We gave out 21 formal awards this past year, all in addition to dozens of other recaps, roundups, listicles, predictions, yachties, oddities, polls, provocations, and retrospectives. It comes out to well over 100 special articles every year, all topped off by custom art by our very own Larry – this year’s is Mo adorned with the ubiquitous 2020 surgical mask.
Following our deep-dive into our awards and the attached reader polls, I’ll be recapping all of the end-year articles in one convenient place in case you missed something over the holidays. Enjoy!
MMO of the Year: Final Fantasy XIV (2020), Elder Scrolls Online (2019), Final Fantasy XIV (2018), Elder Scrolls Online (2017), Black Desert (2016), Final Fantasy XIV (2015), Nothing (2014), Final Fantasy XIV (2013), Guild Wars 2 (2012), Star Wars The Old Republic (2011), Global Agenda (2010), Fallen Earth & Dungeons & Dragons (2009)
Community Poll: Final Fantasy XIV (2020), Elder Scrolls Online (2019), Final Fantasy XIV (2018), Elder Scrolls Online (2017) Elder Scrolls Online (2016), Elder Scrolls Online & Trove (2015), Nothing (2014), Star Trek Online (2010), Runes of Magic (2009)
Years ago, we shifted to including existing MMOs for our GOTY award, not just brand-new ones, meaning that older MMOs that keep up a high level of updates are in the running for this award. 2020 changed the calculus, as several MMOs diverted from planned timelines, while still other games had one great moment but spent the rest of the year in the doldrums (with the rest of us). Ultimately, our writers and readers chose Final Fantasy XIV for its quality and consistency in the face of what was a pretty inconsistent year for the genre and the world.
Best Expansion/Update: World of Warcraft’s Shadowlands (2020), Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers (2019), Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset (2018), Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire (2017), World of Warcraft Legion (2016), Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns (2015), Guild Wars 2 April Feature Pack (2014), Guild Wars 2 Super Adventure Box (2013), RIFT Storm Legion (2012), Lord of the Rings Online Rise of Isengard (2011)
Community Poll: World of Warcraft’s Shadowlands (2020), Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers (2019), Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset (2018), Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire (2017), World of Warcraft Legion (2016), Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns (2015), World of Warcraft Warlords of Draenor (2014), World of Warcraft Cataclysm (2010)
I don’t think any other update or expansion had much of a chance in 2020 with Shadowlands breathing down the genre’s neck, and so agreed our writers and our readers, easily awarding this to Blizzard.
Most Anticipated: New World & Crimson Desert (2020), Book of Travels & Torchlight Frontiers (2019), Torchlight Frontiers (2018), Crowfall (2017), Star Citizen (2016), Star Citizen (2015), EverQuest Next/Landmark (2014), EverQuest Next (2013), WildStar (2012), Guild Wars 2 & WildStar (2011), Star Wars The Old Republic (2010), All Points Bulletin (2009)
Community Poll: Ashes of Creation (2020), Pantheon (2019), Pantheon (2018), Crowfall & Shroud of the Avatar (2017), Camelot Unchained (2016), Star Citizen (2015), Camelot Unchained & Shroud of the Avatar (2014), Star Wars The Old Republic & Project Titan (2010), Star Trek Online (2009)
With New World on the verge of release after a major year of redevelopment and Crimson Desert wowing viewers at the game awards early in the month, it’s no surprise these two games, both launching next year, were at the forefront of our writers’ picks. Meanwhile, Ashes of Creation and Pantheon demonstrated why we don’t leave our awards down to community polling, as the communities of both upcoming MMOs jousted in the polls.
Studio of the Year: ZeniMax & Cryptic (2020), Grinding Gear Games (2019), Grinding Gear Games (2018), ZeniMax & Square-Enix (2017), ZeniMax (2016), Square-Enix (2015), SOE (2014), SOE (2013), SOE & ArenaNet (2012), SOE (2010), Turbine & Fallen Earth LLC (2009)
Community Poll: Visionary Realms (2020), Square Enix & Cloud Imperium (2019), Standing Stone Games (2018), ZeniMax & Square-Enix (2017), ZeniMax (2016), City State Entertainment (2015), Cloud Imperium (2015), Blizzard (2010), Frogster (2009)
We gave this award to ZeniMax Online Studios, its third win ever, and Cryptic, which has never managed to win it before, while Pantheon fans tipped the gamer poll toward Visionary Realms.
Most Improved: Black Desert (2020), Black Desert (2019), RuneScape (2018), Guild Wars 2 & Trove (2017), Elder Scrolls Online (2016), WildStar (2015), Final Fantasy XIV (2014), Final Fantasy XIV (2013), RIFT (2012)
Community Poll: World of Warcraft (2020), Final Fantasy XIV and No Man’s Sky (2019), Elder Scrolls Online (2018), Guild Wars 2 (2017), Elder Scrolls Online (2016), Elder Scrolls Online (2015), Final Fantasy XIV (2014)
This award can feel like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not meant that way, and specifically we wanted to honor Black Desert here in 2020 for the creation of its season servers, which dramatically changed the game. Our readers picked World of Warcraft, which we choose to assume is down to Shadowlands’ genuinely good prepatch.
