Perfect Ten: The MMOs with the most uncertain futures at the start of 2020

    
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Perfect Ten: The MMOs with the most uncertain futures at the start of 2020

This annual column always inspires a certain amount of debate, which is intentional. Outside of the office, a good chunk of that debate is usually about whether or not these titles are all supposed to shut down, which means that it’s a debate about a point the column is not actually making. The title there is not “MMOs facing an imminent shutdown,” but MMOs with uncertain futures. Which usually includes at least a few titles that are at once perfectly safe from shutdown and also really unclear in their outlook.

So it’s not meant to just be “what game or studio has the stormiest future” or anything (we do that as a separate thing). No, this is just a look ahead at the games in some playable state that feel like their future is… unsure. Maybe they’re circling the drain, maybe they’re just at a weird crossroads with a very near horizon for the future, or maybe there’s other weirdness going on. Uncertainty is multifaceted. Stop freaking out.

Cool.

1. Guild Wars 2

This isn’t a ranked list, but I put this one first specifically to make the point. If you’re already hopping down to the comments to protest… well, you won’t read this line, but for those who stuck around slightly longer, relax. This isn’t “the game might shut down this year” or anything even adjacent to that. It’s doing fine. It’s making solid money. No, the uncertainty comes from the fact that last year’s layoffs were a huge disruption for the game’s business-as-usual, and there’s a whole lot of confidence in need of restoration and actual, like… content plans needed for the longer-term future.

ArenaNet has been playing its cards really close to its chest for a while now, which means that the forecast for Guild Wars 2’s future is intentionally very short and there’s some debate about whether the current saga format is meant to be the new normal, a stopgap ahead of a new expansion, or what. We just don’t know what the future holds for the game this year. It could be really good… or not. But we don’t know.

I can’t help but be reminded of how many people said the best possible future for the EverQuest franchise would be taking it away from Daybreak.

dead game driving

2. Z1 Battle Royale

Ugh.

Look, H1Z1 by whichever name it’s known was a complete trash fire mess that had exactly one major success to its name by jumping into the battle royale genre accidentally before it became a whole thing. Now it is a whole thing, and more to the point, it’s debatable how much it really qualifies as a genre rather than just a couple of titles sucking all the air out of the room.

The game made Daybreak a lot of money… years ago. Now, the game’s console version seems to still be limping along, while the PC version is far less healthy. But maybe it’s healthier than we know. Maybe there’s some second (all right, fourth or fifth) wind in the game’s future? It feels, well… uncertain.

Oh no.

3. Astellia Online

This one kind of stings because I’ve played and like Astellia Online. It’s not transformative, but it’s a solid enough game that has space to grow. Except it, er… might not have space to grow. It’s long since had people comparing it to Bless Online (and you don’t know how close Bless Unleashed was to a spot on this column because I don’t know why that ever sounded like a good idea to someone), it’s been shut down (by an admittedly messy publisher) in its native country, and it has the feeling of a title placed on life support as soon as it launched.

At the same time, its shutdown in its native land had more to do with Nexon’s slow-motion implosion and it has the advantage over Bless by not actually being atrocious to play. So maybe this one does have more space and time to develop after all. I’d certainly like to see it.

Find the path.

4. RIFT

The thing about RIFT is that it’s a solid game struggling under the weight of mismanagement. That’s kind of been its persistent history. We all joked about how Gamigo didn’t buy Trion for this title, but it feels like the studio only belatedly realized that the game actually does have a solid user base that, with proper updates and development, would be ecstatic to keep supporting the game.

It’s a pity that the game’s development staff seems to have been thoroughly gutted before that was realized.

I’m really not sure what’s going on with RIFT this year. I don’t get the feeling Gamigo totally knows, either. Obviously it wants the game to be a success because unlike certain studios (like, say, the one that shows up here twice), it really does try not to throw away existing money on the table. But restoring confidence and a playerbase and a gutted development team is a tall order with lots of potential outcomes.

Surviving the push.

