Massively OP’s 2019 Awards: MMO Studio of the Year


Massively Overpowered’s end-of-the-year 2019 awards continue today with our award for Best MMO Studio of the Year, which was awarded to Grinding Gear Games last year. We asked our writers to consider all MMO studios as well as other online games studios we cover here in 2019, not just their pet favorites, and judge the studios on what they did within the MMO genre this year specifically. 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 Studio of 2019 is…


Andy McAdams: ZeniMax, Square. I didn’t have a strong opinion on this one. I think GGG is a good a choice as any, but no one really stood out from the crowd for me this year as a studio. Similar to most improved, those who did well consistently did well but not enough to stand out for me.

Brianna Royce: My first choice for studio of the year was Pearl Abyss, as not only has it rescued flagging western MMOs and pushed Black Desert to a total of four platforms, but it’s also one of the few major studios actively making new MMORPGs. However, I’m not sad to see this award go to Grinding Gear again either; even if Path of Exile isn’t a traditional MMORPG, it’s getting darn close, at least in the MMO realm, and GGG has proved itself all year long. For just one example? Look at how fast and with what level of class Chris Wilson responded to player feedback on lockboxes.

Carlo Lacsina: Pearl Abyss, Grinding Gear Games. GGG had me at its reveal of the mobile version. No other company can create a mobile version of their game and not feel like it’s going to be a cash grab. The level of trust this company commands is a massive responsibility to uphold for any game company and it oftentimes feels like it’s the only company we can actually trust to uphold the principles that guide their company.

Chris Neal: Grinding Gear Games. When a studio keeps on cranking out terrific content and updates like Grinding Gear Games does, it definitely entices you to want to play their stuff even if you know you’ll probably be awful at it. That’s the sign of a good games studio to me. Also, of course, it treating its employees well, naturally. Grinding Gear Games seems determined, focused, and well-rounded. Also, they are stupidly informative with their posts, hot damn.

Colin Henry: ZeniMax, Square-Enix, Grinding Gear Games.

Eliot Lefebvre: Grinding Gear Games. I have nothing new to say about GGG I haven’t had to say in prior years because it always wins this and I’m glad for it, because it’s a really good studio.

Justin Olivetti: Pearl Abyss had a tremendous year as it slowly solidified into an MMO powerhouse. Not only did it have the popular Black Desert, Black Desert Mobile, and EVE Online under its wings, but it announced four new titles at G-Star that show a lot of promise. This is a studio to watch.

Mia DeSanzo: Grinding Gear continues to demonstrate that they “get it.”

MJ Guthrie: Artix, Grinding Gear Games, Digital Extremes. I have a hard time picking between three studios that continue to be the shining role models that others should follow. Artix Entertainment, Grinding Gear Games, and Digital Extremes continue to stand a league of their own. They follow their dreams and focus on their players. So incredibly refreshing!

I’ve gotten to know Artix Entertainment better this year and am very impressed by the company’s dedication to its mission and its avoidance of drama and scandals! AE games fly under the radar, but the devs really listen to ideas and implement many (even silly things like a special item, simply because it was requested), the games are on a weekly release schedule that doesn’t falter, and breaking out of the mold to do things such as the battle concerts. You want someone to think outside of the box, and I think these folks are doing that. Having fair monetization is also awesome, and the fact that new things are sent to Kickstarter to live or die by the demand of players instead of just having time and resources allocated to new ideas without input. I mean, players pay for it ahead so resources aren’t secretly stolen from other places – it’s quite a refreshing concept!

And how about Grinding Gear Games? The studio really hit it out of the park with ExileCon and the announcement of Path of Exile 2. I mean, a PoE that even more can jump into yet without sacrificing the original. And that doesn’t include the consistent cadence of content releases. How do the devs even come up with all these ideas so consistently?

Both GGG and Digital Extremes also share the trait of listening to players; things may not always come out right and balanced on first go, but both work to set that right. Also, the have the fairest monetization. Besides being able to build them in game, DE gives out so many high-powered Warframes through things like twitch Prime you don’t need to buy a single one. And DE is constantly stretching the boundaries of Warframe; the studio is not afraid of making big changes that move the game forward in a narrative that broadens the game in ways you wouldn’t have imagined in the beginning. And now, you can believe that they could keep going further into the realm of the impossible.

Tyler Edwards: I voted for BioWare because of how well they’ve handled Anthem post-launch, but I don’t necessarily feel that there was a lot of strong competitors in this field. That may just be down to my personal philosophy, though; I tend to judge each game and decision on its own merits rather than forming sweeping opinions of specific companies. It’s hard to say one stands out when they all have their pros and cons.

Grinding Gear Games won our award for Best MMO Studio of 2019. What’s your pick?

Reader poll: What was the best MMO studio of 2019?

  • Grinding Gear Games (14%, 109 Votes)
  • Pearl Abyss (5%, 37 Votes)
  • Square-Enix (20%, 159 Votes)
  • ZeniMax Online Studios (8%, 62 Votes)
  • Digital Extremes (4%, 31 Votes)
  • Artix Entertainment (2%, 18 Votes)
  • BioWare (2%, 13 Votes)
  • Gamigo (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Visionary Realms (1%, 7 Votes)
  • ArenaNet (2%, 14 Votes)
  • Jagex (1%, 8 Votes)
  • Standing Stone (2%, 16 Votes)
  • Daybreak (2%, 12 Votes)
  • Blizzard (3%, 26 Votes)
  • Funcom (2%, 14 Votes)
  • CCP Games (1%, 9 Votes)
  • City State Entertainment (1%, 8 Votes)
  • Novaquark (0%, 2 Votes)
  • En Masse (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Frontier (0%, 3 Votes)
  • ArtCraft (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Cloud Imperium (22%, 176 Votes)
  • Nexon (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Perfect World and Cryptic (2%, 13 Votes)
  • None (4%, 30 Votes)
  • Something else (tell us in the comments!) (2%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 667

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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 studios nominated plus others we thought deserved consideration.

