Massively OP’s 2019 Awards: Worst MMO Business Model


Massively Overpowered’s end-of-the-year 2019 awards continue today with our award for Worst MMO Business Model, which was awarded to Star Citizen last year. This faux-ward is a counterpart to our award for the best business model of the year and is intended to recognize an MMO of any age that has demonstrated a particularly awful or consumer-unfriendly business model specifically in 2019, regardless of its past performance. This award does include pre-launch MMOs, as long as those games are operating a launched business model as well. Don’t forget to cast your own vote in the just-for-fun reader poll at the very end!

And the MassivelyOP staff pick for the Worst MMO Business Model of 2019 is…


Andy McAdams: SWTOR, Star Citizen. I think we should clarify here that “Worst Business Model for gamers” is the category because Star Citizen having generated more revenue than the GDP of a small country and still not actually delivering anything of value to gamers is definitely good for someone, just not gamers. Fallout 76 should really just be a case study in how not to run a game. Both of these were no-brainers.

Brendan Drain: Star Citizen. It’s now up to over $254M in crowdfunding and further private finance, and despite eight years of development there’s still no release window in sight. Every year I predict that crowdfunding well will run dry for Star Citizen and it will face financial difficulties or be forced to wrap up and launch, and every year I’m proven wrong as millions are poured into the game by fans to keep the dream alive — and I do think “dream” is the right word to use here. The moment Star Citizen officially launches is when I think the house of cards they’ve built will finally collapse because no matter how good it is, it’s not going to be $300M+ good. Coupled with the hundreds of FTC complaints the developer has received and the customers issuing refund requests for thousands of dollars, I’d characterise Star Citizen’s use of crowdfunding as an abusive business model.

Brianna Royce: Where does one begin? Yes, Star Citizen, deserves the top spot once again; regardless of whether you’re excited about the game (and I am), its business model is pure grotesque whale hunting, and CIG appears to have no shame about it. Following that, Fallout 76 surely deserve a nod, thanks to its Fallout First debacle.

Carlo Lacsina: Shroud of the Avatar.

Chris Neal: Star Citizen. Look, I’m bought in and often feel like one of the few in the staff who wants this game to make it, but even I have to always tilts my head and curl my lip when CIG sells three and four-figure concept drawings. It will always reek of a studio that’s hemorrhaging money even if they are putting something impressive together. And that worries me.

Colin Henry: Star Citizen, Fallout 76. It’s hard to compete for worst business model with a game that sells players a $1700 flying space mall when the game isn’t even playable yet, but Fallout 76 sure is doing its best! “But Colin,” you say, “isn’t 76’s new business model basically the same as ESO’s business model, which you love?” On paper, yes. However, the buy-to-play-with-optional-sub model provides a lot better value for an actual MMORPG than with a sandbox game like Fallout 76. 76 doesn’t have the DLCs ESO does, and doesn’t even have as much base game content as ESO. Plus, ESO went from a mandatory sub to an optional sub, whereas Fallout 76 launched as a purely buy-to-play game and tacked a sub on later. Worse, they locked private servers, a feature many players had been anticipating, behind said subscription. All of this makes it a bit like a bait-and-switch, and what little goodwill it had built up with recent updates has been largely lost because of what players feel is a cash grab.

Eliot Lefebvre: If you’d like to stop winning this one, Star Citizen, feel free to stop selling concept art for ships that will eventually be playable in one fragment of the game and actually release a game. I’ll wait. (PS I will not actually wait.)

Justin Olivetti: Anything freemium.

Mia DeSanzo: I used to be one of those people who looked down my nose at free-to-play games, and thought of subscriptions as the obvious business model, but now that I am older and have less time to game than ever, the idea that I can’t play a game I’ve already paid for until I pay some more makes me break out in hives. On the other hand, some games that shall remain nameless, but that might have won this category, are absolute dumpster fires on the business end, so there’s that.

MJ Guthrie: I am giving this award to Fallout 76 because if its fun offerings of having players buy the game, then pay a subscription fee to be able to have and access “personal” servers (which are actually run by the company) that do not allow any modding, and toss in a bunch of pay-to-win in the cash shop. That’s the exact opposite of what a good cash shop monetization should have in my opinion.

Samon Kashani: Star Citizen, Fallout 76. I mean, duh. Both. Equally. Obviously. $100 private servers? $2000+ nonexistent game items. Get out of here!

Tyler Edwards: Star Citizen, or anything else crowdfunded. Crowdfunding can work for some things, but paying for games that don’t exist yet has been proven to be a bad idea so many times I can’t believe people are still doing it.