5. PlanetSide 2

So let’s recap. Daybreak, through no real intentional moves, stumbled into battle royale and success with H1Z1. Sure, all right. Once that star started to fade, though, the developers needed to do something to keep things moving. The choice was thus made to… make PlanetSide Arena, which is the sort of thing that PlanetSide 2 fans were probably dreading as soon as the first part of this story happened. And surprising no one, PSA was basically dead on arrival and left PS2 with a gaping wound.

Great thinking there. Fortunately, it’s not clear how much this all actually affects PS2 going forward, apart from the gutted developer team, but that’s partly because the title already had issues even before all this went down and now I’m wondering why I started this sentence implying this was fortunate. Again, this seems to be one of those situations where fans are kind of hoping someone else will buy this property.

It's coming around again.

6. World of Warcraft

So we’re in a weird place in Azeroth. World of Warcraft is struggling through to the end of an expansion no one likes, with another expansion on the horizon that has not really gotten the pop that the designers were hoping for. It contains no new classes or races, and it doesn’t deliver on the story promises that the aforementioned expansion made. World of Warcraft: Classic launched to a big pop, but subsequently it has seemingly flared right back down. The seemingly unassailable game now seems eminently… well, assailable.

Is Shadowlands going to behave the way that this game’s expansions usually do, bringing back a good chunk of population regardless of quality? Is it going to be a good expansion, a bad one, or just mediocre? (We’re used to every other expansion being good these days, but that’s not a natural law.) Is there more space for Classic to resurge, or no? The game will doubtlessly still be here, but it’s definitely possible that it has lost its aforementioned unassailable lead forever.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

7. City of Heroes

You know what? I’m honestly all right if this one has the worse ending because even if we lost Homecoming and the like, City of Heroes now has a functional emulator that’s out there for all the world to use even on a smaller scale. It’s never going away again. The community will have it forever.

So we’re not expecting any sort of ending this year. But even if Homecoming shut down today, it wouldn’t be a definite ending. And in fact it feels like there’s a very plausible ending wherein a rogue server actually becomes semi-legitimate instead of being some faintly wrong thing.

That’s uncertain, but in the best way. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Bye.

8. Shroud of the Avatar

I really debated whether or not this one deserved a spot because on the one hand, it seems like there’s a pretty clear ending for how things go for Shroud of the Avatar at this point. When Richard Garriott has left the building, it’s… not a good sign for a game that was funded on his name, you know?

But there’s actually a lot of uncertainty here, upon further reflection. Sure, a lot of that uncertainty involves things like whether or not there are legal consequences for some wildly missed deadlines and filings, and there’s also the ongoing claim that the second episode is still in development. I don’t think there are any good endings awaiting for this game, but there are lots of weird bad possibilities.

In memoriam.

9. Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

Whatever you might feel about his preferences in terms of game design, the loss of Brad McQuaid is an absolute tragedy for our shared genre. I remember sitting down to interview him about the game at PAX East one year, and to my intense satisfaction, the man not only understood the way that the genre and needs of social time had changed but was intent on making Pantheon actively respond to those changes. It filled me with energy to see him not attempting to remake the original EverQuest or Vanguard but to actively adapt the model of grouping and slower pace for a modern audience.

And now we’ve lost him forever, and it’s simply tragic and heartbreaking.

The question we need to ask here, of course, is what this means for the future of his game. On the one hand, there’s definitely a lot of people interested in the title pushing forward and there’s a staff working on the game, doing its best to reassure everyone that development will continue with McQuaid’s vision at the heart of it. On the other hand, there’s the loss of the man himself impacting everything. And that’s not even asking questions like how the design might change when the motivator himself is no longer there to guide the ship and what major elements might be different.

no

10. Chronicles of Elyria

All right, it’s debatable whether this actually counts as a playable game, but the studio is willing to sell you a bunch of pretend land as if it were. Although even that can’t quite get off the ground, it seems. Sometimes being a storm isn’t all it’s stormed up to be.

