Massively OP’s 2018 Awards: Best MMO Business Model of 2018


Massively Overpowered’s end-of-the-year 2018 awards continue today with our award for the MMO with the Best Business Model, which was awarded jointly to World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV last year. This relatively new award is intended to recognize a live MMORPG of any age that has demonstrated an exemplary business model specifically in 2018, regardless of its past performance. 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 the Best MMO Business Model of 2018 is…

Guild Wars 2

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Pokemon Go. While Nintendo itself feels like it might be going over to the dark side, Pokemon Go’s raid tickets feel fair, and I’m saying this as someone who’s been a “raid a day” person and a “I raided once this week because I could do it while eating lunch” player. For those who don’t play, think of it like putting some cash in an old-fashioned arcade machine. You get 1-2 free plays per day, but can pay more if you want. There’s a good amount of variety now, so it’s not just about the “best” pokemon (which for several months now haven’t been anything better than what we had at the start of the year). Combined with the upcoming PvP leagues that actually allow for traditionally “bad” pokemon to shine while locking out the top-tier raid prize-pokemon, the system feels, well, rather balanced as of this writing. For runners-up? Probably Final Fantasy XIV or Elder Scrolls Online, as usual. As lockboxes become more and more of a thing, the raw sub with some addons these two provide still feels fair while the F2P world often still flirts with problematic loot boxes.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): This one seemed a hard one for the team to sort out this year. While I was tempted to go for an encore year for Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft for this award since generally I think sub models are better than F2P in 2018, in this case I don’t think either one delivered quite as much content for the money as they did in 2017. Guild Wars 2, however, delivered near-quarterly major content updates for no money whatsoever. It also managed to avoid a nasty lockbox scandal this year (it had one last year), plus it’s made consumer-friendly changes to some of the lockboxes I thought were pretty awful last year (for example, allowing some mounts from mount lockboxes to be purchased individually). As reluctant as I am to give ArenaNet a nod, especially after some of the awful monetization things its execs said in 2018, I think the game’s model itself as actually implemented deserves this award in 2018. If it eliminated lockboxes entirely, it would be at the tippy top every year, no contest, basically the way Guild Wars 1 once was. My runner-up would be Trove, but only if you’re a casual player. You can get staggeringly far on nothing invested in Trove, but there is a nasty paywall you’ll hit eventually if you’re a hardcore PvE person.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Guild Wars 2. There is a whole lot of MMO gaming one can get out of Guild Wars 2 without spending a penny. On top of that, the game’s expansions provide some pretty beefy slices of content for the asking price even at full cost, and the sales it has on those same expansions frequently make them the best deal in the MMORPG genre.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Personally, Bree has sold me on Trove. She argues that it’s kind of got a scummy and grifty model for people on the top end pushing PvE content, but considering this is a kid’s game and it would be so easy to grift the heck out of children, I see “grift the people who want to push the bleeding edge” as kind of a good thing in and of itself.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): While pay-to-win and other issues still plague it, I think that free-to-play consistently proves to be the deciding factor whether or not players are going to give a game a go. When you don’t have anything to lose by trying it, you’re more likely to try it.

Matt Daniel (@Matt_DanielMVOP): Guild Wars 2. I’m not personally a big fan of GW2, but it’s hard to beat its buy-to-play, cosmetics-only cash shop model.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Even though it isn’t a MMO, I’d give this to Path of Exile. This game gets regular, chunky updates four times a year — and not a single one of them costs a thing to players! Neither does the game itself! All the funds come from cosmetic purchases in the store. And storage. Who doesn’t need to buy more storage? (Especially me!) It makes me want to spend because I don’t feel in the least bit compelled to in order to play. The same could be said for Warframe, but I gave it to POE because of the frequency of updates and new leagues. If I needed to go with a pure MMO for this, then I could get behind Guild Wars 2, which also has been plunking out new content without additional cost. However, I don’t like the “log in during a certain time” restriction. I don’t want to play because I have some missing holes in story parts when illness or life events prevented me from making that log in in time. Also, expansions cost a chunk and a half. So Path of Exile is better.