Star Citizen and Fallout 76 tied for our award for Worst MMO Business Model of 2019. What’s your pick?

Reader poll: What MMO had the worst business model in 2019?

  • Star Citizen (41%, 861 Votes)
  • Fallout 76 (25%, 528 Votes)
  • SWTOR (2%, 48 Votes)
  • Shroud of the Avatar (3%, 53 Votes)
  • World of Warcraft (2%, 52 Votes)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (1%, 15 Votes)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (1%, 24 Votes)
  • Black Desert (2%, 49 Votes)
  • Guild Wars 2 (1%, 17 Votes)
  • ArcheAge and AA Unchained (1%, 14 Votes)
  • LOTRO (1%, 31 Votes)
  • EVE Online (1%, 27 Votes)
  • Pokemon Go (0%, 9 Votes)
  • Ashes of Creation and Apocalypse (1%, 18 Votes)
  • Camelot Unchained (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Crowfall (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Chronicles of Elyria (3%, 56 Votes)
  • Ship of Heroes (0%, 1 Votes)
  • City of Titans (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Neverwinter (1%, 12 Votes)
  • Astellia Online (0%, 1 Votes)
  • EverQuest II (0%, 7 Votes)
  • Star Trek Online (1%, 12 Votes)
  • Anything free-to-play (3%, 57 Votes)
  • Anything buy-to-play (0%, 8 Votes)
  • Anything crowdfunded (1%, 15 Votes)
  • Anything with a sub (1%, 25 Votes)
  • Anything pay-to-win (7%, 155 Votes)
  • Something else (let us know in the comments!) (0%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,553

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How does MassivelyOP choose the winner?
Our team gathers together over the course of a few weeks to nominate and 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.
How does MassivelyOP populate this poll?
Poll options include all games nominated plus some other big MMOs we thought might be in the running with some folks in our community.

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John Mynard

Look, Fallout 76 is scummy, without a doubt. But it’s stereotypical used car dealer scummy. Blatant, in your face, seemingly daring you to say something. And at least there’s a game to play.

But Star Citizen is worse. WAY, WAY worse. The are the kind of crap that gives crap a bad name. They’ve taken tens of millions of dollars/euros/pounds/pesos/ect. The scale of their greed has passed obscene. But they are the kind of scum that sticks their hands in your pocket, takes your money, and makes you feel good about it. Oh and there isn’t any kind of playable product of any kind.


Fallout 76 singlehandedly turned this dedicated decades-long fan of everything Elder Scrolls (my second favorite franchise in gaming) into a “wait and see” customer when Elder Scrolls VI finally releases.

So, yeah, that’s easily the worst business model of 2019 for me.

Edit: I’m also beginning to suspect that at this point Star Citizen is just an elaborate money-laundering scheme. ;)


Anarchy Online. Charging a full monthly fee to play decade old unsupportive content.

While offering a free to play for mostly vanilla content that leaves players uncompetitive and showcases the game at it’s worst.

Plus a cash shop and a steam client that no one cares about.

Dank Fudge

I will post an amazing comment that mirrors my views much better than I could ever articulate, first made by user Faux on PCgamer’s SC article:

Faux • 11 days ago
Setting aside all judgments about the company or backers, what seems indisputable is that there is a huge demand for whatever this game is promising. Though other games have made forays into the market (Eve, Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky), whatever lightning in a bottle that is being promised by this project seems to have immense appeal to a large market segment.

Perhaps it’s all a phantasm, and at the end of the day nothing will be produced. It’s worth noting, however, that a great deal is already produced and by all appearances, and setting aside whatever waste critics may attribute to the company, CIG does appear to be working consistently on the project and attempting to improve it. Whether it goes anywhere or sputters to an end at some point remains to be seen, but at the very least I think all parties can admit that the effort is being put in, even if differing opinions exist about whether it will cross the finish line.

That, however, ought to make critics at the very least ask why no one else hasn’t stepped up to the plate and taken their swing. With 250,000,000 dollars (and possibly more) up for grabs, why hasn’t a more reputable, more established, and (at least in the eyes of the gaming press) more productive company made a pitch to draw off Star Citizen’s backers?

Other than tossing insults at the backers (It’s a cult!) the real answer seems to be more in line with one of the following:
1) It’s not cost effective. The rate of return of using an established engine to make a Call of Duty clone or a minor incremental improvement on an existing property is vastly higher than creating a new code base for something of this scale. “We don’t think it’s worth it”
2) It’s not feasible. The technology does not currently exist or have a reasonable likelihood of being developed in the foreseeable future. “We don’t think it’s possible”.