The natives appear to be restless, the days tick by, and there’s a general sense that all is not well amidst the people waiting to see if this one is going anywhere… especially with the insanely ambitious scope and the fact that some people paid thousands of dollars to be pretend royalty. (And sometimes disappeared altogether after spending all that money.) I don’t know quite how the story plays out this year or even if it ends, but it feels like we should have popcorn for Chronicles of Elyria over the next few months.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”

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Anton Mochalin

I still disagree about GW2. ANet will be just doing what they did before but maybe with a bit more focus on making sure GW2 stays popular and profitable enough. It seems like their consensus with NCSoft is that “GW2 makes money so it is the priority #1”. The thing ANet did before and is going to do again in 2020 can be interpreted in many ways (mostly because it isn’t one single thing) and we can like or dislike it more or less but 2020 looks very much like business as usual for ArenaNet. Some LW episodes will be better or worse than others, some ideas more or less successful, there will be some degree of hate and praise from one or another player group. Those who still hope for an expansion will certainly not get it in 2020. Those who like the game as it is will be happy that it stays playable and more or less the same with some new toys added here and there. There’s some probability that ArenaNet decides to add something like new elite specializations or new PvP mode or something like that to keep players and media interested in the game but I wouldn’t bet on it.

However I’ve noticed that ArenaNet has intensified its marketing activity recently so all said above doesn’t mean we’ll see less news about ArenaNet here on MOP or in other similar media – quite the contrary, we’ll be reading a lot of news like “new strike mission!” or “new cape!” or “let’s celebrate the Lunar New Year in GW2!” Which will definitely draw the haters’ attention so the discussion of GW2 will also stay the same. Who knows maybe this way the haters will finally get tired…

Gildersleeve
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Gildersleeve

I’ve been following Pantheon for almost 3 years, and I really hope to see it succeed. Brad’s untimely passing is a concern for the game’s future, but the team is competent and I have faith that they will see it through.

The new WoW expansion does not seem very exciting to me. The only thing that interests me is the procedurally generated deep dungeon clone. That could be fun and provide a lot of replayability. The zones look nice, and I’m sure the leveling will be good as it always is. WoW’s recent trend is to have a good expansion after a bad one, so I guess we’ll see if that up and down continues despite how Shadowlands seems according to the previews.

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Ardra Ventax

Star Citizen (runs of giggling) :0)

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Tom Thumb

When the CEO/Developer states that their game is built on bandaids you know things can’t get much worse!

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Robert Mann

I actually think it would be interesting to see conspiracy theories pop up about missing whales in crowdfunded games that have yet to really launch…

Outside that, I always just play what I want. The games are either worth playing, or not worth playing. Worrying about their future is, at least to my mind, unproductive at all. The article does a good job of going into things, but… the end all of things is that games are meant to be fun. If they are, play them and worry less. If they are not, don’t play them and worry less. That’s my view of the future of all these games, and if some crash and burn (given that most of them are just about the same as other titles) I likely won’t be terribly sad, even if that is never happy times.

The one aside here, is that I would actually like to see CoE manage to come out and have the crafting, exploration, and economic factors that they have discussed be at least close to what they have talked about… not out of any particular loyalty, buy in, or anything with regard to CoE, but out of an interest in some of those aspects of MMOs as virtual worlds instead of murder-hobo simulators.

Narficus
Reader
Narficus

It sounds like you’re fortunate enough to have never played an MMO that started out fun and then went to hell, dragging you along because of the friends you want to still be around. Those are quite some odds – you might want to get a lottery ticket with that luck.

John Artemus
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John Artemus

Actually, no. It’s not that difficult at all. I’ve been playing MMOs since 2005. WoW was my first. And since then I’ve played multiple games. I quit WoW during Legion and never looked back. FFXIV has been my home ever since.

Life is not at all complicated. If you are having fun with a game, then continue playing it. If not, then you don’t. And honestly…it really is that simple.

Narficus
Reader
Narficus

It actually isn’t that simple when you have a gaming family with friends who like to play together. If you don’t have anything like that, then I suppose you could just wander anywhere you’d like that strikes your fancy, at any moment.