How does Massively OP choose the winner?
Our team gathers together over the course of a few days to discuss candidates and ideally settle on a consensus winner. We don’t have a hard vote, but we do include written commentary from every writer who submitted it on time so that you can see where some of us differed, what our secondary picks were, and why we personally nominated what we did (or didn’t). The site’s award goes to the staff selection, but we’ll include both it and the community’s top nomination in our debrief in January.

Guild Wars 2 won our award for Best MMO Business Model of 2018. What’s your pick?

Reader poll: What MMO offered the best business model in 2018?

  • Guild Wars 2 (59%, 844 Votes)
  • Trove (0%, 2 Votes)
  • World of Warcraft (4%, 61 Votes)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (6%, 91 Votes)
  • EVE Online (1%, 19 Votes)
  • Pokemon Go (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (6%, 82 Votes)
  • RuneScape (1%, 8 Votes)
  • Path of Exile (6%, 90 Votes)
  • Lord of the Rings Online (1%, 12 Votes)
  • Warframe (7%, 95 Votes)
  • RIFT (0%, 1 Votes)
  • TERA (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Secret World Legends (0%, 7 Votes)
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online (3%, 48 Votes)
  • DC Universe Online (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Project Gorgon (0%, 7 Votes)
  • Elite Dangerous (1%, 10 Votes)
  • Blade and Soul (0%, 4 Votes)
  • EverQuest II (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Nothing (2%, 29 Votes)
  • Something else (tell us in the comments!) (1%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,433

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Poll options include all games nominated plus other games we thought had a chance!

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Ken from Chicago
3 years ago


How was STO not even nominated? Was there some lockbox scandal I forgot about or was the Age of Discovery expansion not good enough that it somehow knocked STO out of the running? Is it people so hate free 2 play that much that, once again, STO is smeared by the usual f2p complaints that in actuality don’t apply to them–aside from lockboxes? It basically sells cosmetics and starships although you could the game successfully off the in-game ships provided for free.

3 years ago

ESO. Business models aren’t just limited to how F2P it is, or how much a sub gets you, etc. ESO gave me the Morrowind expansion for free (via pre-ordering Summerset, as I recall), and then gave me the Murkmire content for free (via daily log-ins last month). And by ‘free’ I mean permanent access, regardless of subscription.

As a FFXIV player I’m generally in favor of pure subscription models, but content patches are just too formulaic for me, and only entice me to re-sub every 2-3 patches.

3 years ago

Star Wars: The Old Republic

3 years ago

The more I think about it, the more I realize that GW2 is really not new player friendly. It’s as expensive as BDO to get started. To buy both expacs it’s $50, then a new player also has to buy all Living World content if they want to play it so that’s currently another $50. And many players find a handful of cash shop items to be necessary one time purchases, so you’re looking at another $20-$35 or more depending on what you buy there. Let’s be honest, that’s absurd.

Meanwhile a new player can get 14 years worth of WoW content or 8 years of FFXIV content, and one month sub, for just $60.

To purchase to own the ESO content however is so much more than all 3 I’m not even adding it up.

3 years ago

Did GW2 make enough money to hire anyone? Because it might be loved, but I can’t imagine it’s working well.

3 years ago
Reply to 

They had 400 people at one point during peak development for Path of Fire.

3 years ago
Reply to 

NCSoft publishes earnings all the time and GW2 is pretty stable so it does work for sure.

Yulan Cardoso
3 years ago

While I praise both PoE and Warframe as F2P business models, what I like the most about GW2 is how unobtrusive it is regarding microtransactions. Apart from a few account upgrade exceptions, the majority of it is secluded to the gem store, and if you are not interested on it you can effortlessly ignore it during gameplay.

My experience with Warframe (and as in many other F2P games) is the exact opposite: while I know I can theoretically acquire everything in-game without ever spending real money, microtransactions are rubbed on my face constantly to the point that I have the platinum icon burned into my retinas. This makes me feel like avoiding microtransactions is a constant struggle and that I’m being penalized by playing the game without it, something I have never felt in my 6 years of GW2.

It’s also worth mentioning how the paid expansions + free content updates positively affects GW2’s philosophy and community as a whole – regular MMO treadmill, grinding and chores are so minimal compared to F2P or subscription models that I never feel bad for neither taking a break nor picking it back up after some time.

