As we did in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 – it’s becoming a real tradition here! – today I’m going to recap our annual awards and other meta articles from the end of 2018. We gave out 19 formal awards this past year, all in addition to dozens of other recaps, roundups, listicles, predictions, bloopers, oddities, polls, provocations, and retrospectives. It was by far our biggest content dump to date, even bigger than last year!
Following our deep-dive into our awards and the attached reader polls, I’ll be recapping all of the end-year articles in one convenient place in case you missed something over the holidays – enjoy!
MMO of the Year: Final Fantasy XIV (2018), Elder Scrolls Online (2017), Black Desert (2016), Final Fantasy XIV (2015), Nothing (2014), Final Fantasy XIV (2013), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Star Wars The Old Republic (2011), Global Agenda (2010), Fallen Earth & Dungeons & Dragons (2009)
Longtime readers will recall that back in 2014, we were all so underwhelmed by the field of new MMOs that we voted to name “Nothing” our GOTY, which ultimately led us to rethink how we do these awards. Consequently, older MMOs that keep up a high level of updates are in the running for this award, and so returning for its third (non-sequential) win for MMO of the year is Final Fantasy XIV, which managed to avoid too many screw-ups and impress both the writers and the readers. Even folks who don’t play it have a generally positive opinion of how it’s developed and maintained. That counts for a lot in the world on always-on, always-evolving MMORPGs.
Best Expansion/Update: Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset (2018), Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire (2017), World of Warcraft Legion (2016), Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns (2015), Guild Wars 2 April Feature Pack (2014), Guild Wars 2 Super Adventure Box (2013), RIFT Storm Legion (2012), Lord of the Rings Online Rise of Isengard (2011)
Community Poll: Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset (2018), Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire (2017), World of Warcraft Legion (2016), Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns (2015), World of Warcraft Warlords of Draenor (2014), World of Warcraft Cataclysm (2010)
Let’s be blunt: 2018 was a great year for patches, but not so great for full-scale expansions from the top MMOs, which should have meant that World of Warcraft’s Battle for Azeroth took the crown here. But nope: Both our writers and readers went for Elder Scrolls Online’s Summerset, soundly rebuffing Blizzard. Let’s hope 2019 has even better competition.
Most Anticipated: Torchlight Frontiers (2018), Crowfall (2017), Star Citizen (2016), Star Citizen (2015), EverQuest Next/Landmark (2014), EverQuest Next (2013), WildStar (2012), Guild Wars 2 & WildStar (2011), Star Wars The Old Republic (2010), All Points Bulletin (2009)
Community Poll: Pantheon (2018), Crowfall & Shroud of the Avatar (2017), Camelot Unchained (2016), Star Citizen (2015), Camelot Unchained & Shroud of the Avatar (2014), Star Wars The Old Republic & Project Titan (2010), Star Trek Online (2009)
Torchlight Frontiers came out of nowhere this year to wow us, and it’s no surprise; so many of the games we’re all watching have been in development for so long that we start to grow weary of the anticipation. If PWE can pull together a solid business model, it’ll be in a good spot to launch in 2019. Vote brigading from social media ensured Pantheon’s place at the top of the community poll, but we’re not mad about it; we rather like it too.
Studio of the Year: Grinding Gear Games (2018), ZeniMax & Square-Enix (2017), ZeniMax (2016), Square-Enix (2015), SOE (2014), SOE (2013), SOE & ArenaNet (2012), SOE (2010), Turbine & Fallen Earth LLC (2009)
It’s a good sign when we felt as if we had plenty to choose from in regard to good MMO studios this year, but we chose to honor Grinding Gear Games, which runs Path of Exile with constant updates, solid communication, and a classy business model. Our readers picked Standing Stone Games, operators of Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online.
At the risk of issuing a back-handed compliment, we tapped RuneScape for most improved this year, noting that Jagex put in significant effort on the ancient MMO and its old school variant, even pumping out mobile editions for both this year. The Elder Scrolls Online, however, swept the reader vote. Not a bad pick there either!
In this award’s short life, it’s gone back and forth between the best subscription model and the best buy-to-play model; this year, Guild Wars 2’s mostly-B2P model took the title both from the writers and the readers. As we’ve noted, the two big sub MMORPGs didn’t provide as much value for the money this year, making them harder to agitate for, while ArenaNet has scaled back some of the lockbox decisions we criticized in 2017 and continued delivering high-quality free content in the form of its living world episodes.
