As we did in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, today I’m going to recap our annual awards and other meta articles from the end of 2019. We gave out 19 formal awards this past year, plus our separate MMO music awards, all in addition to dozens of other recaps, roundups, listicles, predictions, bloopers, oddities, polls, provocations, and retrospectives. Our team thinks I’m nuts, but each year we’ve done this, it’s been bigger than the last. Muahaha! Plus, check out the gorgeous artwork Larry’s done for our awards for the last five years! Mo was even joined by the Angry Crab this round.
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: Elder Scrolls Online (2019), 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)
Community Poll: Elder Scrolls Online (2019), Final Fantasy XIV (2018), Elder Scrolls Online (2017) Elder Scrolls Online (2016), Elder Scrolls Online & Trove (2015), Nothing (2014), Star Trek Online (2010), Runes of Magic (2009)
Years ago, we shifted to including existing MMOs for our GOTY award, not just brand-new ones, meaning that older MMOs that keep up a high level of updates are in the running for this award. That tends to mean one of a small crop of top MMORPGs wins this award every year, and indeed, this year, Elder Scrolls Online took the crown for the second time in three years. Both the writers and readers cited the game’s high-quality, support of its playerbase, and consistent rollout of large-scale content as reasons for putting it on top once again.
Best Expansion/Update: Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers (2019), 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: Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers (2019), 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)
Looking back, I’m shook that Final Fantasy XIV has never won the best expansion award until now, but damn, if there was ever a moment for it, Shadowbringers was it. XIV’s magnum opus generated accolades from all corners of the gaming industry, so it’s no surprise that even people who don’t play XIV would nevertheless vote for its epic story as the best of the genre this year.
Most Anticipated: Book of Travels and Torchlight Frontiers (2019), 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 (2019), 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 is back for a second year at the top of this award, though this year it has to share the title with the super weird indie game that wowed everyone on Kickstarter this year, Book of Travels, though there were dozens of other MMOs in contention, from AIR and Ship of Heroes to Star Citizen and Crowfall – not to mention Zenith, New World, and Magic Legends. Pantheon’s community once again ensured the game’s crest in the reader polls, and since the game is also on our short list, we’re not even mad.
Studio of the Year: Grinding Gear Games (2019), 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)
Community Poll: Square Enix and Cloud Imperium (2019), Standing Stone Games (2018), ZeniMax & Square-Enix (2017), ZeniMax (2016), City State Entertainment (2015), Cloud Imperium (2015), Blizzard (2010), Frogster (2009)
Path of Exile studio Grinding Gear Games once again took our staff’s award here thanks to its consistent updates, still-classy business model, and unwavering communication. Square Enix topped our reader poll, along with Cloud Imperium, whose users gave it a hefty boost in the final hours of the poll.
This award can feel like a back-handed compliment, but in this case, we really wanted to honor Black Desert’s clear focus on building up the PC game while building out its presence on mobile, Xbox One, and PS4. No other MMO came close to expanding and improving as much as BDO this year. The reader vote was much more split, with Final Fantasy XIV and No Man’s Sky coming in for a near-tie at the top.
As we noted in our post, this particular category was the hardest one to settle out for our team this year, as some writers were 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, arguing that it’s sad that we’re stuck debating, as Colin put it, “which evils we’re willing to put up with.” Our readers didn’t seem particularly enthused about any one game either; Elder Scrolls Online and Final Fantasy XIV were at the top of the polls as they closed, but with only small percentages of the overall vote.
Most Underrated: Lord of the Rings Online (2019), 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)
Lord of the Rings Online once again took our award for most underrated MMO, the second year in a row a much older title has worn the crown, this year due in large part to the game’s Minas Morgul expansion. Our readers agreed with us and put LOTRO on top, with DDO not far behind.
Story of the Year: The Blizzard boycotts (2019), 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)
Community Poll: The Blizzard boycotts and Hong Kong mess (2019), The Daybreak Columbus Nova Saga (2018), The Lockbox Debate (2017), The Death of EverQuest Next (2016), Daybreak’s Drama (2015), ArcheAge’s Drama (2014)
We have five awards that focus on topics rather than specific games, and since we’d rather one story not win everything, we try to spread them around. Biggest MMO story of the year was a tough one, especially in a year when City of Heroes was revivified, but overall we agreed that the Blizzard situation – specifically, the fact that there was a spontaneous international boycott of the company following its mishandling of the Hong Kong fiasco – topped the list.
For the third year in a row, Star Citizen once again took this award, though it’s been forced the share the title with Fallout 76 since, you know, we can’t have nice things. As we’ve noted the past three years, a game already selling pixel starships, vehicles, and land claims has a business model whether or not it’s formally launched, whether or not we actually like and hope well for the game (and include it on our most anticipated list, for that matter). Fallout 76’s absolute nonsense Fallout First fiasco brought it to the top of the pile as well. Our readers agreed on Star Citizen, by a lot, though Fallout 76 came in a strong second place.
