Massively Overthinking: Our favorite MMO stories of 2020


Earlier this week, we named our biggest MMO story of the year and gave it an award, though we imagine it’s hard for a narrative to put a trophy on the wall. But there were gobs of stories this year, big and small. We all know that sometimes the most important or meaningful articles aren’t the ones that attract all the attention (and vice versa – sometimes it’s the dumb puff pieces that take off).

So for this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’ve once again asking our team and our readers to pinpoint their favorite article on the site this year – something they or somebody else on the staff did that we’re most proud of and thinks best represents our site and our community. And once again, some of us will pick more than one because we love all our children equally!

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): It’s a tough choice, but my favorite article that I wrote this year was the one on what MMOs can learn from social media failures. I absolutely love covering GDC, more than any other trade show out there, and this particular panel made me a bit giddy. I noted how online games have been tackling issues for decades before social media arrived, and as social media fell into so many, many of the same pitfalls, I could almost feel Raph Koster rolling his eyes with barely restrained, “I warned you!” under his breath.

But low and behold, social media actually has pulled ahead, and probably in the worst way possible: after government interference. The validation I felt as MOP staffers tackle these issues and warn our genre about the consequences being played out in another industry because they didn’t listen to the warnings was immense. Obviously social media has a long way to go. I’m not even going to praise them for doing a few things people had warned them to tackle, but I am happy to see some work being done. My hope, though, is that people in the industry look at how behind online games have gotten (not just MMOs) even though they’re the pioneers. The secondhand embarrassment is pretty high, and being able to kind of write “We told you to get on this!” has a certain amount of satisfaction second only to if the industry actually started implementing more of these changes before disaster strikes.

For my favorite article this year, I’m going to cheat and give everyone love because others have done it in the past!

Tyler’s piece on stealing from single-player games sounds like it’ll be a long laundry list of things, but he kept it simple, direct, and quite on point. I found myself nodding a lot like, “Yeah, that’s why I don’t play [X]!” or “Yeah, that’s why [Y] works so well!” I also want to mention his piece on WoW’s Pathfinder “compromise,” as it homes in on one of many of Blizzard’s backwards development ideas that feel like they’ve been taking over WoW’s expansions.

Sam’s Crowfall necromancy piece reminded me not only of why I keep watching that game (beyond being a backer), but the importance of engaging with readers. Necromancy is one of those weird things that appeals to me in the game, and seeing Sam grapple with it is great because his research-based playstyle is similar to my own. Seeing him engage with readers who have played CF’s other builds really helps flesh out where necromancy was as of the writing, so we get both Sam’s fresh eyes as well as veteran opinions.

Mia’s piece on Villagers and Heroes worked for me because the visuals go so well with what she’s talking about. It sounds like a little thing, but if it’s not obvious, I really struggle to get relevant screenshots/pictures in my articles. I mean, if you want data graphs, I can get you a graph, but I’m one of those guys who sees something cool and just stares while everyone else is taking pictures. But Mia also sells the game well. I’ve heard Bree talking about the game for ages, but when the game tied with Project Gorgon (the last core-MMO I was really enjoying, more so than anything non-indie), I was kind of thinking I should pay more attention to it. Admittedly, that hasn’t happened, but 2020 was rough, so I think I deserve a pass on that.

Colin’s Magic Legends hands-on caught my eye for one big reason: He’s not a Magic fan! But actually, that’s good. I know some readers complain when a writer doesn’t love the same thing as they do, but fresh eyes are so useful. The ARPG perspective generally makes me avoid those games, but the idea of a MTG game that isn’t a TCG sounded interesting. Colin was able to talk about the game in a mechanical sense, and whether he knows it or not, actually still made the game sound familiar enough to an old vet. Now part of that would be Cryptic’s design, but Colin’s ability to pick that out from PR-speak but also (in the comments) note how the company may tackle a specific mechanic is a good balancing act. It also gave the PR people reasons to explain why a non-MTG fan might still be able to jump in and enjoy the game, even if this particular fan wasn’t won over.