Most Underrated: Lord of the Rings Online & MapleStory 2 (2018), Black Desert & Secret World Legends (2017), Final Fantasy XIV (2016), Trove (2015), Elite Dangerous (2014), Neverwinter (2013), The Secret World (2012)
This award is always a struggle since it depends so much on your perception of how highly other people rate a game. In this case, we opted to honor both a brand-new MMO and an older one: Nexon’s MapleStory 2, whose cutesy graphics mask a challenging sandbox, and SSG’s Lord of the Rings Online, which is still kicking and providing solid content over a decade after its launch. Lord of the Rings Online took the reader poll handily too.
Story of the Year: The Daybreak Columbus Nova Saga (2018), The Lockbox Debate (2017), The Death of EverQuest Next (2016), Daybreak’s Drama (2015), ArcheAge’s Drama (2014), EverQuest Next’s Reveal (2013), 38 Studios’ Doom (2012), Monoclegate (2011), Blizzard’s Real ID Fiasco (2010)
We have five awards now that focus on topics rather than specific games, and so once again we did our best to spread them around. The Daybreak Columbus Nova story took this vote easily. Most of our staff has been covering MMOs professionally for the better part of a decade or more, and none of us could remember an MMO story that involved an MMO studio backtracking on its ownership after three years and after press began digging into its link to Russian oligarchs and political sanctions, never mind an MMO studio apparently gaslighting gamers by deleting documents and fudging Wikipedia entries. Daybreak has taken this “award” kind of a lot, but this one… just wow.
Daybreak took the reader vote too, though the Diablo Immortal mess wasn’t far behind.
As we’ve previously noted, a game already selling pixel starships, vehicles, and land claims has a business model whether or not it’s formally launched, and so Star Citizen once again takes this award. While several of our staff enjoy the game and even included it on our most-anticipated lists, the $27,000 package CIG sold this year probably sealed the deal. Our readers plainly agreed, though Fallout 76 caught some shade as well.
Best Trend: Progression Servers (2018), Focus on Communities (2017), Content Scaling (2016) Resurgence of Expansions (2015), Sandbox Gameplay (2014), Sandbox Gameplay (2013); Best Innovation: SOEmote (2012)
In past years, we’ve had a hard time coming to a consensus on this award, but this time, we unanimously declared 2018 the year of the MMO progression server, as half a dozen MMOs offered them for play. The readers generally agreed, though almost as many were thrilled to see government crackdowns on lockboxes.
Best Not-So-Massively Game: Warframe (2018), Warframe (2017), Overwatch (2016), ARK Survival Evolved (2015), Hearthstone (2014), Path of Exile (2013), PlanetSide 2 (2012); Best Mobile MMO: Arcane Legends (2012)
The award goes to MOBAs, online dungeon crawlers, ARPGs, online shooters, survival sandboxes, battle royales, and other games that tread into MMO territory but aren’t full MMORPGs – in other words, games we cover that orbit the MMO genre but aren’t full MMORPGs (and therefore aren’t eligible for many of the awards we give). That said, we’ve been tempted to consider this year’s NSM winner – Warframe – for our standard MMO awards too, thanks to its continuing forays into the genre’s main mechanics. Warframe and Path of Exile were neck-and-neck in the community poll, which shouldn’t surprise anyone as both have taken this award before.
This award is intended to honor a smaller game that’d never have a real chance at the big awards, and so Project Gorgon, a spectacular MMO sandbox run pushed to early access by its couple of developers this year, was an easy win for the staff. Dual Universe, which is an alpha MMO among our most anticipated games, took the reader vote again thanks to some gentle nudging by its developers. Next year, we’ll probably tighten up this award’s purview to ensure it’s focused on launched and semi-launched MMOs, keeping the deep-in-development titles in the most anticipated category.
In previous years, this award was usually called “Most Likely to Flop,” but this year we decided to change it up, both because we felt it was too mean and because we thought “flop” was way too ambiguous. Consequently, this year Star Citizen didn’t win; instead, we’re most worried about Chronicles of Elyria, an MMO that Kickstarted two years back but seems to have struggled in 2018 with layoffs and side projects. Star Citizen didn’t manage to escape the commenters’ wrath, however; both it and Fallout 76 were tied in their perceived storminess.
