Massively OP’s 2019 Awards: Best MMO Business Model


Massively Overpowered’s end-of-the-year 2019 awards continue today with our award for Best MMO Business Model, which was awarded to Guild Wars 2 last year. This award is intended to recognize a live MMORPG of any age that has demonstrated an exemplary business model specifically in 2019, regardless of its past performance. 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 Best MMO Business Model of 2019 is…


A quick note before we get to our personal picks here: This award, as we joked about on Twitter, ​was surprisingly difficult for us this year. We kept circling back to it, unable to achieve anything even remotely resembling consensus, as we had some writers as vehemently in favor of some games as others were against them, and all with valid reasons. Ultimately, we decided to no-consensus the award for this year given the polarized staff, noting that it’s become sad when we’re stuck debating, as Colin put it, “which evils we’re willing to put up with.”

Andrew Ross: Dauntless.

Andy McAdams: ESO, Dauntless, Warframe. We spent a lot of time going back and forth on this one. There was lots of shouting, apologies, more shouting, maybe even a chair being thrown – it was mayhem. In the end, I think I landed closest to ESO because despite the questionable choices with the sub (we’re looking at you, crafting bag), the over a la cart content model or the buffet with a subscription just seemed to be the best.

Ben Griggs: Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2.

Brendan Drain: I’d have to say either RuneScape or World of Warcraft this year as I’m a big fan of classic servers and including them under the same subscription to the main game.

Brianna Royce: This seems clear to me: Guild Wars 2 once again deserves this award, as it did last year. In spite of its incredibly stupid monetization blunders in 2019, it still offers the best overall business model and by far the best value for the money, which is why it’s one of the few MMORPGs I allow my own kids to play (the other is Trove). I also want to salute World of Warcraft, which added WoW Classic this year to the existing sub without charging more when funding it was surely costly. I had hoped ArcheAge Unchained would perform better here, and I do commend Gamigo for attempting a buy-to-play model, but the ArchePass trainwrecks of this fall have made nominating it untenable. All that said, after the third time this discussion was revived because people were so unhappy about the winners, it was I who suggested we no-consensus it, and I think it’s a good call since that more properly represents the sentiment of the team.

Carlo Lacsina: ArcheAge Unchained.

Chris Neal: The Elder Scrolls Online certainly provides a lot to do for those who just buy in to the game, but it also seems to give away the house when you subscribe. It’s probably one of the most generous and value-loaded subscription models in MMORPG gaming. And even the cash shop isn’t awful. Yes, even in spite of that inventory slot-enhancing pig.

Colin Henry: I know some people strongly disagree with me, but my vote goes to The Elder Scrolls Online. Very few games pull off the optional subscription as well as this game. Optional subs tend to range from feeling like an extended free trial (e.g. SWTOR) to providing so little benefit it’s hard to justify spending the money (e.g. LOTRO), but ESO strikes the right balance. For your $15 per month, you get access to all of the DLC, which is a sizable chunk of content at this point; the unlimited crafting bag; and more than $15 worth of cash shop currency, which can be used to buy the DLC you like when you decide to halt your subscription. When I choose to go back to free-to-play, I simply clear out a good chunk of space in my bank for the crafting mats I now I have to store there, and actually use what I can’t store rather than hoarding it as I do when I have my subscription on. I have bought some of my favorite DLCs, so when I feel like visiting those zones, I still can. As strongly as I feel that ESO deserves this award, I actually feel good that we settled on No Consensus. The MOP staff were very divided about ESO over things that I don’t feel are problematic, but I can see why they do. It’s sad that “Best MMO Business Model” is increasingly about which evils you’re most willing to put up with, but here we are.

Eliot Lefebvre: This debate raged for ages and I kept stirring it up because I honestly think it is unresolvable at this point. Not because there are no games with non-scummy business models out there; I have no regrets or upset putting my money down on FFXIV, for example. But then you’ll have people who are upset that it’s a subscription and you have to pay for expansions when some other game only makes you buy expansions and buy the game, and that’s one of those things wherein the amount of value you get out of a game is so personal that you can’t really quantify it. Literally every single title people brought up had at least one person willing to die on the hill of voting for it, one person willing to die on the hill of voting against it, and one person basically pointing out that both sides were right about some things. Also that third person was pretty much always me. In other words, I think it’s a case wherein your own value metric has become so important that it’s difficult or impossible to really quantify it correctly and choose a winner. Which, I think, is the right option in those cases.

