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

Really inactive.

Here’s a fun question for you: What’s the difference between the biggest surprises of a year and the biggest stories of the year? The answer, in short, is that it’s something we actually debate and discuss a lot here as well because there isn’t a very clear dividing line and we’re doing our best to find a consensus. However, the general look at least from my end is that surprises are things you didn’t expect to happen at all, while stories are things that have far-reaching impacts beyond the immediate moment.

None of this is to say that there’s no overlap, and you’ll find some familiar friends in this particular list from the last listing of the biggest surprises of the year. But there are also some major differences, and it’s important to note these stories that have a larger impact beyond the immediate moments of “wait, what?” So without further ado, let’s take a gander at the big stuff of 2020.

Evil vs. Evil

1. Epic Games vs. Apple

In another somewhat more sane year, this would be the sort of thing that would stick in everyone’s mind. It’s a challenge to an enormously powerful company by another powerful company that might actually be able to make it stick, and the stakes are the future of proprietary control of an entire popular platform’s gaming library. That’s a big deal! It’d be kind of cooler on a personal note if it were a game I liked instead of Fortnite, but let’s not quibble.


2. Microsoft buys Bethesda

The funny thing about this particular acquisition is that we all know it’s a big deal, but it’s also something we all know will be a bigger deal in the future. Not much is going to change for The Elder Scrolls Online or Fallout 76 in the immediate or (likely) more distant future, but subsequent games might have a very different launch setup based on the ownership. It’s a big acquisition for the company, but it’s hard to guess at the impact just now.


3. Tencent buys (all of) Funcom

This one wasn’t really a surprise, since Tencent had been buying up bits of Funcom already. But it does mean that a company with a solid stable of online titles is now under Tencent’s control, and it’s also hardly the first online studio in the company’s wheelhouse. Part of me wonders if this is a nail in the coffin for any hopes of Secret World Legends managing a comeback given Tencent’s focus, which would make this particularly tragic.

And all sold as one, oddly.

4. EG7 Global buys Daybreak

Daybreak even partitioned itself for a piecemeal buyout, and yet it didn’t happen! All of Daybreak is still together, and now owned by an organization at least somewhat less shady than its prior ownership. Considering the pedigree and the titles still maintained by Daybreak, this has the potential for some major impacts down the line for MMOs… hopefully positive ones, as it might lead to some actual development of long-languishing concepts and plans.

Big man.

5. En Masse buys the farm

It’s always sad to say goodbye to a studio in this subgenre, but it’s doubly so when by all visible accounts the studio seemed to be doing fine. That’s what made this such a surprise, of course. But it also means that there’s going to be a knock-on effect for the games that En Masse was managing and a certain amount of player confusion as well as differences in management. It’s substantial, and even though the assets and games were merged back into the parent coming, it did apparently lead to a ripple effect of skilled people losing their jobs here in the US branch.

Bad men.

6. Ubisoft shows its rear

It’s funny how Ubisoft has quietly slid its way into the online game space over the past several years, but it’s not funny at all when it turns out that Ubisoft’s upper management was full of grotesque and disgusting people. This is a big deal in the larger gaming industry as well as online games specifically.

At the same time, though, this is something that’s actually worth being happy about. Yes, it’s a shame that so many people making decisions at Ubisoft were kind of awful. But the fact that this year those same people faced a reckoning and that it mattered was itself kind of a new thing. So it’s upsetting, but hopefully one that will lead to better things down the line.

Black Lives Matter.

7. Solidarity for Black Lives Matter

Speaking of upsetting things that will hopefully lead to a better world, this summer saw an immense amount of racial unrest in the United States and increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Not only did major gaming companies from Sony to Microsoft take the opportunity to cede the stage to BLM voices, most of them voiced support and solidarity for the protesters. Another moment when hopefully things will get better moving forward.

At one point, this seemed like a big deal.

8. City State Entertainment’s second game

Yes, CSE’s reveal of a second title engendered a fair amount of ire from fans, to the point that back in January this looked like it was going to be a big deal. (2020 had other ideas, obviously.) But it still is a big deal insofar as it served as a reminder of how much it really costs to develop these games, the complex road ahead of these projects, and just how much needs to be done – as well as what happens when a studio tries to focus on long-term viability contrary to the wishes of its fans.