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Phoenix Labs for me, they are by far one of the best and most competent studio that I’ve seen in 2019.

Dean Dean

Qualifications for being an ‘MMO’:

Has a chat box.


What, no Bethesda on the list, at least for the comedy factor?

I’m disappointed once again.



I wasn’t aware GGG had any MMOs in the pipeline. But I enjoy their OARPG and what they had to show with PoE2. If I’m only to vote on an actual MMO, I’d probably go with Square due to both FFXI, DQX and FFXIV and their quality updates (in the case of FFXI, updates despite official maintenance mode) and, in particular, Shadowbringers expansion. Though it may be a tough call if the category was “Online Game” — or at least, it would be if PoE2 released and we’re not just riding on hype from an event.

Given that these awards are typically decided weeks in advance (evidence provided by the “Stormiest Future” award section), even the new season wasn’t out when votes were tallied.

Regardless, GGG does great work and deserves to be talked about. Pet peeves just turned my mood sour, as I’ve been arguing with people that GW1 and Diablo II/III weren’t MMOs for decades (and similar lobby games with a town and limited 4-8 players in an actual area). Even citing developer quotes saying they weren’t, both before their release and afterwards. It even being a big marketing selling point of GW2 in the past.

Though overall the correction of “Stormiest Future” from “Worst MMO” balances that out, as I was happy to see a more correct assertion and the expanding of the pool of games and developers considered. I’ll just consider the title a typo to mean “Best Online game studio” so my compulsive nature doesn’t take over and have me find — or rewrite — an essay dozens of pages long on it. Which would inevitably go into an aftermath rant of why we even have language or defined terms if we’re going to keep on muddying, bastardizing and changing them to fit our needs, agendas or thoughts.


I’m gonna go with “none.” The few studios in that list that have actually put out something decent this year don’t make MMORPGs. Path of Exile, Star Citizen, Warframe, most of the games they develop are only kinda-sorta MMOs with lots of instancing and mostly small group/solo gameplay.
Square Enix and FFXIV are the sole exception but I don’t think the content they put out is that great. More like bog standard themepark MMO stuff.


Clearly Cloud Imperium.

The new planet tech v4 is incredible. I spent the last week playing 3.8 in the PTU and I’m more certain then ever that this game will succeed – despite all the (mostly false) criticism. I’m so excited to see what they’ll bring us in 2020.

Imho they’re the only company out there that is developing something truely “new” and ambitious whilst the vast majority of companys is trying to recycle old ideas.

Dumb battle royale clones, the 534th “open-world pvp” gankbox, soulless fails such as “Anthem”, 2019 barely had any releases worth mentioning. The wow classic hype is mostly over and almost all big MMORPGs are struggeling more or less obviously.

Bruno Brito

Cloud Imperium 69 votes.


Oleg Chebeneev

6 posts about this in one topic.


Ayayay and 3.8 released to live this morning this will be a baaad christmas for the haters :D


Meta/Alert: I’ve just just tested you can re-vote for entries multiple times as a. This glitch can may be exploited to cause the effect of certain entries being more over represented than they really should. Not saying this the case, but I can’t rule it out either.

(Yes, I am also reposting this as the I originally flagged my own post as an alert to this fact, and not to be removed instead. I thought I made that clear in the “other” option….but that got lost in the internet translation apparently. Sorry.)

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Look at how fast and with what level of class Chris Wilson responded to player feedback on lockboxes.

GGG doesn’t deserve praise for swiftly removing the awful salvage box. How did the concept even make it in the game in the state it was? For a company that many people consider to be generous towards their players this was shockingly tone deaf. Instead of fixing glaring issues with their lockboxes they thought it was a good idea to expand and exploit those issues with a box-within-a-box mechanic.

The only praiseworthy thing that can be done with lockbox mechanics is to remove them altogether. Accept nothing less from any game company pretending to be your friend. Do not defend the practice by toeing the line for corporations that they have to do this crap to turn a profit.

I have major issues with their stash tab monetization, obviously, but aside from selling quality-of-life features they put out a lot of good content. At least Pearl Abyss didn’t win, lol. I’ll admit that I don’t know enough about the company to say they are evil, but I’m not comfortable with the way BDO is monetized and if that is going to find its way into future games or games they buy like EVE. I would love for a game like BDO to be a major player in western markets, but they need major monetization overhauls before I commend the studio.

My pick is SE for FF14 even though I don’t play or like the game. They manage their game extremely well and don’t ask much from players beyond subscriptions and expansion purchases.

Toy Clown

I’m in FFXIV’s corner on this one. The team continues to push out high-quality updates above and beyond what other MMOs do, and quickly fixes bugs and bloat – all while communicating with the player base, as well as doing rockstar tours of outlying countries. The team is energetic.

As far as GGG goes, I’ve recently picked up PoE and been playing it solidly, going on two weeks. While the game itself doesn’t stand out from others of its type, I will say that I’m pleasantly surprised how well run the game seems to be. I’ve had zero problems and was able to intuitively grasp the mechanics and build system without reading forums or googling guides. This is so rare!