Justin Olivetti: Fallout 76, No Man’s Sky, Dungeons and Dragons Online.

Mia DeSanzo: ArcheAge Unchained, Elder Scrolls Online, No Man’s Sky, Guild Wars 2. I am really happy to see the rise of buy-to-play and it was nice to see Gamigo sticking their neck out there with AAU, essentially a re-release of an older game, but with a second try at less obnoxious monetization. There were some serious bumps in the road, but I would like to see more studios willing to try alternate monetization.

MJ Guthrie: AQ3D, Path of Exile, Warframe. First off, I have to say that the subscription has been knocked from its perch as best business model for me, which is really weird. But that is because we have actual free-to-play games that do F2P so right. I am looking at AdventureQuest 3D. Here is a game that keeps adding content in weekly updates — and all of it is free. Every bit of game content is accessible to everyone. Where is money coming from? That would be the cash shop: A true cosmetic only shop that players can go crazy with. This model works! My super-duper close runner up is Path of Exile; the shop offers cosmetics galore, but nothing you have to spend anything on, and you get major free content every three months like clockwork. Both of these games are thriving and making plenty, so their model appears to be working just dandy.

Samon Kashani: ArcheAge Unchained. OK, OK. I was alone in GOTY, and not many agreed with me on most improved, but best business is hands down AAU. We literally changed business models and got a huge influx of players, including me. AAU took a look at the mistakes of the past and realized that they could fix them, and they did it. Going to a buy to play model is going to win this award for me every time. The main reason I am a Guild Wars fan is because GW1 was originally a buy to play game in an online world where everything else was sub only. ArenaNet continues to shine in that light for me too, but I think AAU’s switch deserves recognition.

Tyler Edwards: I firmly believe buy to play with DLC is the best business model for players, so ESO and ArcheAge Unchained both seem to be worthy choices to me.

We couldn’t come to a consensus decision on our award for Best MMO Business Model of 2019. What’s your pick?

Reader poll: What MMO featured the best business model in 2019?

  • Nothing or no consensus (3%, 20 Votes)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (15%, 101 Votes)
  • ArcheAge and AA Unchained (3%, 21 Votes)
  • Guild Wars 2 (11%, 75 Votes)
  • RuneScape (1%, 9 Votes)
  • World of Warcraft and WoW Classic (9%, 64 Votes)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (13%, 93 Votes)
  • Path of Exile (7%, 47 Votes)
  • AdventureQuest 3D (1%, 5 Votes)
  • No Man's Sky (3%, 24 Votes)
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online (1%, 8 Votes)
  • Warframe (6%, 42 Votes)
  • Dauntless (1%, 6 Votes)
  • Black Desert (2%, 11 Votes)
  • LOTRO (3%, 20 Votes)
  • Fallout 76 (0%, 2 Votes)
  • SWTOR (1%, 8 Votes)
  • Trove (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Ashes of Creation and Apocalypse (0%, 2 Votes)
  • EVE Online (1%, 9 Votes)
  • Crowfall (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Star Trek Online (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Neverwinter (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Camelot Unchained (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Astellia Online (0%, 2 Votes)
  • EverQuest II (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Dark Age of Camelot (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Ultima Online (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Elite Dangerous (1%, 8 Votes)
  • TERA (1%, 4 Votes)
  • Pantheon (0%, 3 Votes)
  • DC Universe Online (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Star Citizen (2%, 12 Votes)
  • Blade and Soul (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Anything with a sub (4%, 28 Votes)
  • Anything crowdfunded (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Anything free-to-play (1%, 9 Votes)
  • Anything buy-to-play (4%, 26 Votes)
  • Something else (tell us in the comments!) (1%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 523

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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 other games we thought should and would be in the running.

