End-of-Year Eleven: The MMOs with the most uncertain futures in 2021


All right, let’s do this one more time. Yes, it’s that time when we look ahead to the next year and ask which games look like they’re going to be facing some interesting contrasting pressures from a lot of sources, a tradition that I started several years back almost entirely unintentionally and now keep up because it turns out to have actually become really popular for some reason. People love speculating about doom, I guess.

Of course, what we’re talking about here is not doom, as I also clarify every single year. The whole point of the paragraph before was pointing out that these games will face interesting pressures, and I’ll say right now that most of the games on this list will probably make it to the end of 2021 in one piece. However, they’re all going to face some interesting potential outcomes, and a lot will depend on how this year goes from start to finish. So let’s talk about some uncertain futures, huh?


1. Guild Wars 2

There’s a lot of weight on Cantha. Really, you could argue there was always going to be a lot of weight on Cantha, but this time it’s coming after a year off from expansions that didn’t really work and an unsettlingly long holding pattern for the game. Combine that with ambiguity about who is actually in charge of the game right now and various ArenaNet layoffs over the course of the last few years, and I think a lot of fans of Guild Wars 2 are feeling a weird sort of pinch. I don’t think there’s any risk of the game going anywhere, but flubbing things this year could be a really bad sign… especially as the game has been facing storms before.

2. Camelot Unchained

Ugh, I hate putting this one here. Some of this is just a difference of perspective, of course; whereas some of the game’s backers might see something untoward having been done with the whole Ragnarok thing, I don’t. It’s entirely the right choice to make for the survival of the studio. Unfortunately, as mentioned (many times) before, it sure didn’t do the MMORPG any favors in the arena of public opinion… and that matters a lot with crowfunding, unfortunately. I hope this year sees good news for the game, but…

The shine is off.

3. Astellia Online

This is still a thing! And it might not be for much longer. The whole Astellia Royal thing in and of itself raises questions about what is going on with the different versions of the game or whether or not this is even a game that can support one version let alone, and you’re left with a perfect storm of concern in the future. To the extent that you could call any of it a storm, yes, go ahead and get that joke out of your system.


4. Phantasy Star Online 2

The whole “New Genesis” thing manages to throw this game into questionable status after it had managed to weather a launch that made me so angry I’m still angry about it right now, typing about the game. The rest of the world has moved on from the trainwreck launch (especially since, you know, it’s on Steam now and that’s much better), but it’s an open question how much additional life this big infusion of novelty will get the game and whether it’s going to be worth it, beloved, or loathed. We’ll find out, though.


5. Magic: Legends

I can’t help but feel as if Magic: Legends is linked to Torchlight III, which went through a similar MMORPG-endectomy and wound up being the one that launched first. And… well, it had some problems, and I can’t help but wonder if some of the slower roll of┬áthis game was in part an effort to address the complaints before this title launches rather than after. It’s more likely that more of it has to do with the pandemic, sure, but it’s at least how I like to see things.

Party down.

6. Star Wars: The Old Republic

The thing about this game is pretty simple, on the face of it: It was a big, expensive game that managed to justify its price tag with initial success, but it has increasingly seemed as if it’s flailing over the years and like updates come slower and slower (and servers get more and more awkward) as the price of continuing to push out new content isn’t changing but the playerbase falls off. This year is no different. And, like all of the above, I’d like to be wrong here and see the game have an absolute banner year.

Sure, why not.

7. World of Warcraft

So Shadowlands managed to impress! But at least to my evaluation, it’s less of a case where the expansion was great and more where “basically fine” was more than enough to clear the exceedingly low bar people had for the game at this point. But there are two problems with that. First, clearing a low bar adequately doesn’t delight people very long, which means that the expansion is going to need some follow-up especially addressing main criticisms… and that leads right to the other problem wherein “addressing criticism” has consistently been something Blizzard is bad at. It’s an open question if this year will be a good one or if the veneer cracks early. (Maybe Classic Burning Crusade will be the stimulant the game needs in 2021?)

Ah, no.

8. Lord of the Rings Online

The good news for Lord of the Rings Online is that it’s still a long way away from having any serious competition in the arena of being an online game based on Tolkien. The bad news is that the game managed to erode all of the goodwill it had earned and then just earn some outright negative press… and it doesn’t seem entirely clear at this point that the developers are aware of just how much ill will was engendered by the whole content patch masquerading as an expansion charging people real money. Sheer chutzpah aside, that’s not a good place to be in moving into 2021 with a game that’s already long in the tooth.

It's a whole new... yeah.