I know Carlo’s usually the Black Desert guy, but his Genshin Impact impressions piece is probably my favorite just because I’ve seen it trending hard but haven’t been able to push myself into trying it. Not only did I find his explanations and comparisons concise, but his final words of warning say a lot about how the monetization works in a way that’s easy to understand. If I had parents ask me whether or not their kid should play the game, I’d link Carlo’s article in a heartbeat.

Similarly, I know Ben usually handles ESO, but his piece on PvP games needing a PvE aspect was surprising to me. As one commenter also thought, my initial thought was simply to keep playing against other players, but also read up on strategies and watch a few videos. Then I started to think about games like Monster Hunter and Pokemon, which can be played alone or in groups. The former certainly helps prepare players for online play. Between punishing deaths and a friendly NPC you can screw over (and therefore your own mission), I often feel like some of the worst Hunters are the ones that skip training and get carried by geared out friends. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Pokemon, which in all honestly never feels like it gives me a worthy challenge in its normal gameplay, especially the story, so that as soon as many people jump into the multiplayer, they drown. Ben’s experience (and ability to take some harsh feedback) leading to a result I wouldn’t have anticipated was interesting, but I also respect the way he worked through the problem to show us how he arrived at that thought, and I felt that his honesty made it much easier to sympathize with him.

Quick gush: I love Andy’s Lawful Neutral, and I love what he does with it. I’m slightly jealous that I don’t feel like I could do it myself. His piece on the Apple vs Epic tiff hit a lot of right notes and because of his background hit more than few other people in the industry could. I read a number of articles on the topic because I hate the idea that, once again, a corporation doesn’t want to play nice because it’ll hit their checkbook (well, two companies this time), but Andy’s left the biggest impression on me. High five me at the next Andrew gathering.

I want to talk about Tina’s piece on Jenna Marbles playing ESO. Her reader engagement is so warm and inviting that it makes me miss her Guild Chat column. You can totally tell why people would guild with her and how she could probably get the biggest jerks to open up about why they do jerky things. Side note, bacon jerky is a good holiday gift.

Brandon’s bit on the EVE Triglavian War is good because, at least from a non-player’s perspective, I can understand why the event is significant. Now normally that may be a “duh” statement, but I feel like EVE is often kind of a spectator game where even mass media will give it attention, but they don’t actually understand the game.

Chris does a lot of the news and often takes the choice ones I want but am too slow for, but his piece on his failure as a Star Citizen drug runner is one of those stories that helps me to define MMOs. When read out of context, it often reads like something Chris did in meatspace, only for the game aspects to pop-up later to remind you that Chris isn’t really an astro-drug runner (to my knowledge). For me, that is what an MMO is all about, and you don’t really get those stories from other genres as clear as you do MMOs.

I’m cheating here and doing a favorite stream, for MJ and Larry. Their Hoth adventure in October is actually perfect for this season, and the early discussion about SWTOR being a “free to log in” game is so real it kind of hurts, since it’s a big reminder of why I haven’t done much more than log into the game in ages. About 37 minutes in, though, MJ’s got a tauntaun song and Larry’s reaction is so much how I’ll feel in the moment when I’m privileged to play with MJ before I can go back, watch, and laugh. It’s so them. Please, please go watch that this Christmas season.

I’m resisting Eliot’s awesome WRUP opening and choosing his Elyria Road to Nowhere piece. I’ve said elsewhere that I was an original backer, probably annoyed most of the staff with my enthusiasm, still realized that the community and devs were in hyper-hype-train mode, tried to pen a piece to get everyone to tone it down, and still ended up being more optimistic about the game than it clearly deserved, as I actually thought it would be released. Eliot’s summary is such a concise history of a failure that was obvious from the start, but shows how it went from “This will probably be meh” to “This ain’t launching.” Also, general props to Eliot on the WoW Factor column. I’ve long given up on the game, even as my brother continues to play on classic servers, but I feel Eliot brings a grounded reality to the game that other non-MMO sites just can’t touch. Also, this. Don’t ever leave us, Eliot.