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agemyth 😩

Over the last year or two something in me reached a tipping point and I can no longer tolerate games with systems that are designed to be annoying which you can spend to partially address.

One of the core progression systems in Warframe is leveling your account up (forgot the name they gave it), but the main source of account XP is acquired from leveling up dozens of ‘frames and weapons. They bottleneck account progression behind multiple resource grinds and obscenely long crafting timers like everyone hates in mobile games. Everything can be made easier and faster through RMT and they let you know about it constantly.

Path of Exile is also designs some of its core progression to be annoying so that players will pay for a new type of stash tab every couple seasons when it still lacks something as simple as an auto-sort button for inventory/stash pages. Maybe it wouldn’t be so annoying to deal with hundreds of tiny 1×1 sized items in my inventories if the game would just put similar item types near each other. There are so many types of items that it would probably be really complicated to try and find out a best way to sort for all players, but farm out auto-sorting schemes to players like we already have with player made loot filters.

Just give me a box price and subscription so I don’t have to deal with being nickel and dimed for convenience features we shouldn’t have to pay for. That isn’t perfect either, but at least we should know what to expect and know where the line is drawn for what is or isn’t ok to charge extra for. When I’m subbed to WoW or FF14 I’m never thinking about how the game is going to try to think of new ways to get money from me. I’m just playing the games.


C’mon, most players outside of whales think games should basically be totally free……like air or something.


Oleg Chebeneev

Any F2P MMO with a shop where you buy pure cosmetics and exp boosts

Kickstarter Donor

When talking about monetization you can’t put ArcheAge and Unchained into the same basket. Just sayin’.


Based on reading what the writers put… it looks like the most votes actually went to ESO. Even more than most winners in many of the other categories. I’m confused at what really constitutes consensus. (and believe me, I’m not championing ESO — it would be my vote for an overrated game)


Gw2 and possibly Eso although I would like to see them include the crafting bag for non-subs.

Toy Clown

For me, AA:U wins. The game can be the worst managed MMO ever, but it doesn’t matter because it’s fun, and now there isn’t any pay-2-win! (Unless you count multiple accounts, which is the only drawback, but still it’s so nice not feeling pressured to spend cash to do anything in the game.

As a runner-up, I love FFXIV’s monthly subscription and buying an expansion every 2 years. It’s really good value, IMO. What makes it not so good value is the fact they charge so much for cash shop outfits now. This is a subjective opinion, but if they’re going to hammer out a sub and cash shop stuff, they shouldn’t charge what free-to-play games charge.


Best business model really comes down to preference at this point.

Like Runescape is objectively great with its business model because you can play a decent chunk of the game (maybe like 1/10th at this point) for free with no real strings attached, and Membership is relatively cheaper than the usual MMO subscription.

Warframe is great because you don’t need to ever spend a dime on the game if you don’t want to (+ you occasionally get a 2-day discount on platinum, very rarely getting a 75% discount), but you have to be prepared to deal with time gates on obtaining new things (i.e. 12 hours for weapons, 3 days for a full new warframe) and lots of grinding.

FFXIV is nice because it’s just a sub and that’s it unless you want optional bits and bobs that aren’t necessary.

ESO is nice because of the B2P component but then you also have the sub that’s almost mandatory if you want to get into crafting/be an OCD looter like I am. In addition its DLCs can become quite pricey if you fall behind on them, but that’s where the subscription also can shine.

Then ofc there’s plenty of other games out there with their own models that are similar or different. Really just depends on what the individual is comfortable with.

Kickstarter Donor

I would have said ESO simply because it has one of those F2P’s where you literally do not NEED to buy anything, which is a huge positive, however in recent times their pricing of the things you can buy has gotten pretty greedy and their reliance on re-skins for things has gotten a little out of hand so with that in mind I can’t really throw praise at them for all their F2P business model anymore.


*The pigtails wonder what it would be like getting hit with that Guild Wars 2 Sword to the right*

…I think it would probably hurt. A lot. :(

Bruno Brito

It would cause 15k+ damage on 3k armor.

As is per GW2 tradition.