Massively OP’s 2020 Awards: Best MMO Business Model


MassivelyOP’s end-of-the-year awards for 2020 continue today with our award for Best MMO Business Model, which we could not reach a staff consensus on last year, meaning we awarded it to no MMO at all. The award is intended to recognize a live MMORPG of any age that has demonstrated an exemplary business model specifically in 2020, regardless of its past performance. 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 Business Model of 2020 is…


Andy McAdams: Elder Scrolls Online is still one of the only games that I don’t feel dirty about throwing money at for fun things. I considered GW2 as well, but the actual cash shop of things I want to buy – most of the things I want in the GW2 store annoy me more than inspire me to spend money, so I never do. ESO I actually find things that my annoyance is less than my hold on my wallet — that was deciding factor for me.

Brianna Royce: Guild Wars 2 is far and away the best business model currently on offer in the MMORPG industry, and I will die on this hill. The balance of what you get for your money and what you need to buy to function properly in the game cannot be beat, and it’s one of the reasons I let my little kids play it. My runner-up would be World of Warcraft, not because you’re getting two games with retail and classic (it’s just an alternate ruleset like 30 other MMORPGs have) but because of how much content is given away for free and because of how straightforward and clean its box/sub model still is. The only things I like about Elder Scrolls Online’s model is the piecemeal DLC and the roll-in of old chapters to the basegame, but beyond that, even liking the game and the franchise, I cannot in good conscience support that triple-dip model and the crafting bag sub trick when it comes to this award. Trove’s business model is less greedy than that, and that’s Gamigo.

Carlo Lacsina: WoW and Final Fantasy XIV. They’re the only two subscription models.

Chris Neal: Elder Scrolls Online. I gotta hand it to this game, this sub continues to be some pretty darned good bang for its overall buck. I suppose that sounds like it’s more a shrug and a nod than any sort of glowing endorsement, but when gaming business models have been demonstrably worse over the course of the year, I kind of think a simple thanks for not being awful is meritorious enough.

Eliot Lefebvre: I guess I’ll throw this bone to World of Warcraft?

Justin Olivetti: WoW/WoW Classic’s two-for-one subscription, Elder Scrolls, Star Trek Online. You really do get a good bang for your buck with both of those games. Elder Scrolls Online’s buy-to-play is reasonable and chock-full of content, while World of Warcraft now gives you a two-for-one MMO deal while locking in the same subscription rate it had 16 years ago.

Mia DeSanzo: Elder Scrolls Online, again.

MJ Guthrie: I used to be really impressed with Aion’s Truly Free model; it was the gold standard of free-to-play models. But over the years it seem ed that players started to feel they needed to buy convenience items more, such as dungeons lock-out timer removers. Lately, I have been more impressed with AdventureQuest 3D’s model. With AQ3D, you get weekly updates in this free-to-play game and don’t need to spend money to enjoy any of it. The fact that the cosmetic shop is full of cosmetics (though the extra bank space gets my coin plenty of times, too) that are really neat but not necessary, is key. In fact, when new paid collections of cosmetics are introduced, there are always in-game ones you can earn or collect for free as well. Here is a game that keeps adding content in weekly updates — and all of it is free. Every bit of game content is accessible to everyone. Where is money coming from? That would be the cash shop: a true cosmetic-only shop that players can go crazy with. This model works!

Sam Kash: Guild Wars 2. Always, until something can convince me otherwise. Sounds like ESO is a contender but I don’t know it personally yet.

Tyler Edwards: Elder Scrolls Online gets my vote, but as Bree reminded me in deliberations, Guild Wars 2 is also a good contender in this field. I don’t agree with WoW at all. Even if we consider it F2P now, it’s not a particularly good F2P model, and they’re still basing most of their game design decisions on making things take longer so people pay subs for longer.

Elder Scrolls Online and World of Warcraft tied for our award for Best MMO Business Model. What’s your pick?

Reader poll: What MMO featured the best business model in 2020?

  • Elder Scrolls Online (13%, 103 Votes)
  • World of Warcraft (13%, 108 Votes)
  • Guild Wars 2 (13%, 107 Votes)
  • Final Fantasy XIV (15%, 120 Votes)
  • Aion (0%, 0 Votes)
  • AdventureQuest 3D (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Phantasy Star Online 2 (1%, 5 Votes)
  • RuneScape (1%, 10 Votes)
  • No Man's Sky (3%, 21 Votes)
  • Path of Exile (3%, 27 Votes)
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online (0%, 3 Votes)
  • LOTRO (1%, 12 Votes)
  • Black Desert (2%, 13 Votes)
  • SWTOR (2%, 13 Votes)
  • EVE Online (2%, 15 Votes)
  • Star Trek Online (1%, 11 Votes)
  • Neverwinter (0%, 3 Votes)
  • EverQuest II (1%, 8 Votes)
  • DC Universe Online (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Blade and Soul (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Dual Universe (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Crowfall (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Camelot Unchained (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Pantheon (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Ashes of Creation (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Star Citizen (22%, 181 Votes)
  • Anything with a sub (2%, 19 Votes)
  • Anything crowdfunded (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Anything free-to-play (1%, 8 Votes)
  • Anything buy-to-play (1%, 12 Votes)
  • Something else (tell us in the comments!) (1%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 691

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How does MassivelyOP choose the winner?
Our team gathers together to nominate and discuss candidates and hopefully 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 games nominated plus a few others we thought should be included.

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11 months ago

So, you just chose to ignore the mmo with the most votes completely, because you what…. don’t like it?

Quill Fiend(@quill_fiend)
1 year ago

ESO as winner????? Absolute joke, it’s a freemium with lootboxes and material storage hidden behind a sub AFTER you already bought the game. What the hell

Patreon Donor
1 year ago

EQ2 for me. I just want to pay my sub and play the game.

1 year ago

Where’s ‘none of the above”?

1 year ago

If No Man’s Sky merits its own spot on the poll I’m not sure how that’s not hands down the best? It’s buy to play with no other faff, right?

1 year ago

If Eso included the crafting bag in the free to play model it would win hands down. Other than that Swtor (ftp model leaves much to be desired) & WoW have decent sub models and Gw2 is good as well.

Patreon Donor
1 year ago

Can I vote for Marvel Heroes posthumously?

Ewan Cuthbertson(@ewan_cuthbertson)
1 year ago

Yeah WoW has the best business model I love that I have to buy the game, buy the expansion, pay £10 a month and oh yeah there’s a cash shop. ESO sure makes more sense but really WoW so money grabbing is a good business model.

1 year ago

All other things being equal, the obvious choice is “anything free-to-play” imo.

Bruno Brito(@bruno_brito)
1 year ago

No. Jesus Christ, ESO? No. WoW is acceptable, altho i think it’s basically kept because people have some sort of fascination with sub models, but ESO? God, no.

1 year ago
Reply to  Bruno Brito

FO76 gets put on the list for worst monetization model and it’s actually a more benign version of ESO’s. How they can turn around and call ESOs one of the best?

Since they are including not MMOs like FO76 and No Man’s sky I’ll go with NMS as best, I purchased it once a few years back and they keep expanding it’s content regularly and don’t even offer a way for me to give them more money.

Almost feel like buying another copy or something just to reward their great effort.