So kudos to ANET, I guess. While it doesn’t mean there aren’t other good models around, I feel this award is certainly deserved.

3 years ago
Reply to  Yulan Cardoso

Plus, like you said with Gw2 cash shop being optional,
you can still convert ingame gold to cash shop money with the exchange and buy the shiny optional skins with ingame money instead of real money if you wanted, so that’s nice.
And there’s still a ton of nice ingame skins you can unlock just by playing and exploring.

I wish more games would do this, permanent buyable expansions with lots of content and with cash shop optional skins.

It’s a nice system that makes you feel like your time or money isn’t wasted in the end
[because other mmos have ‘getting stronger’ stuff in the cash shop, which makes me feel like why bother with a game with buyable game power in the cash shop]

3 years ago
Reply to  arcgirl2

Well, Warframe has the exact same system with platinum. Instead of gold you sell stuff, but still the same.
But not to forget, with both games ALL premium currency has been bought with real money at some point, so saying that you can just farm is only true to the point that someone buys currency and use it to trade for your gold/stuff..neither game produce premium currency by playing.

Of course that means the games need to keep creating incentives to buy premium currency, with all that implies – It is a spending treadmill .. Of course so is a subscrption game, but what I mean is lets not delute ourselves thinking those business models are something else.

3 years ago
Reply to  kjempff

I’m not deluding myself with anything.
I don’t know about warframe but gw 2 doesn’t have buyable power advantages in the cash shop, just skins.
You don’t have any power disadvantages playing just buying the game box.

Bruno Brito
3 years ago
Reply to  arcgirl2

GW2 has a huge power creep issue with elite specs. Not exactly a p2w problem, more like Anet being a failure at balancing. They’re REALLY BAD at it.

Bruno Brito
3 years ago

GW2 for sure. The powercreep is worrying but it’s not unplayable.

Steven Williams
3 years ago

Honestly, this year it’s really hard to pick one. Every one of the major, non-Korean Import MMOs have done pretty well.

FFXIV is doing just about as much this year as it has 2 years ago, because it’s following a very strictly-set schedule. In 2016 we were at around the same place: experiencing the wait between 3.4 and 3.5 part 1, still discussing/arguing about the latest Fan Fest reveals.

And 2019 will be the same as 2017: Two major patches, a bunch of fanfest announcements, a new expansion, and 1-2 more major patches. Thus, the world continues to turn.

I voted for FFXIV because compared to other games, I know -exactly- what my sub is going toward, and when x, y and z are coming out. On top of knowing the release schedule on the back of my hand, the developers have continued to be transparent about what they’re developing and why.

If I could make two votes, my second would go toward Guild Wars 2. Their release schedule has been similarly amazing. The only reason why I’m voting for FFXIV over GW2 is because I prefer a sub-based game over loot boxes. I think lootboxes/whale-based economies are bad for the consumer and fail to guarantee a solid revenue for development. That opinion hasn’t changed this year, and I hope we get some solid regulation in 2019 onward.

3 years ago

I wanted to give it to both World of Warcraft – hey it’s fair, if expensive by current standards -, and Project Gorgon. But since the site doesn’t allow 2 choices, then it goes to PG. The main reason is the new demo devs made. There was some talk for long about a demo “later, close to release”, but I’m glad they changed their mind and just made it available now.

This reason is also why I don’t agree you have to be f2p to get people to try the game easily, commitment-free. A demo or trial version allows the same. Just, such trial should not be time-limited, because then it leaves in the cold many who, like me, would login for a few hours then come back after three months.

Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
3 years ago

I was wondering if Bree would ever end up encountering Trove’s character progression being tied into its cash shop or not. I haven’t played in a long while, but it sounds like it’s still there sadly. It’s definitely one of those things that annoyed me when I came across it.

3 years ago
Reply to  TomTurtle

Nowadays you can craft class unlockers through gameplay… but in typical Trove fashion, it requires quite a bit of grinding. Especially if you want to get the superhero-esque Vanguardian class that came out whenever it was.

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Patreon Donor
3 years ago
Reply to  Sorenthaz

I was speaking to the gem system and the RNG tied into it that the cash shop offers ways to lessen it.

I never minded classes being up for pay considering the game could be played for free.