The sad reality remains that a lot of bad or small or underrated MMOs have fantastic mechanics, and WildStar’s housing system was clearly one of them. Unfortunately, WildStar sunset this year, leaving the field wide open for brand-new MMOs to win… haha, just kidding. RIFT and EverQuest II are no spring chickens, but they currently have the best housing on the market according to our writers. Our readers, however, gave the nod to Elder Scrolls Online.
This year, the staff gave the nod to Final Fantasy XIV, having been convinced that Square’s popular MMO has the best offering right now. Our readers pegged both XIV and Elder Scrolls Online for the honor. But hey, the horizon is offering some serious challengers in this department, if they can but launch…
Biggest Disappointment: Industry Employment Scandals (2018), The Sad Death of Marvel Heroes (2017), EverQuest Next & No Man’s Sky (2016), World of Warcraft (2015), WildStar & ArcheAge (2014), DUST 514 (2013), City of Heroes’ Sunset (2012), Star Wars Galaxies’ Sunset (2011), Aion (2009)
Community Poll: Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal Mess (2018), The Sad Death of Marvel Heroes (2017), EverQuest Next (2016), EverQuest Next’s Silence (2015), WildStar & ArcheAge (2014), Final Fantasy XIV (2010), Aion (2009)
Nothing disgusted and disappointed our staff this year more than the multiple employment scandals that rocked the industry this year and showed how devs are treated like “disposable garbage” – from Riot’s sexual harassment scandal and Rockstar’s crunch story to ArenaNet’s firing bungle and Daybreak’s mass layoffs. While several community picks were close, Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal mess just edged the others out. But don’t worry; Blizzard will get what’s coming to it…
Biggest Blunder: Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal Bungle (2018), CCP’s VR Pullout & EVE Layoffs (2017), The VR Obsession (2016), Star Citizen Melodrama (2015), Dev Hubris – Multiple Games (2014), Elder Scrolls Online’s & WildStar’s Sub Models (2013)
Community Poll: Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal Bungle (2018), The Death of Marvel Heroes (2017), EverQuest Next’s Cancellation (2016), Everything ArcheAge (2015), WildStar’s Endgame & ArcheAge’s Launch (2014)
It doesn’t seem like even those of us who will play China-oriented mobile title Diablo Immortal were even a little bit impressed with Blizzard’s decision to debut it as the headline game of this year’s BlizzCon to a crowd full of core PC game fans, and even if you forgive the now-infamous “do you guys not have phones” gaffe, you have to wonder whether Blizzard has unwittingly revealed it’s lost touch with its own market. And the readers? You folks definitely agreed.
Elite’s Enigma Expedition is the story of how the Elite community saved one of Frontier’s poorly conceived events from griefers who were literally there trying to disrupt the final voyage of a player dying of cancer. While I’m tempted to discontinue this award next year in favor of one that gets more traction with our readers, I’m glad we could hold these particular players up this year.
The readers gave it to Elder Scrolls Online’s free house and free mount events that dominated the fall, which was likely the result of vote brigading, but it’s still a good pick.
Biggest Surprise: The Buyouts of Trion and CCP (2018)
Community Poll: The Buyouts of Trion and CCP (2018)
This year we decided to retire our Best PvP award, given that in 2017, our writers weren’t impressed enough to choose a winner, and in fact our community also picked “nothing” from the poll. Ouch! Hopefully that award will be back in the future once some of the PvP sandboxes start actually launching. In the meantime, we’re giving Biggest Surprise a go, and we chose the two big buyouts of the year – Pearl Abyss buying CCP Games and Gamigo buying Trion Worlds – for that honor. While most of us recognized those companies were struggling, the degree to which they were struggling was a surprise, and the particular studios that did the buying were a shock indeed to the MMO genre.
And that’s a wrap on our awards for 2018! For those of you who missed other special content over the holidays, we’ve rounded up all our music awards, our blooper awards, our weirdest story series, end-year content from some of our feature columns, our monthly news recaps, our staff roundtables, and our favorite top tens right down below. If you’re strapped for time, definitely hit the biggest stories list, biggest surprises list, healthiest MMOs list, best-value MMOs list, best updates list, our predictions for next year, and our big list of all the MMOs we’re watching in 2019!