Justin’s top 10 on doing MMO journalism pet peeves. Not even going to pretend it’s not one of my top favs, period. After a certain point, you can literally feel when you’re no longer just a player but part of the press. You start translating PR into Human, you find out devs haven’t played a game in their genre for maybe 10 years or more, you know you could edit this streamer’s “exclusive news release” down from 20 to 2 minutes. Industry pieces aren’t for everyone, but I’ve always been one of those people who wants to know how the sausage is made, and Justin’s list makes that process much easier on the eyes.

I’m sorry to say that some of the best stuff Bree writes isn’t for public consumption. Talking us down, talking us up, reeling us in… y’all are missing a lot behind the scenes! But of her public work, her Sparking Joy in MMOs piece is one that we should all keep in mind, especially for 2021. We’ve been cooped-up indoors for so long, I’ve noticed people are especially cranky in various communities. I feel ya. But at the same time, we can’t be afraid to cut the cord. To leave things behind that just aren’t making us happy. Bree starting off with Marie Kondo’s cleaning mantra and quick visits around the web can hopefully motivate those of us who feel trapped in our game of choice to let go and move on next year. Give it a read, figure out which games gave you the most in 2020, and decide which ones are going to keep you afloat in 2021. When you worry about making the “wrong decision,” give it a reread. Really. It’s a very practical piece and I felt Bree put it out at a good time during the pandemic, yet it’s still relevant at the end of the year.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): For my own work, my favorite piece of the year is actually my video on Star Wars Galaxies’ crafting. I realize it’s not for everyone since it’s an old game and I was using an emulator to show it off, but that’s exactly why I wanted to do it. A lot of people who dip into SWG will never see endgame crafting and might have been curious what it all entailed, so they can see what we’re always raving about when it comes to the best crafting system ever devised for the genre. Plus, making it helped keep me calm at a time during this year when I was a wreck, and maybe getting to see inside my neurotic spreadsheets helped you too. Plus: Robots full of alcohol!

For somebody else’s? I wanna point to Eliot’s piece on MMO raiding and the irritating and untrue stereotype that raiding is just too hard and that’s why people don’t like it. That’s not why. People do the same thing with PvP. The strawmen are irritating, and he deftly batted this one away.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I like writing travelogues and in-character things. Scene setting and word painting is one of my favorite challenges in creative writing, which is why I liked putting together my exploration of No Man’s Sky – it was a personal favorite. Of course, it helped that I had pretty pictures to accompany it.

As for one written by others, I absolutely loved on Justin’s tips on dressing up your superhero. It could have been easy to turn this into a gaffe or provide generally underwhelming thoughts, but this was a fun read that made me nod in agreement as well as appreciation.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Mine: SSG’s failure to communicate. I’ve been beating on the drum of SSG’s lack of communication for years now, but it all came to a head this past summer with Lord of the Rings Online’s massive server mess. As days of this crisis stretched into weeks, SSG refused to talk at length or even at all with fans, and I attempted to take the studio to task for it in this piece. As with all constructive criticism, I tried to be fair, and I think I did an OK job with it.

And as for someone else’s piece, I choose Mia’s Eternal Magic, the Candy Crush of MMOs. One of my favorite columns to read is Mia’s MMO Cartographer because she tackles all sorts of MMOs even if they’re “beneath” the rest of us. I love getting her impressions of games like Eternal Magic because otherwise I wouldn’t have even given such titles a second thought. It’s a whole lot of work, and I laud her for it.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I am 100% going to cheat on this by saying that I love The Daily Grind. Justin asks good questions that engage the readers. I like that. Oh, I have to pick one? Ok. The one about cat people.

And I didn’t do that much writing because of all of everything this year. But if I have to pick something of my own, I’ll throw it all the way back to the beginning of the year with my Villagers and Heroes article. Remember January, before the aforementioned all of everything? Good times.

Tyler Edwards (blog): This may be a bit of a cheat, but I think the things I’m most proud of writing this year are some of my Overthinking answers. Especially my answer on forgiving rough launches, but also my Draenei rant and my changed opinion on cash shop shenanigans.

For something by someone else, I’ll toss a nod to Andy’s well-reasoned arguments on why forced grouping doesn’t actually make people social in games.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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