End-of-Year Eleven: The biggest MMO surprises of 2020


Whew. We’re finally getting close to the end of 2020, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that it cannot get here fast enough. This year has been awful, and I’m not even the first person to point that out. And as we start in on our end-of-year roundups, it’s kind of astonishing how many big surprises happened this year that almost immediately receded to memory. Seriously, with all the other things going on, some items on this list were ones I totally forgot about until they were pointed out to me again. And some of them – ahem, Daybreak being bought out – literally happened the day before this is set to go live, meaning it’s only barely making it on the list.

But then, that’s the nature of a surprise: You don’t see it coming, and sometimes it’s just so bizarre you don’t even have it in your rear-view mirror properly. So let’s take a look at the eleven biggest surprises that happened this year. That’s right, eleven. It’s the end of the year and we do these columns every year, from now on we’re changing things up. That’s a whole extra surprise for you!

Sorry, can't be helped.

1. The global pandemic touched even gaming

Yeah, this one… this was a big deal. The world was kind of covered in death this year. Events were cancelled and/or moved online to avoid people gathering in one place, studios had to shift over to working from home unexpectedly, and online spaces became even more vital because you sure as heck were not hanging out with your friends in real life.

It’s hard to overstate the impact this has had on online games or the year as a whole, but honestly, you are probably tired of hearing about this and you don’t need to reminder that it smacked all of our lives off-course. But it sure was unexpected.


2. Bethesda got bought out by Microsoft

I can safely say no one really saw this coming, even if it makes sense in hindsight. If you’ve spent this console generation getting kicked around and the next generation doesn’t look likely to change it, what do you do? You get yourself a new developer that’s assured to draw some eyes. And now players of The Elder Scrolls Online can wonder what the heck is going to happen in the future if they’re playing on PlayStation.


3. En Masse Entertainment folded

Some studio closures are pretty well broadcast ahead of time, with obvious issues and failures of various titles that leave the development team with nothing. Other times, you have something like this. As far as we all knew, En Masse Entertainment was flying along just fine with TERA, and then all of a sudden we found out that the studio was being closed up and dissolved by its parent company. It was a shock.


4. Phantasy Star Online 2 actually launched in the US (poorly)

I think I can speak for everyone when I say that pretty much no one expected this title to finally get brought over after years of being locked in Japan. I also think I can speak for everyone that no one expected the launch on the Microsoft Store to be so bad that a lot of people almost immediately were suggesting that you just go back and play the game on the Japanese servers in response to how broken it was. It certainly killed my own enthusiasm dead.

Hey, there’s another reason for people to be leery of the Bethesda acquisition, come to think of it.

Swing and a hit, but also a miss.

5. World of Warcraft delayed an expansion

We’re not counting every single delay brought on by the switch to work-from-home due to COVID-19; that was already addressed with the first point, after all. But with the expansion having less than a month until it launched, World of Warcraft yanked the football away and announced that it would push the game later in the year, ultimately giving about a month of additional development time.

The expansion itself is one we’ve already posted our first impressions of, so you can evaluate on your own if it was worth it or not.

Not a great plan.

6. City State Entertainment and the two-game troubles

Oh, gosh, that was this year. It’s easy to forget if you aren’t still part of the Camelot Unchained fanbase, in which case you’re probably still mad about the announcement back in January that the team was developing a separate game using the same basic engine.

If you’d forgotten that, you probably haven’t forgotten about how poorly it was received. Back in January this seemed like the sort of thing that could occupy the whole year’s news cycle. Oh, how little we knew.

Gone, girl.

7. Amazon Game Studio launched and then killed Crucible

It seemed like such a smart move for Amazon to push Crucible out as a surprise launch to capitalize on greater time spent online. I mean, it must have seemed smart to someone, because it soon became clear that the game was kind of unfocused, resulting in the title being pulled back into beta and then quietly shuttered completely.

Gosh, these are all depressing surprises, huh?

Again and again and again and...

