When we sit back to look at the biggest headlines of the year, we don’t have to look far. These are the stories that dominated the news, spurred the most discussion, and triggered the greatest fallout over the past 12 months.
In this edition of Perfect Ten, we will be looking at the 10 stories that, for better or for worse, shook the MMORPG industry and would be felt for the next 12 months to come. These are the biggest MMO stories of 2019. Are you prepared?
The Blitzchung Blizzard controversy
When Blizzard issued a swift and strong punishment for Hearthstone professional player Blitzchung and two livestream cohosts after the player expressed strong pro-Hong Kong sentiments, it triggered a massive backlash against the studio that was felt for months afterward. Players (and even U.S. politicians) saw the studio as kowtowing before China, while Blizzard maintained that it was cracking down on inappropriate topics during official livestreams.
A #BoycottBlizzard movement was started, many players quit their Blizzard games, and the story broke into the mainstream media. Eventually, President J. Allen Brack gave a not-really apology at BlizzCon, but by then the damage to the company’s bottom line and reputation was done. Even some of the studio’s own developers, including Jeff Kaplan, openly broke ranks to disagree with the decision.
I think that it’s easy to forget all of the big stuff that happened in the first-half of the year by virtue of time passing, but let us not forget the surprising juggernaut that the monster-killing Dauntless turned out to be. The online RPG roared to a four-million player start, with a half-million signing up in the game’s first 24 hours alone. The massive popularity sparked a lot of Week One issues, but eventually everything got ironed out and Phoenix Labs enjoyed its newfound popularity.
FFXIV: Shadowbringers hit a home run
There were a lot of really great MMO expansions released in 2019, but by far and away, Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers made the biggest impact. Its launch was a huge event, and both players and media spent months afterwards praising the expansion’s story, saying that it was one of the very best Final Fantasy tales that the franchise had produced. The legs on this expansion has proved to be significant, helping to bolster the already well-liked MMORPG.
ArcheAge got a buy-to-play do-over
The greatest criticism that ArcheAge has endured ever since launching in the west was its business model, which former owner Trion Worlds was never able to fully sort out. Thus, a do-over of sorts was worked on for several years, finally culminating in this fall’s ArcheAge Unchained: A buy-to-play server that would put everyone on a level playing field and wouldn’t offer any pay-to-win cash shop offerings. It was a popular but not perfect launch, with the new ArcheAge Pass proving to be problematic (but that’s a tale for another time).
World of Warcraft Classic took us all back to 2004
Anticipated for the past two years and covered constantly here at MOP, WoW Classic finally opened up its legacy server type in late summer. Blizzard enjoyed a player pilgrimage of untold size that required multiple additional servers for that first month. As for the gamers themselves, there was a lot of joy and discussion over rediscovering how this MMORPG used to play and whether or not they could hack it to level 60 and the old endgame.
Kickstarter showed MMOs some serious love
Who said that Kickstarter campaigns were a thing of the past? In 2019, we had not one but two significant MMORPG projects that ran successful campaigns on the platform: the VR cyberpunk Zenith, with over $280,000, and the “serene” and stylish Book of Travels, with $261,000. That’s two more reasons to get excited about this genre’s future, right there!
Xbox One extended an olive branch to Final Fantasy XIV
Making a jump to a new platform is always significant news for an MMORPG, but it was extra-special in the case of Microsoft welcoming FFXIV to its home. Phil Specter and Naoki Yoshida have both confirmed that the popular fantasy MMO will be coming to Xbox… at some point. Considering how long Microsoft’s been holding out on this, it felt like a victory for gamers and Square Enix alike.
BlizzCon makes a big splash
With the Blitzchung controversy still raging hot and long-awaited titles rumored to be announced, this year’s BlizzCon was a show that we couldn’t avoid. From Brack’s (so-called) apology during the keynote to the reveals of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, Overwatch 2, and Diablo IV to protests during the Q&A session, we were glued to our monitors soaking up the proceedings over this fateful weekend.
Riot Games unloads the mother of all reveals
Not to be outdone by its competition, Riot Games used League of Legends’ 10th anniversary to reveal a slew of upcoming projects. These included a mobile version of LoL, a strategy card game, a fighting game, a tactical shooter, and (most interesting to us), a co-op exploration game. The studio hopes that all of this distracted you from its discrimination woes and lawsuit that gave it a serious black eye in 2019.
Guild Wars 2 has a rotten first half of the year… and a cautiously promising second half
Things were looking very dire for Guild Wars 2 earlier in 2019. Heavy layoffs staggered the studio and fans alike this past February, which also spelled the end of some of ArenaNet’s unannounced projects. Groups called for the firing of Mike O’Brien (who ended up leaving anyway in October) while players wondered what would become of their beloved title. Fortunately, after the restructuring and a long summer, Guild Wars 2 jumped into a new living world season (now called a “saga”) and gave players cool features such as build templates and capes. ArenaNet’s future is still cloudy, but at least there’s a sense of forward momentum.