Massively OP’s 2020 Awards: MMO Studio of the Year


MassivelyOP’s end-of-the-year awards for 2020 continue today with our award for MMO Studio of the Year, which was awarded to Grinding Gear Games last year. We asked our writers to consider all MMO studios as well as other online games studios we cover here in 2020, not just their pet favorites, and judge the studios on what they did within the MMO genre this year specifically. 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 MMO Studio of the Year for 2020 is…


Andy McAdams: ZeniMax made it through the year without any major screw-ups and the Greymoor expansion was anemic, but generally fun I hear. So ZeniMax for literally not lighting a bag of poop on fire twirling it wildly in the air.

Brianna Royce: Cryptic, ZeniMax, Pearl Abyss. I was surprised how many people nominated for Cryptic this year before we’d even shared notes, but it was enough to convince me to throw in with them. Even setting aside the competent MMOs under its wing, it put love into Champions Online this year, and that will apparently continue. OK. Gold star.

Carlo Lacsina: Pearl Abyss. Say what you will about its games, but this company has a bunch of MMORPGs on the way. It’s got Crimson Desert, DokeV, and Plan 8. They’re all MMORPGs. And they’re next gen games too. I also appreciate the studio response to the pandemic. The first thing it did was start the Oasis event in Black Desert Online. It gave every player access to TRI-level gear for the low low price of 10 silver or so. It took out the desert debuffs to make playing in the desert less of a pain. It added some nice bonuses for employees and families during the pandemic – pet insurance, monthly cleaning, and more. It didn’t even brag about it and didn’t get much media attention! We already know how some companies use these benefits to get some good press, but PA never pushed it. It’s one of those “if you know, you know” kind of situations.

Chris Neal: Cryptic Studios, Bungie. I’m not going to sit here and admit that I’m a regular player of this studios’ offerings, but when I hop in to games like Neverwinter or Star Trek Online, I’m continually impressed by how fun they can be in spite of their trash monetization schemes. Furthermore, STO feels like a consistent and solid MMO as well as a genuine love letter to the IP. Even when it does feel a bit janky.

Eliot Lefebvre: Just the other day we were having a talk about the games run by studios that generally show a great deal of honesty, fairness, and warmth to fans. There are a few of them, and ZeniMax and Cryptic both eminently deserve the nod.

Justin Olivetti: Cryptic, Pearl Abyss, ZeniMax. I’m so glad that Cryptic got the nod this year because it never does seem to get respect for being a B-tier MMO developer. Yet its games are always so fun and accessible, receiving constant updates and giving away so much for free. Heck, even Champions Online got new content this year!

Mia DeSanzo: Square Enix.

MJ Guthrie: I say Artix Entertainment. Everything I said last year about AE still holds up. Even throughout the mess that was 2020, this studio continues treating employees and players well, avoiding drama, and continuing to make new content. The people in AE from top to bottom demonstrate integrity of a level I could only dream all the rest of the industry would adopt.

Tina Lauro Pollock: ZeniMax, Cryptic.

Tyler Edwards: I think Cryptic deserves some credit for consistently supporting its games in the long haul, and usual cash shop grumblings notwithstanding, I can’t remember it having any major blunders or controversies for quite some time.

ZeniMax and Cryptic took our award for MMO Studio of the Year. What’s your pick?

Reader poll: What was the best MMO studio of 2020?

  • ZeniMax (12%, 114 Votes)
  • Cryptic (4%, 39 Votes)
  • Pearl Abyss (2%, 23 Votes)
  • Square Enix (17%, 169 Votes)
  • Bungie (1%, 10 Votes)
  • Artix (1%, 9 Votes)
  • Grinding Gear Games (2%, 22 Votes)
  • Digital Extremes (1%, 11 Votes)
  • BioWare (1%, 14 Votes)
  • Gamigo (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Visionary Realms (31%, 295 Votes)
  • ArenaNet (2%, 20 Votes)
  • Jagex (1%, 13 Votes)
  • Standing Stone (2%, 17 Votes)
  • Daybreak and its core substudios (1%, 14 Votes)
  • Blizzard (6%, 56 Votes)
  • Funcom (1%, 6 Votes)
  • CCP Games (1%, 9 Votes)
  • Novaquark (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Bluehole (0%, 1 Votes)
  • ArtCraft (0%, 2 Votes)
  • Frontier (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Cloud Imperium (5%, 45 Votes)
  • Nexon (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Sega (1%, 5 Votes)
  • None (3%, 28 Votes)
  • Something else (tell us in the comments!) (4%, 36 Votes)

Total Voters: 860

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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 studios nominated plus a few others we thought should be included.

