10 biggest news stories from this year (to date), very few of those anyone could have seen coming. From a revolt at a convention to two major studios tanking to Daybreak sort-of gaslighting its entire community, it was a strange year start to finish.
Let’s walk down memory lane, shall we?
It was a quiet weekday. We sent an email to request a quote on a story involving any possible impact to Daybreak Games Company by the actions of the U.S. government against a Russian oligarch who happened to own Columbus Nova — which happened to be the company that bought Daybreak back in 2015. Or so we thought. Daybreak came back with a statement saying that it had absolutely no affiliation with Columbus Nova despite its own press release and three years of articles saying otherwise.
The story escalated as Massively OP investigated, with Daybreak saying that the original claim of ownership was in error (while deleting several incriminating articles from its site and on Wikipedia) and others concerned that the studio was trying to gaslight its entire community. It may not have been entirely malicious, but the shady cover-up and the seemingly unrelated high-profile layoffs that happened that week left Daybreak fans quite concerned indeed.
It may not have been the AAA-budget MMO that we’ve always dreamed about, but the reveal that Perfect World was funding the development of Torchlight Frontiers as an MMORPG certainly put a smile on our faces. Even better was the news that former Blizzard developer and Torchlight creator Max Schaefer was heading up the project.
Since the initial announcement, Torchlight Frontiers has made steady progress into alpha testing and has intrigued us with its talk of fully customizable player housing and rich horizontal progression.
Here’s how you don’t reveal that you’re making a new entry in a beloved franchise: You position it as The Major Headlining Announcement of BlizzCon and attempt to enthusiastically sell a Netease-developed mobile MMO to a community that’s been starving for any new Diablo content on PC for years now. Blizzard’s epic mishandling of the Diablo Immortal announcement led to piles of bad press and angry backlash from a community that outright mocked and berated the studio at its own convention.
One of the biggest mainstays of classic MMORPGs, Trion Worlds stunned and shocked everyone in late October when it announced that it would be closing its doors and selling all of its properties to Germany-based Gamigo. Players fled games like RIFT, ArcheAge, and Trove while they ascertained the fallout from this move. While the future isn’t completely assured for these games, it looks like Trion’s stable of titles will continue development and operation under Gamigo’s leadership.
R.I.P. Trion. Your corgis will be missed.
With fewer new high-profile MMOs on the way, attention turned back to the older crop with expansions and — yes — progression servers. Both RIFT and LOTRO drew in crowds of novelty-starved players by opening up specialty servers that initially limited content and would gradually unlock areas and expansions. This turned out to be a boon for both titles, with LOTRO experiencing heavy queues and opening up a second server to handle the demand.
ArenaNet seems to be a magnet for bad publicity, no more so than this past summer when the studio fired narrative designer Jessica Price after she flew off the handle on a Guild Wars 2 content creator over Twitter. With some people defending her and some claiming her firing was justified, the situation blew up in all sorts of ugly ways. Price’s colleague Peter Fries was also fired for publicly defending her, with CEO Mike O’Brien taking a hardline stance against both — and losing face with the internet in general.
The dual firing drew ArenaNet into the mainstream media and sparked conversations and debates about social media practices, company relations policies, internet vigilantism, and personal responsibility.
A high-energy Bethesda showcase at E3 this year consisted of jaw-dropping reveal after reveal. But perhaps none was as electrifying or as controversial as the announcement of Fallout 76 — the first online multiplayer entry in the series that attempted to fuse the single-player game with MMOs and survival titles.
Unfortunately, the game wasn’t ready for prime time. Even though Bethesda ran into many snags, it went ahead and pushed out a half-finished, sub-par title that instantly received savage reviews, poor ratings, hints of a class-action lawsuit, loads of negative press, and bad sales. To make matters worse, the studio stayed quiet for the better part of two weeks during this horrible launch even while Fallout 76 was greatly discounted over the holidays.
This year’s No Man’s Sky? It seems so, sadly.
Everyone knew this was going to happen. It was merely a matter of time. After years of NCsoft stringing WildStar along without any serious development by Carbine, finally the word came down that both the studio and sci-fi MMORPG were slated for destruction. Regrets and post-mortems ensued, but at least the game went out with a bang, queuing up all of its holiday events for one last shindig and delivering the rest of the story script to give fans closure.
The same day that we learned about WildStar, we also found out that CCP was being sold off to Black Desert developer Pearl Abyss. Naturally, everyone freaked the heck out, but the dust seems to have settled from that sale and business resumed as normal. It certainly helped that we got a late-year expansion to show that EVE still had some life ahead of it.
While initially raking in strong sales and player acclaim, Battle for Azeroth didn’t prove to have the legs that Blizzard hoped. The expansion was clearly reheating the leftovers of Legion, and players weren’t that thrilled with Azerite armor, warfronts, or island expeditions.
Yet while the studio raced to shore up BfA, it kept eyes on the game with the development and demo of WoW Classic. Players at both home and the convention got to check out this special legacy server and be teleported back to 2004 for some slow-as-molasses combat. The news that the server would release next summer and be included with the standard WoW subscription didn’t hurt anything, either.