Read it and... well, just read it.

9. Guild Wars 2 is going to Cantha

This year made it very clear that Guild Wars 2 needed an expansion. That’s not half a patch on the updates it did get, just a statement that it was clear pretty early on that a full expansion really was a needed feature for the game. Fortunately, we know that one is in the works now, and it’s one that fans have been asking for more or less since the game’s launch. It’s a good sign that the game still has life in it, even if some of the decisions along the way might have been questionable.

I just moved here, and I don't want to live here any more.

10. New World keeps delaying and improving

So, uh… is New World actually good now? It sure seemed that way the last time I played it, as this title becomes more of an MMO and more worthy of play even as its earlier releases seemed to be resolutely devoted to downplaying the game’s MMO aspects. Sure, it’s kind of a shame that the game got delayed yet again… but it’s also kind of excellent that after all those delays the title looks to be on track for a full MMO release next year, and hopefully it’ll be as solid and fun as it has looked through the previews and testing events.

Gone, girl.

11. So many event cancellations

Oh, right, the world was covered in death this year. That one got noted as a surprise because if anyone had predicted that before 2020 we should probably hook them up in a tank and start making the pre-crime unit from Minority Report happen. But the tangible effect on our sphere was that basically every major event after March got cancelled, with the anemic studio offerings of PAX East being pretty much it for the year.

This is personally sad for me, since I had been really looking forward to the Final Fantasy XIV fan festival. I recognize that it is perhaps the smallest thing to be worried about and definitely less important than the people who have lost their lives as a result of the virus. But sometimes it’s enough to just be sad for something lost.

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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Oleg Chebeneev

12. Riot announces the making of League of Legends MMO


“En Masse buys the farm”

I knew it meant they’re gonezo, but I had to look up where “bought the farm” came from. And I got these two examples:

1. The death benefits paid to the beneficiaries of soldiers who died in battle were often enough to pay off the mortgage on the family home or farm, hence the deceased was said to have “bought the farm.”

2. Common accidents in rural areas would result in aircraft crashing into barns, fields, or rural property, resulting in damages. The US Government would compensate the affected property owners with checks to pay for damages, or in some cases condemn land contaminated with undetonated/unlocated munitions/weapons, in effect “buying the farm”.

Bruno Brito

and just how much needs to be done – as well as what happens when a studio tries to focus on long-term viability contrary to the wishes of its fans.

I don’t think that’s the main problem. The main problem was MJ keeping that information hidden, AND denying that the resources going to that game weren’t coming from CU.

Here’s the thing: If you market CU, every single dollar should go towards CU. Unless Ragnarok is being funded only by personal Jacobs money, i don’t see how that’s possible.

And also, while i love Mark, the fact that he keeps a “holier-than-thou” attitude, even though CU threads are rampant with people still waiting their refunds is a bit concerning, to say the least. The guy really could use some PR investiment.

Mark Jacobs

Thanks for the love and concern BB, both are appreciated.

We didn’t take any money from the PayPal account (which is the only way we get money from players versus investor money) and use it for FS:R nor to pay any of the bills from the time we went into development on FS:R through the time of the announcement. We did only use investor money, including additional money from me as well, to fund the game. Since then I made one or two studio credit card payment from PayPal. FS:R continues to be funded only by investors.

That was one of the things I told the investors when we worked out the details for the additional investment. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

P.S. I also freely acknowledge, as I did in January, that we are using the same engine of course for the game and that engine wouldn’t be in the shape that it was without the work on CU/engine. That’s one of the reasons we’re giving all CU Backers lots of stuff, including cash we hope, from FS:R’s revenues.


Sorry, Mark, but any ‘additional investments’ should have gone to the game that is already promised and committed.

It is just not good enough.

Mark Jacobs

It went to both, as we’ve been showing with the vast majority of work going to CU over this past 10 months. :)

And keep in mind that a lot of the money went to build out the engine for both CU and FS:R.

Kickstarter Donor
Peregrine Falcon

Thank you for the replies, Mr. Jacobs.