Both reasons feel like justifications to support (or at the very least be indifferent to) the Star Citizen project. After all, if companies aren’t investing in whatever it is that Star Citizen is promising because of the first reason, then the more money that the community puts in the more likely other companies are to see viability of their own investments in the future- after all, if someone (just not CIG) can achieve all of this, isn’t it better that they demonstrate the market viability of the project to others?

If it’s the second reason, then applaud Star Citizen for attempting to scale the mountain previously thought unscalable- even if they fail it’s a noteworthy effort. Whether they are misspending money and would be better managed by a different captain at the helm, they are still making the effort.

I guess what I don’t understand (and may never understand) is why this game has such a weird set of devotees and detractors in ways that other entertainment media doesn’t. No one sits around attacking Universal Pictures for burning through 175 million dollars of backers cash on Mortal Engines, or Disney for green-lighting John Carter to the tune of negative 200 million dollars (to name two of many, many box-office bombs). Entertainment money is wasted all the time because creating financially viable art is an uncertain endeavor. The Star Citizen guys have apparently put the stakes of their artistic effort (in the form of backers dollars) up front and center, and in the end they will either produce the Mona Lisa or a cross in a jar of urine (though likely something in between). Yet in the end if it bombs it will bomb in much the same way as hundreds of artistic efforts have bombed before it, for about the same price tag. I don’t get the emotional investment.

Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor

Blizzard for the small print on their crowdfunding. Not to the scale of other funding models, but they kept in doing it in spite of the outcry.
Selling premium ships for a late game is only bad for the gamer. Offloading prizes funding and capping charity contributions is bad for the recipients.


Several give and takes to this and some valid points made. First, let’s separate the money portion of this and admit that it’s the most ambitious PC game project ever produced. The evidence is plainly there if you are really paying attention to the project and no other publisher would attempt the same undertaking because they don’t have to. Publishers know they can recycle the same experience and people will gladly pay. If this ‘game’ was fully funded and kept secret until months before it’s polished launch, it’s hard to argue that it would be the heralded as the greatest leap in gaming technology.

But then there is funding and this is where I can see validity against the project. $195.00-$220.00 for a capital ship deterrent fighter? One that is still in concept and when the game launches, I could acquire within 30-50hrs of game play? Packages torpedo ship, turret platform and two variants for the price of my housing rent? (I can understand that they need funding and CIG fully admits that the pledge prices pay will not reflect the time needed to acquire the item (thank god). So in other words, those who spend now are not getting the value of that ship in-game, just bypassing the time needed playing to acquire it. They are donating extra to get the hull now.) That is no excuse to me for the asking price for funding and the fact that out of the 7 years this game has been in development, 2.5 of those years were wasted poor project management.

Whether you are for or against the game, it’s in your best interest it does well because none of these other well funded publishers/developers are going to take the risk until they see it succeed and if they do see Star Citizen succeed well, it’ll open up far reaching possibilities for competition.

The article has good reason to be pessimist and so do the commenters. Maybe just not all for the right reasons. One thing is for sure. With no substantial game-loops to call it a game, it is the worst MMO business model out there. Whale on backers. Help them get it done so we can see what it does to the gaming landscape.

Wyat Gynocide

You forgot a pic, happy to help out.


Once again I’m surprised at all the negativity towards SC.

Clearly they are developing a game of a scope we’ve never seen before and – even if year after year critics claim that they’ll run out of money – they actually do pretty well.

For the past two years we had regular updates and we actually have a stable game that is fun to play (by the way some of the statements above are just plain wrong “Star Citizen […] still not actually delivering anything of value to gamers” – excuse me? How isn’t the persistent universe “anything of value”?

I can’t wait to get my hands on patch 3.8 and it’s the top value game of 2019 for me personally. Claiming it wouldn’t deliver anything of value is nothing but wrong.

Anyway I feel we’ve come to a point where some people feel they need to bash SC whenever possible because they don’t want to admit that they’ve been wrong.

There was a time period (roughly 2015-17) when it looked pretty bad, I admit that.

But ever since patch 3.0 CIG is delivering. Like it or not, with every update the game is taking shape and we’re propably only 2 or 3 updates away from the point where SC will smoke E:D and EVE in a pipe.

edit: And as a “disclaimer”: So far I’ve invested ~80€ in SC, bought the Aurora starter package and upgraded to Avenger six months later. I’m definitly not a whale throwing tons of money, compared to what I’ve dumped into other games (looking at you, World of Tanks), SC is insignificant.