9. New World

Oh, no pressure here, guys! You just need to deliver a full-featured MMORPG with multiple different styles of content for different players after originally being billed as a much smaller PvP gankbox while also managing to justify the continual hemorrhage of money and projects from Amazon’s game division by being the first of these projects to launch and not flop horribly! That’s not a whole lot of strain to put on any single project, much less this one! Seriously, I’m just happy that there’s been positive word of mouth here so that it seems merely like a steep hill to climb instead of absolute, unalloyed nonsense that will lead to inevitable doom.


10. Atlas Rogues

It’s the remake no one asked but people were rather happy to see… until it ran into some issues when actually going live. This always felt like a weird project, and like basically everything else on this list I’d like to see it do well and really justify its existence to the people who greenlit it. But it seems like an odd investment, and it’s hard not to feel some anxiety about whether or not it will be able to keep moving onward and upward.


11. Squadron 42

Haha, just kidding, this is never happening.

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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Kickstarter Donor
1 year ago

Secret World Legends

1 year ago

Phantasy Star Online 2? I think you might have a point on the “New Genesis” client, as it’s not even out yet so who knows how it will be accepted; however I’ve not heard any buzz in the mainline client towards it, so my gut feeling is the community is reticent at best. But mainline PSO2 I think is relatively secure. Yes, it’s run out of Japanese content to patch into the West, and it’s very, very one note in it’s gameplay, however you’re missing the most important thing…

Japanese Maid outfits and stockings and suspenders options

The game is incredibly appealing to horny Weeaboos who are treating it as a dolls house to dress their characters up in. Combine that with tying all of the trading options to get the outfits to the premium currency purchases, and I think it’ll survive a long time, as you should never underestimate the lonely/horny dollar. Whether it should survive on that model is a different question… but cynically, it will.

Lord of the Rings Online? I think it’s a classic example of the even more cynical development model for MMOs these days. It’s not there to thrive, it’s not there to impress, it’s there to simply be active on a minimal expenditure backed by a hardcore community that can’t move on, and then be there to catch and get a bit of expenditure from those cycling through the old school MMO itch when it takes them. WoW’s Classic Client I think is preparing for that part of the living-death wind down cycle, but there’s plenty of others that are trapped in it; so many, do I really need to name all of those clearly on life support and yet they still hobble onwards?

Squadron 42: As above, games don’t die any more, they just fall below the media’s threshold of caring, and Star Citizen isn’t near the event horizon yet… there’s millions more to be exploited out of people who can’t accept it’s Sunk Cost ahead. However the increasingly blatant contempt shown for SQ42 makes me think behind the scenes the project has gone completely off the rails. Don’t ever expect them to publicly tell you that however, that would mean treating your audience as actual people, rather than wallets to squeeze; Instead I think we’re likely to see another Forbes-esque investigational article, but whether it turns out to be the one that finally pops the confidence bubble or not, and brings out the flood of critical commentary I don’t know. Sadly, I doubt it. Because…

Shroud of the AvatarThe developing company has been dissolved, and the assets sold off to the last surviving developer. The player base on Steam is around 50-100 only. The twitch streams are dead, and the only posts on the sub-reddits for the last year have been from a single RMT, or weirdly, a lot of personal hate, doxxing and harassment that it’s hard to make any sense out of. And yet… even this crawls onwards still. Because if you don’t admit the project has failed, it hasn’t right?

Elite Dangerous: Odyssey This is the only one I think will actually have an uncertain future we’ll be able to measure and talk about. The disconnect between Elite Feet and what looks to be only really an FPS, and the Space based MMO players and what they hope it’ll be is going to be interesting to see play out… my own feeling is massive uptake, then huge drop off in engagement. You won’t be able to measure it in player numbers, because those staying in their ships will still count it as playing Odyssey. But I expect to see huge uproar and disillusionment on the forums, and then ground play quickly abandoned for more Space content to keep their audience.

1 year ago

It’s hard to dispute the list really. It’s hard to predict. The 2 games I can speak about absolutely are CU and LOTRO and I think you nailed both pretty well. I would have been a little less generous with CU, I think CU and the new game announcement was a complete debacle. It wasnt just that after years we found out CSE was going to do another game but the way it was communicated and the ancillary things that happened around that. The reddit situation, the forums here, the official forums the anger in which the head guy seemed to present rebuttals to people who were absolutely blindsided. I know in the gaming communities I am in no one is going near CU, its to bad but I think any goodwill it had going in is completely gone with any casual observer.