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Cryptic? Who doesn’t even keep the programming expertise around to support their big selling feature of player-created content? Yeah, when they announced they were ending that, I uninstalled and walked away.

edit: oh, forgot to say, I *would* have voted for Intrepid if they were on the list. Not sure why Cloud Imperium is on the list but Intrepid wasn’t.

Draq Attack

Visionary Realms is the Studio MMORPG gamers deserve. Pantheon Rise of the Fallen has taken huge leaps this year and they communicate constantly with the community. The dev streams, round tables, the game play live streams, the art, the new website. It’s all been great. #CommunityMatters

Intrepid has also had an awesome year. Ashes of Creation will be a different type of MMORPG than Pantheon, so I’m rooting for both to win. The future of MMORPG gaming looks good with these two studios leading the way.

Blizzard looks to have hit it out of the park with their new expansion. Not my thing but I give them a tip of the cap.

Obviously Daybreak employees are the only people that would vote for them … I love Everquest but they are AWEFUL studio living off the legacy of those before them.

Draq Attack
Pantheon Website
P+ YouTube

Oleg Chebeneev

Cloud Imperium. Good progress for Star Citizen, their updates were on shedule, their work on the game was transparent with lots of communication with playerbase. Decent year for CIG and SC despite pandemic. Hopefully, we see whole Stanton done with Crusader and its moons in 2021.

Second place – Blizzard. Great expansion, great improvements to WoW. Lots of drama. What else not to like?

I should also mention Smilegate (creators of Lost Ark). Its dev team are amazingly talented and they ramp up updates on regular basis.


Hmm. Well, Blizz almost gets a nod from me since there were no major fuck ups this year. Sadly that is the bar they’ve set so… almost.

Zenimax? Oh, no. Nope. Nada. Basta. Zero. Ok, listen. They have made great strides with the game since launch but the fact that we as players are still living with the years old Group Finder bugs and the crap that is Cyrodiill speaks volumes. I’m sorry but if you play ESO for an extended period you will see the same old bugs. And they have been in the works for fixes for years. These are game breaking issues too. When you can’t escape group finder until the server resets? Yeah, that is game breaking.

So, I don’t know. In this weird COVID year I’m going to give the award to elf butts. They never change and are consistent year in and out even when there is a pandemic.

Bruno Brito

Visionary Realms (34%, 140 Votes)

They…don’t have a game…

Jesus fucking Christ, the MMO fanbase is hopeless.


I was about to say the same thing. I even had to google them to know what game they were releasing (sorry, I stay away from hypetrains and ‘upcoming MMO’ articles).

I understand that this is a vote for a company and not a game, so having an actual game is perhaps not required. But what did they do to merit these votes?

Minus Paradox

Visionary Realms has been through a lot this last year. Obviously, this is just my point of view, as someone who voted for them, but they have overcome a lot, and made some pretty big strides.

First, within a full year, they lost two very important members of their team to unexpected passings (Brad and Molad). It really hit the community and small team really hard. That said, they have pushed through these difficult moments and have pushed forward in a big way.

Second, they made some very hard but important decisions this last year. First, was a complete code refactoring, which is going to push the future of the game into a very positive spot. It was a slight step backward in overall development, but has now pushed the game development process into a much faster pacing. They have opened Pre-Alpha testing back up, and more frequently, and have been really good with taking feedback from the community.

Towards the end of the year, they came clean on some of these difficult decisions with a newsletter in October being extremely honest and transparent with the community, and also committing to even more transparency (in which for a PA state, they already provide quite a bit of)

Since then they have been more consistent with communication, have allowed access to content creators that was previously difficult to get, as well as showing off more gameplay and progress to the general public and not just testers.