8. Warcraft III: Reforged was a de-mastered mess

So much for the depressing part changing. After missing the original launch window of 2019, this title finally launched in 2020 and is currently still lacking features of the original like custom campaigns, not to mention the stuff that was quietly removed during development and only belatedly removed from marketing like remastered cutscenes. Far from a remaster, this one was a de-master.

Nope, not letting that joke go.

That was a real laugh!

9. Chronicles of Elyria was pining for the fjords

So Chronicles of Elyria shut down its development this year. That, in and of itself, could qualify as a surprise. I even did a whole series of columns dissecting the arc of that game from its announcement and initial funding until the full layoff and shuttering of development. Honestly, I think a lot of people expected this as one of the likely ends to this story.

What people weren’t expecting, probably, was to hear that news and then watch the creator rather desperately claim that development wasn’t really stopping in the wake of possible litigation. Thus we’ve spent all year watching this slow-motion train wreck continue to play out.

Build it up.

10. Lord of the Rings Online succeeded, then failed, then failed again

When we were all getting used to what normal people felt was staying at home more than usual and what I personally found as a useful excuse for doing what I was likely to do anyhow, Lord of the Rings Online offered a great chance for players to get a ton of content for free. Good work, really! Unfortunately, the rest of the year seemed to be tailor-made to diminish any positive feelings that could engender. First it was servers not being actually up and online with little to no explanation for same, then it was asking players to pay for a content patch.

Hope for light.

11. New World and the never-ending cycle of re-imagining

Last and certainly not least, New World was supposed to release this year. Have you forgotten that? Probably not, as this game increasingly feels like it’s what Amazon is pinning all its gaming hopes on. And it got delayed, previewed, and delayed over and over as the game steadily moves from being a PvP open gankfest into being a proper MMO with lots of non-player-stabbing stuff to do.

On the bright side, it’s actually looking pretty good at this point, so let’s hope next year it turns out to be a pleasant surprise. 2020 didn’t have many of those. Maybe 2021 can do better.

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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The pandemic is really just more of the same for me. In fact, I’m probably ‘built better’ for living in this kind of virus/plague/contagion world, having already had a social phobia precluding me from dealing with people most of the time. Sadly, the latter end of the year forced me into dealing with more people at a hospital due to other health issues unrelated to the virus.

As for the gaming news stuff, some of that was surprising, but not really?

I mean big monopoly buying out smaller company to crush competition and steal their talented workers while firing the ‘chaff’ is common, and companies that were barely breaking even going under is just…part of the business world.

It was a little more surprising to watch the ‘newer’ game idea go under/turn into legal train-wreck and watching a game built by a goliath non-game company literally show off their white supremacist colors and then try and re-brand and save face and release something that’s still built with that concept but trying to cover all of that up, and watching it ‘do well’ has been….uh…disturbing?

I won’t ever personally fund them for that.

As for the big game that’s been having server issues, and stumbling a bit, I imagine they are going to keep on chugging along, especially now that their overlords got bought up.

As for the rest of those, I was less interested/didn’t care/wasn’t participating. Though I do wish Mark Jacobs well on his endeavor, I will unlikely be participating there either as the game itself is built around PvP which I can’t/won’t participate in.

Kickstarter Donor

End-of-Year Eleven: The biggest MMO surprises disappointments of 2020

Or ten, I suppose—the Bethesda thing could go either way.


New World is waaay better than expected. I think the game will find a solid playerbase.

Kickstarter Donor

Haven’t played it post-preview, but I was in some of the alphas before that and yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to it. As someone who absolutely loathes weapon-swapping combat systems, I’m not sure how I feel about the changes, but the left-click spam certainly needed to go.
Thankfully, I’m a non-PvPing tradeskill junkie, so I’ll enjoy it regardless of how combat turns out.


Great list, Eliot. :)

IronSalamander8 .

That old curse about living in interesting times certainly came true this year!