Best Trend: The Rise of Rogue Servers (2019), Progression Servers (2018), Focus on Communities (2017), Content Scaling (2016) Resurgence of Expansions (2015), Sandbox Gameplay (2014), Sandbox Gameplay (2013); Best Innovation: SOEmote (2012)
City of Heroes’ resurrection this year once again helped inspire this award. As we argued, emulators and rogue servers aren’t new at all; the new trend is the overall shift in MMO gamers’ opinion on emus and unauthorized servers as MMOs continue to sunset, studios continue to milk the past with legacy servers, and game preservation has been centered in our consciousness. Our readers agreed, though just as last year, the slow death of lootboxes scored plenty of votes too.
Best Not-So-Massively Game: No Man’s Sky (2019), 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). But many of the winners in this category over the years are games that thanks to development are now considered MMOs and might be more in contention for MMO awards next time, and No Man’s Sky, this year’s winner, is among them.
“[NMS’] Beyond update added full avatar and ship multiplayer to the game, and transformed the Anomaly ship into a massive multidimensional hub where players from across the virtual cosmos can meet, do missions together, and even visit each other’s bases,” MOP’s Brendan argued. “Players can now join groups and go on missions together, and there’s even a weekly mission now that sends everyone to the same planet through a stargate-style portal. Players leave clues for each other in message buoys and beacons to help them find mission-critical resources, race to catalogue all of the native flora and fauna, and even chase each other around the planet and engage in firefights. Beyond was a total overhaul of the game.”
Our readers deemed both NMS and Path of Exile the winners.
This award is intended to honor a smaller game that’d never have a real chance at the big awards, and so it’s no surprise that Project Gorgon won again, given its bizarre sandboxy worldbuilding and tiny staff. I was personally elated, however, that Villagers & Heroes also got a nod in the tie as well as in the reader poll, as it pumped out a truly enormous amount of content this year.
In previous years, this award was usually called “Most Likely to Flop,” but in 2018 we decided to change it up, both because we felt it was too mean and because we thought “flop” was way too ambiguous, and then in 2019 we also decided to include whole studios and not just individual games, largely because the overwhelming winner was shaping up to be the entirety of Daybreak rather than one of its titles. As always, we note that this is not really a fun award to give; it’s meant as a signal of serious concern that everyone’s worried about the way Daybreak’s 2019 went and we’re desperately hoping 2020 is better. Daybreak also took the reader poll, which seems like an even worse sign.
This was a surprisingly contentious award for the staff, as multiple people argued that Elder Scrolls Online’s housing was much more pointless and expensive than past winners’ offerings. Nevertheless, it scored the most votes. Our readers, happily, gave their nod to the excellent housing of sandbox Wurm Online.
Echoing our reader vote last year, our staff this round pegged both FFXIV and EQII for the honor of best crafting, while the readers settled on XIV alone. We’ll note that if sunsetted MMOs and rogue servers were allowed into this vote, the results would be very different indeed – a suspicion backed up by the fact that an unnamed dead game came in second with the readers. You know the one, though.
Biggest Disappointment: The Cancellation of Peria Chronicles and the Decline of Guild Wars 2 (2019), 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: The Decline of Guild Wars 2 (2019), 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)
Two specific stories disappointed our staff the most this year: Nexon’s random and unnecessary cancellation of Peria Chronicles, an MMO many of us were looking forward to, and the apparent decline of ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2 over the course of the year following multiple game cancellations and layoffs. Our readers apparently cared less about Peria and more about Guild Wars 2, still a much-beloved MMO around here. If only NCsoft would listen.
Biggest Blunder: Blizzard’s Bliztchung Fiasco (2019), 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 Bliztchung Fiasco (2019), 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)
While the Blizzard boycotts took our story of the year award, we gave biggest blunder to Blizzard once again, this time for the decision that led to those boycotts: specifically, Blizzard’s decision punish an esports star over his support for Hong Kong home rule in order to pacify Chinese authoritarian counterparts. “Over the course of October and November, Blizzard had multiple opportunities to repair that blunder, but instead it doubled down on it, banning additional players, quashing events, and delivering a nonpology at BlizzCon,” we wrote, expressing horror and sadness for the studio’s reputation plummet. On this one, our readers clearly agreed.
Community Poll: Elder Scrolls Online’s kill-dragons-to-help-cats campaign (2019), Elder Scrolls Online’s Fall Freebies (2018), Lord of the Rings Online (2017), The Elder Scrolls Online (2016)
I’m so pleased we were able to honor AdventureQuest 3D this year, specifically for its bizarre but entertaining in-game Korn and Alice in Chains concert events. Our reader poll had a stronger showing, however, for Elder Scrolls Online and its cat-rescue campaign.
In 2018, we retired our best PvP award, replacing it with biggest surprise, which this year went to the resurrection of City of Heroes, both from our staff and from our readers in absolute landslides. Nobody saw this coming at all, and we’re so grateful we could play a role in it.
And that’s a wrap on our awards for 2019! For those of you who missed other special content over the holidays, we’ve rounded up all our music awards, our blooper awards (now known as the Golden Yachties), 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 Schlag meme of the year, biggest stories list, biggest surprises list, healthiest MMOs list, best updates list, our predictions for next year, all the MMOs we’re watching in 2020 (not up yet), and the best-value MMOs at the start of 2020 (up later in January)!