It hasn’t all been positive, but there’s been a very heavy stride into doing what’s right for the future of the game. I think it’s earned them a lot of respect from the community for these things. I’m not saying everyone will agree that this makes them the top studio, but as fans of the game, the Pantheon Community, which is pretty tight, has for the most part been very thankful for these strides in a tough year.

Bruno Brito

I am not arguing that Visionary is a bad studio or anything, or they didn’t had whatever advancement people are saying they have. I’m actually quite hopeful for Pantheon.

BUT. It. Is. NOT. A. Game. Yet.

MMOs should be gauged for how the company MANAGES them. Bad monetization, overfeatures, bad game design, etc etc. Visionary has nothing because it doesn’t have a game.

And the reason why i call the MMO community hopeless is because we’ve been through this dance before: The scene is mediocre right now, and people keep hyping up these products that have no way to live through the hype. Instead of demanding from already established studios to actively improve the settled games, people keep expecting better from minor studios that will NOT succeed in the way they so desire.

These games are niche, and people keep expecting them to perform better than the biggest triple As.

Oleg Chebeneev

So what? Question wasnt about the game, it was about studio that works on MMO

Bruno Brito

Which it has no MMO. Period. We can argue values for how a studio manages a MMO AFTER the MMO is launched.

Until there, “making huge strides” is irrelevant.

Patreon Donor


Folks there is no game available to the public. You can’t really grade the studio without an actual game to play. Come on!


Well you could, if it was the “Try Harder” award or some such.

Damien Flynn
Damien Flynn

I’m curious if you were similarly perturbed with all the votes against Star Citizen’s business model? They haven’t released yet either.

This is about the company, not the game, as others have stated. This would include things like communication, websites, acquisitions, new hires, new fires, potential, hit or missed deadlines, testing phases.

I would understand your need to express your opinion with such fervor if this was “best mmo” but I think you have chosen to willfully ignore what the vote is for because it doesn’t fit what *you* view it as. You’ll note that Visionary Realms isn’t the only studio on the list without a released game. If you have an issue with that, perhaps that’s something to raise with Massively. That for your peace of mind, they should only include studios with established products. Perhaps you can set some other parameters that more efficiently fit your view.


You could just vote and move on…


I think Intrepid deserves a mention for Ashes of Creation. They have made good progress on a game that I think will be very important next year. Although it is only alpha now.


I’d have to disagree. While they did make progress this year, that progress so far can only be observed through videos and screenshots by majority of people, you can’t really download and play the game, even if you buy any access pack at their online store. And not only that, the game’s overall gameplay design is not yet finished, since it’s not even in Beta yet, so it may still go in different directions before the final release – for example, it may become a “game for sociopaths who enjoy gankboxes and torturing little puppies” or become “a game for nobody”, like what New World is turning into right now. Or maybe Steven Shariff will just say “screw it all, we’ll just make it another WoW clone” ;-)

So yea, it’s a little bit premature to mention it despite what they have already shown in videos.

Kickstarter Donor

I went for None this time. Since this seems to have been another year of ‘which studio screwed up the least’ as opposed to ‘which studio outperformed everyone else’ – as per the majority of the comments above – I really cannot personally justify giving this to anyone.


lol Cloud Imperium has 7 votes. I wonder if it’s just Oleg and his 6 accounts.

My vote goes towards ZeniMax and Squeenix. They seem to be pumping out content at a steady pace and staying true to their games.

Oleg Chebeneev

Wasnt me. But I just proudly added mine.


I’m going to say none of them deserve it this year. Monetization, outright bait and switch, ‘expansion/chapter/DLC’ nonsense, and so forth.

None of them act as if the game, or the players, are of any concern.

So, I would just put this one back on the shelf for 2020.


What? No Bethesda on the list?

Wastelanders and Steel Dawn NPC content expansion, now on third new seasonal content, underground vaults added, will be upgrading stash box capacity to 1200 “soon,” just started offering double cap sale events….

Haters gonna hate.