Kickstarter Donor

The big push on Sc to selling ships is a weird one, on one hand, I feel utterly offended by it, but on the other hand, it is raising money to make a better game… I guess I’d feel better about it if there actually WAS more of a game available right now as what there is is little better than a showcase of what they are selling and not much more.

As for Fallout 76.. where do you even begin with them they have committed every sin and broken every promise this year and to say they were once one of my favourite happy to buy in confidence sight unseen developers before this… it has left me more than a little WTF is going on over there about them. Its PR/Goodwill Seppuku is just mind blowingly dumb in every regard. It definitely drives home the message that as consumers we can never afford to get complacent or comfortable with a developer to the extent we let our guards down as they can and DO utterly go bad.

STO is my third pick. Love their space game but they produce very little beyond things to sell or put in lockboxes and their rampant reliance on the lockbox culture has caused me to lose ALL respect for them. They don’t even fix their game anymore they just drop new thing sto buy or gamble for.. it’s more than a little disheartening. And when it does make new content when you look at the amount compared to what they used to make it’s negligible at best. For example the last big drop was 1 mission, and 4 dailies??? that’s not even a single entire STORY.. it’s just embarrassing.

And finally I’d have to give an honorable mention to SWTOR they’re trying if a little too little a smidgeon too late but they could bring back a whole lot of goodwill by making their F2P model way less of an embarrassment and I say that as someone who has always paid a sub for the game and never used it but seeing the limitations and the required cost to make it even barely functional, I mean really how can they NOT be embarrassed. And that isn’t even touching on their missing the preferred content by a CLEAr mile for so long and driving most of us away. Recently it has gotten a little better but even so in terms of quality it is a mixed bag almost as if it was produced in three different places and then glued together as one.

Beet Wagon

The thing is… is it really raising money to make a better game? Possibly a game with more perfect weather effects in it, but I’m not so sure it’s actually making the game better. Aside from the fact that they are selling power to unbelievable amounts, which is likely going to destroy balance and drive off the “minnows” that the game requires to sustain the whales for any amount of time, there’s ample evidence that giving Chris Roberts free rein to focus on the minutiae of the game has actually hurt it more than helped. The procedural planets they are so proud of, for example, have drastically delayed the game and are part of the reason they’ve cut back their launch goals from “100 star systems” to “5-10” star systems. Now, obviously some people would argue that having 5-10 star systems full of mostly empty planets is better than having 100 with planets where you’re only allowed to walk around in certain areas, but like I said I’m not so sure.

Kickstarter Donor

Well I don’t know how much you follow its development? I’m a backer so I actively keep track and many of the twitch streamers I watch regularly are too and they actually check out the updates and so forth direclty (saving me from having to) and there ARE without a doubt a lot of improvements and additions being made albeit very slowly.
There is also development a road map that is viewable to all of what they are doing and working on and they do hit the goals they set.

But in terms of an actual “game” it is indeed a little hard at times to see one in what is there beyond a showcase of ships and some pew pew elements which they are heavily monetising and pushing the sales for constantly.

But I would say they are making what is there better for sure and development isn’t fast anyway but this certainly feels like more of a marathon than a sprint because of the spotlight on it all the time lol.

I only invested what I was happy to lose in Sc so as much as I’d like it to happen it wouldn’t affect me in any way beyond disappointment if it didnt. Lot of other folks sadly were not so wise and let their excitement make bad impulse calls for them in the spending department :)

Beet Wagon

Yeah you could say I keep up with SC lol. At least enough to know that major features slip from every patch on the roadmap and they don’t have a finalized flight model seven years into the project (not to mention all the other missing mechanics). But gosh those new spaceships and those weather effects look nice!

Kickstarter Donor

I think feature slip and re-prioritization is pretty much par for the course in any development schedule to be fair, but beyond that, as I said before I don’t disagree with you entirely. The focus on ship sales certainly leaves me “umcomfortable” as more ships at this point in its long development are hardly a priority.

Beet Wagon

Paging Dr. Blobers. Dr. Blobers to the comments section, please.

Bruno Brito

Oh god, no please.

I already got one of the SC fandom to tell me i was going to kill a person. Do we really need the other moron here?


Top 3 are obviously Star Citizen, Fallout 76, and SWTOR. But my 4th would also be LOTRO… I totally agree with the recent lamenting over the crazy addon/xpac/extension pricing. There are so many it’s a ridiculous mess at this point and needs to be consolidated, with a bunch just added to free players and the rest into a *reasonably priced* single pack.