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Armsman

I have that situation. That said, I still DON’T join in on games with them that I don’t care for and vice-versa. There’s no reason to play something you really don’t enjoy.

Narficus
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Narficus

Indeed, the easy part is at the beginning, before you have any time, money, or social contacts invested. This is why it is difficult to coax even people you might closely know into a game that looks really iffy, even if you might like it and forgive many of the rough edges.

On the other end of things, if you suddenly lose most of your group because they were screwed over by the game’s developers, then it can be really difficult to keep playing something you still like.

With all these angles said, and to tie them back to the start of this thread, there is still definite reason for anyone to care about the future of any persistent title in any direction good, bad, or downright clownshow.

CoE was the one that had an in-game social structure collapse from the top before there was even a game. The fun on that one was probably over before it even started.

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Robert Mann

If it’s that bad, I tell the friends. They understand. We see each other in other games. No big deal…

Narficus
Reader
Narficus

“If it’s that bad” – That’s the problem, bad can mean completely different things to different players, for different reasons. This is why the article covered a variety under “uncertain”.

Some might find WoW to be a complete yawn now despite the kids raring to go and wanting to drag you along because your DPS makes raids go so much better. Plus it is fun with family. But the rest of the game can be an incredible boring grind that wears out people in different ways, that it is a reason why gaming tribes look at games together and try to find the best one to play together.

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IronSalamander8 .

Great article Eliot. Some of these are obviously not in any danger as you say (WoW and GW2 especially come to mind), but how they will be played and received is another thing entirely.

After BfA, WoW really needs to have some oomph to get things rolling again. I’m curious about how the new exp pack will do after how dull BfA got quickly.

I haven’t played GW2 in ages but I get the impression that it feels stagnant which is never a good thing.

I’m so glad CoX is back but its quasi-legal status nags at one incessantly.

I’m not invested into Pantheon, but now I want to see it succeed if only so Mister McQuaid’s final project can see the light!

Rift was fun for a time but it never soared. I haven’t touched it in a long time but it seems like such wasted potential.

The rest I don’t know much about.

Eric E
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Eric E

Well as Shroud of the Avatar hired a CS person who thought that the game and the service tickets had too much of a “learning curve” , that person was demoted to Shipping & Receiving. Now the CM & Dev team are handling all of the customer service issues & tickets.

Prime example as to why this game in on the article’s list.

LiterallyForThisGif
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LiterallyForThisGif

“All support requests are up to date and we are processing them in real time”.

Elgarion on today’s stream.

Won’t see “the crew” repost that though.

Narficus
Reader
Narficus

Mhm. Given how long the backlog was going and how quickly it was “resolved” while telling folks to resubmit, they simply deleted the CS tickets. Again. But the silver lining is that at least they’re being answered again (for as long as they’re remembered this time).

I guess you gotta celebrate the small victories where you can get them, eh?

Leyaa1
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Leyaa1

I hope the people who are making Pantheon can settle down after the loss of Brad McQuaid. I’d love to see this game coming to life one day. Wishing them all the best!

John Artemus
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John Artemus

Even though it’s not my main game anymore, I’m glad SWTOR didn’t make it on this list. I actually think it has an uncertain future, especially if a new Star Wars MMO comes out, but it’s nice to see the game still moving along. For now.

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7thRankedNoob

Definitely a strange article … the top pic is from DC Online no? … not even on the list.

The omission of EQ and EQ2 boggles me as well.

For me, a more fitting story would have been “Will 2020 be the end of an era with the closure of Daybreak Games?”

I see that happening more than the games listed closing down.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

This article is our annual top 10 focusing on the whole genre, not just one studio. Your interest would probably be better served with articles actually about Daybreak – try here, here, here, here, here, or the end of this. We also talk about the state of Daybreak quite a bit on the MOP podcast – here’s one from a week and a half ago where we spend time discussing the studio.

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Mykal Quinn

Banner image is from Infinite Crisis, a DC DotA-clone.