Lotro you hit the nail on the head. I wont be renewing my sub until I know clearly what the next year is going to bring and what pricing model they are going to employ. Im not sure why they gave away all the low level content for free forever, that was the core value (for me anyway) of the VIP, I could go to any server and just do the content. Sure I got the moors but thats been crap for years anyway. I really dont understand SSG at all really. Minas Morgul was excellent IMHO, they can make good content but if you want to maintain an older, loyal core customer base the communication is going to have to be ten times better or presented differently.

Patreon Donor
1 year ago

The hilarious part about #11 is they have enough rabid backers to ride a wave of profitable funding for the next decade. There’s just enough that they add each quarterly patch to keep the orca bois opening their wallets hungrily.

I think ArenaNet is in the most precarious position like you do, Eliot. A smaller team has to remake Cantha and meet the expectations of almost a decade of wanting more Cantha? I hope they pull off the miracle.

1 year ago

it’s just 200 million, that mean nothing to MMO and you know that. Look at what happened to CP2077 when it was rushed and now CDPR is facing lawsuit from almost every investor they have.

Roger Melly(@roger_melly)
1 year ago

I don’t think either Guild Wars 2 or WoW have uncertain futures given GW2 is getting another expansion and lets face it WoW is still a very successful game ( not one that I like thought ) .

Lotro lost a lot of goodwill but I gather its player base is at about 108 thousand at the moment so still reasonably healthy for such an old mmo.

Its a shame about Camelot Unchained its a game I have been interested in but I am no longer sure its going in the right direction ( for me at least ) .

Not sure about the others on the list . I played Star Wars TOR a couple of years back but I absolutely hated having a crew member ( pet ) with me all the time . It seemed reasonably busy but its hard to tell from just one server what the over all picture is.

I can’t see Squadron 42 releasing before SC because if its released and fails badly I suspect it will raise questions about Star Citizen with will in turn effect funding for that . CIG wont release anything officially until the money starts to run out SC will just remain in constant beta testing for years to come and then release in whatever form it is in shortly before they go bankrupt . They will ride the gravy train for as long as they can , which I gather is for at least another 5 years. So I can reasonably predict that neither game will release until at least 2025-2026 and when they do they will both be buggy messes .

The others I haven’t really followed .

Dan S(@dan_s)
1 year ago

Didnt lotro have that investors report that indicated long term growth and a potential console release?

Lynx Raide(@lynx_raide)
1 year ago

I can see GW2 sticking around. The layoffs were in relation to whatever the other product ArenaNet were working on rather than GW2, so the focus back on the main game might secure its future

Adam Russell(@adam_russell)
1 year ago

New World was never going to succeed as a gankbox.

1 year ago

Kinda relieved to see you didn’t include ESO, because I just got the latest expansion on sale and I can’t even play it right now.

Scorp Gang(@scorp_gang)
1 year ago
Reply to  Zero_1_Zerum

ESO will be fine for a long time.

1 year ago

My personal pick:
* New World – as stated, it’s a very niche title and not sure if Amazon will be ok with that.
* Camelot Unchained, Pantheon, Crowfall – all three look really pushing the development time quite far, crowfunding is 5+ years old, and fanbase is lacking the final game.
* Star Citizen has so much money that can go on another 5y without releasing officially. And it will.
* COH Homecoming: sorry to say, but NCsoft might not be interested, and it will then be only up to the community keeping it alive in a grey area which might not be convenient for many. Until people interest wear off (oh well, they had the rogue server up for 7 years so maybe they won’t)
* Bless PC – will open and close in the space of the year.

Vanquesse V(@vanquesse_v)
1 year ago
Reply to  MolleaFauss

Homecoming seem to get their monthly funds in an hour or two every single month, so unless NC goes nuclear on them I think they’ll be around for a very long time.
If Bless unleashed was bad enough to crash and burn in a single year we would be able to tell from console performance, where It’s been out since feb and is seemingly doing fine as a Single-A mmo from what I can tell. Nothing exceptional, but working as intended without any glaring flaws.
If that run has been successful enough to warrant porting it to pc I struggle to see why the pc version in particular would implode.

1 year ago
Reply to  Vanquesse V

Homecoming is not a question of money, it’s a question of engagement and will. Many of them are volunteers and from experience, some open source project do wither away after a while.
On the flipside, the core peoplemanaging the servers do look like they have been engaged with the game for quite some time so …

Vanquesse V(@vanquesse_v)
1 year ago
Reply to  MolleaFauss

That’s a very good point. I consider the fact that acquiring funds is still this smooth for them a good pointer of the overall dedication of the community.