The pandemic has been odd for me. While I miss our board game and board designer meetups, being told to mostly stay at home and play video games (along with watching Doctor Who and classic horror movies, speaking of which I watched ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’ last night. That was a fun one.), isn’t exactly hard for me to follow. We’ve been largely working as we’re essential-making parts for railroad, heavy industry, and agriculture, but slow from the pandemic and steel tariffs, so on and off all year. I’ve only been going to work and getting groceries, and bought a washable mask as I don’t want to make things any worse and it’s been bad in the US, and my state has done poorly lately.

Bethesda being bought by Microsoft may be good but it’s too early to tell. I’ve not been getting Bethesda stuff these days anyway, but it’s big news for certain.

I also found En Masse going down a bit of surprise. I haven’t played Tera in some time but it always seemed to be chugging along.

PSO2 is something I haven’t pulled the trigger on. May be a ‘try it out’ thing in future though, especially if any friends are interested.

I’ve not touched a Blizzard product since last year but delaying a product to polish it can hardly be a bad thing. I’m hearing mixed opinions about it, but skewed at least slightly to the positive side.

I actually had forgotten about the issues with the 2nd game by City State entertainment. I’m not a backer but have been passively watching Camelot Unchained as 2 friends expressed interest in it. It’s one of those ‘possible’ games that I don’t watch much directly but do follow along here on the site.

Crucible had a rough time of it but hero shooters are all over the place already so a new one has to really bring its A game to even try to compete and it obviously couldn’t do that. At least they’re offering refunds.

WC3 is an excellent game but even back when it was released I never loved Blizzard like some did, and then they remaster it and mess everything up so badly that it screws up the game for people that didn’t get the new version? That’s modern Blizzard in all their ‘glory’ right there.

Chronicles of Elyria never really appealed to me so no skin in the game there but still sucks that people were looking forward to it and it went through the wringer like that.

I did try LOTRO briefly but never got into it and the friends that asked me to join them left abruptly so I didn’t hang around long. It definitely could have done a much better job on capitalizing on people being home more often than they did!

At this point, I’ve seen a couple of videos on New World but I have no idea what it is anymore as far as PvP or PvE focus. It’s sounds from articles and those videos that the devs still haven’t really made up their minds yet, which bodes poorly for its future.

And yes, let’s hope 2021 is a better year for MMOs and everything else!

Denice J. Cook


Who knew Jack Emmert was not only CEO of Dimensional Ink but also of
Standing Stone? I didn’t realize that.

EQ2 YTD has pulled in $6.5 million. DDO YTD is $6.9 million. Planetside 2 YTD is $7.9 million. These are all pretty close.

I don’t see EG7 shutting down half their franchises they just paid $300 million for, though. And they even stepped right up and said they were honoring all the lifetime subs. They clearly plan to keep running these games, and likely making sequels from the IPs, too. I’m betting EQ3 and PS3, which have been hinted at by their devs recently, are the first ones up at bat, besides DCUO 2.

And nothing would anger current and future franchise players more than shuttering any of these older games. Then players won’t trust them; they’ll never dig out from under that kind of bad P.R. EG7 just paid $300 million for these games; they won’t risk damaging those IPs.

Columbus Nova’s entire focus was in making Daybreak profitable for resale. If they felt any of the games in Daybreak’s stable didn’t have enough value/ease of continuation to keep them running, they’d have already shuttered them long ago.

LoTRO’s YTD is $9.9 million. EQ1’s YTD is $11.5 million. The largest jump upward in YTD bookings by far, though, is DCUO at $26.7 million. Now *that* is a large jump. I’d say the real paydirt here was for Jack Emmert. He’ll be asking for a raise soon. :p

Bruno Brito

Hey, Den. Wrong thread?

Denice J. Cook

Actually, the Daybreak/EG7 buyout is listed right at the top of the article, linked as a last-minute mention. :)

Bruno Brito

Oh. I missed that. Thanks for the heads up <3


Wrong post thread crits Denice for 50k.

Denice loses a level.

Denice J. Cook

Actually, the Daybreak/EG7 buyout is listed, and even linked, right at the top of the post. :)

And for me to lose a level, I would have to go back a year in age, so that’s not going to happen, although that would be nice (see avatar). ;)

Bruno Brito

What the hell are those GW2 numbers. Nerf it please.