However, and I’m sure you already know this, many people are upset because of the perception that if FS:R hadn’t been made then CU would be out by now, or at least it’d have more work done on it and would be closer to launch.

Can you respond that?

Mark Jacobs

PF, first, you’re welcome. Second, happy to respond to that question and I have done so before. Your question is:

“if FS:R hadn’t been made then CU would be out by now, or at least it’d have more work done on it and would be closer to launch.”

My answer is no, it wouldn’t have been further along in some ways, yes in others. Because of FS:R we were able to hire additional engineers, artists, and designers. Here’s a throuple of examples: :)

FS:R has it’s own designer (100% of the time) as does CU (also 100% of the time). Prior to that, Ben was doing both FS:R and CU as was I. Once we hired Alex & Chris, each game had its own designer with me being able to help out as well.

On the engineering side, we were able to hire additional folks who helped speed up the move to Linux and LIVE servers who we wouldn’t have been able to hire without the extra cash.

On the art side, we also were able to hire some additional artists who worked on both CU and FS:R. And who’ve been continuing to focus on CU over the last 10 months.

Again, those are just some examples, there are others.

And over the last year FS:R hasn’t changed a hell of a lot compared to CU. We have spent a lot of time optimizing the engine for CU, not on FS:R, since FS:R doesn’t put a strain on the engine at all compared to CU. It’s because of things like this and the fact that I wanted to keep the promise I made in February about CU vs. FS:R work that FS:R hasn’t launched yet.

So, if we hadn’t had the additional artists and engineers, even if the smaller team worked on CU alone we wouldn’t be a lot further in some areas (engineering/design) but would have had more art assets to show. OTOH, because of the focus on CU’s performance, Linux, LIVE servers. we are ahead of where I thought we’d be in other areas. Plus, the investors are continuing to put money in and want CU to come out as soon as it’s ready to go which is why we have been spending so much time on CU’s performance, not FS:R’s performance.

Does that clear things up at all?

Kickstarter Donor
Peregrine Falcon

It sure does. And I’m sure you’ve already answered that question a hundred times. But for those of us who don’t read the CU forums, or wherever you usually answer that question, thanks! :)

Bruno Brito

I think anyone can vouch for Mark here, i really don’t think CU would launch faster without FS:R

The issue with FS:R is another one entirely, but anyone with a sober mind realizes that MMOs are extremely expensive, and MJ is not Roberts, he’s not financing Star Citizen, with 500million.

Setting out to outdo all siegebased games with a crowdfunded capital is not easy. I do think it could have been done in a better way, and Mark for sure knows that too, but i don’t think that FS:R is an “optional” existence. It’s clear that it’s needed to finance the long-term financial wellbeing of CU.

2Ton Gamer

I’ll say this for you Mr. Jacob’s, you certainly do not shy away from criticism. I half-expected you not to show your mug around here for these superlatives, but I commend you on at least showing up and defending your dream, even if not everyone is buying it or cares to hear it. I think at this point you just need to put up or shut up (that’s the saying, although I don’t mind hearing from you) and then you might regain some of that goodwill back.

Bruno Brito

So, all the crowdfund money goes towards CU, and investors can choose to invest in FS:R?

Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron

“Part of me wonders if this is a nail in the coffin for any hopes of Secret World Legends managing a comeback given Tencent’s focus”

A slim hope to begin with. Imagine if it did though – people would be analysing any new story content in search of subliminal messages inserted at the behest of the CCP.

Kickstarter Donor

Not gonna lie…I’d be totally there for that from a lore/story standpoint. Agreed that it’s a slim hope (at best), but damn if I’m not still hungry for more SWL content, even if some of it moves from the supernatural conspiracies to the much more “natural” conspiracies of governments.


I think the NW 2021 prediction is off. Given the Amazon track record on understanding when games are good, finished, and ready to go? With an MMO being an order of magnitude more complex than a ‘simple’ arena shooter, one can expect there is a LOT more work to do on NW before it will be ready for prime time.

If they release it as a ‘live service’, update & fix after launch game then I think another Crucible-like disaster will quickly unfold.

Just my 2c.