Once again, this was a very split award for our writers, and we probably should’ve gone with No Consensus again, but instead we rewarded a sub game and a hybrid game in WoW and ESO. As for the community poll, clearly we got trolled, and that’s on me for including Star Citizen in the poll in the first place. Among the legitimate answers, the readers were almost evenly split among ESO, WoW, GW2, and FFXIV.
Most Underrated: Star Trek Online (2020), Lord of the Rings Online (2019), Lord of the Rings Online & MapleStory 2 (2018), Black Desert & Secret World Legends (2017), Final Fantasy XIV (2016), Trove (2015), Elite Dangerous (2014), Neverwinter (2013), The Secret World (2012)
Community Poll: Albion Online (2020), Lord of the Rings Online (2019), Lord of the Rings Online (2018), Secret World Legends (2017), Dungeons & Dragons Online (2016), Elder Scrolls Online (2015), Elite Dangerous (2014)
Star Trek Online was a more than deserving pick for Underrated this year, thanks to strong updates and unfailing tie-ins. As for the readers? We appear to have a sudden surge of love for Albion Online. Amazing!
Story of the Year: Daybreak’s sale & COVID’s impact (2020), The Blizzard boycotts (2019), The Daybreak Columbus Nova Saga (2018), The Lockbox Debate (2017), The Death of EverQuest Next (2016), Daybreak’s Drama (2015), ArcheAge’s Drama (2014), EverQuest Next’s Reveal (2013), 38 Studios’ Doom (2012), Monoclegate (2011), Blizzard’s Real ID Fiasco (2010)
Community Poll: COVID’s impact (2020), The Blizzard boycotts & Hong Kong mess (2019), The Daybreak Columbus Nova Saga (2018), The Lockbox Debate (2017), The Death of EverQuest Next (2016), Daybreak’s Drama (2015), ArcheAge’s Drama (2014)
It’s rare that we choose a story that happens late in the year, but the sale of Daybreak for $300M was a shoo-in for biggest MMO story in 2020, especially in conjunction with the unprecedented impact the pandemic had on online gaming. Our reader poll homed in on COVID’s impact specifically.
Star Citizen once again took this award, bringing its total to four, though it tied with ArcheAge thanks to its complete bungling of the bait-and-switch Unchained business model. Our readers agreed on Star Citizen, as well. Let’s be honest, this is one of the easiest awards we give out every year, and it’d be great if SC could make it more of a challenge, but instead it launched another $600 ship in the middle of our voting period.
Best Trend: MMO Console Ports (2020), The Rise of Rogue Servers (2019), Progression Servers (2018), Focus on Communities (2017), Content Scaling (2016) Resurgence of Expansions (2015), Sandbox Gameplay (2014), Sandbox Gameplay (2013); Best Innovation: SOEmote (2012)
Community Poll: The Demise of Raid-or-Die Philosophies (2020), The Rise of Rogue Servers (2019), Progression Servers (2018), Focus on Communities (2017), Content Scaling (2016), Resurgence of Expansions (2015), Sandbox Stuff (2014)
We saw multiple MMOs pushing toward console this year, offering crossplay and platform agnosticism, which made this trend easy to identify, and it’s one that appears to be continuing into 2020 too. The demise of raid-or-die philosophies slightly edged out the other options among our readers, however.
Best Not-So-Massively Game: Genshin Impact & Animal Crossing New Horizons (2020), No Man’s Sky (2019), Warframe (2018), Warframe (2017), Overwatch (2016), ARK Survival Evolved (2015), Hearthstone (2014), Path of Exile (2013), PlanetSide 2 (2012); Best Mobile MMO: Arcane Legends (2012)
The award goes to MOBAs, online dungeon crawlers, ARPGs, online shooters, survival sandboxes, battle royales, and other games that tread into MMO territory but aren’t full MMORPGs – in other words, games we cover that orbit the MMO genre but aren’t full MMORPGs (and therefore aren’t eligible for many of the awards we give). This year, our writers gave the award to the immensely popular Genshin Impact and Animal Crossing New Horizons, though the readers allowed Genshin Impact the edge over No Man’s Sky.
This award is intended to honor a smaller game from a smaller studio that’d never have a real chance at the big awards, so we were thrilled to give it to Albion Online this year, which outperformed expectations during COVID and even went on a hiring spree. We picked Albion before its studio was bought out in December, as well, so we’re clearly not alone in seeing it as a rising star – though indie perhaps no longer. On the reader side, Ashes of Creation took the poll.
Stormiest Future: Camelot Unchained (2020), Daybreak (2019), Chronicles of Elyria (2018), Star Citizen (2017), Star Citizen & WildStar (2016), Blade & Soul (2015), Star Citizen (2014), Elder Scrolls Online (2013)
This is not really a fun award to give; it’s meant as a signal of worry rather than a prediction of doom. Our writers and readers were united in bestowing it on Camelot Unchained and City State Entertainment this year, as CU has been long delayed and now has a sister game angling for developer attention. We’re hoping to see much more from the MMORPG in 2021.
I continue to be mystified that Elder Scrolls Online is even in contention for this award every year given the entirety of the MMORPG housing field, but the votes are what they are. Some of our writers brought EverQuest II to the top this year as well.
Community Poll: Final Fantasy XIV (2020), Final Fantasy XIV (2019), Final Fantasy XIV & Elder Scrolls Online (2018), Final Fantasy XIV (2017), Final Fantasy XIV (2016), Nothing (2010), Runes of Magic (2009)
If sunsetted MMOs and rogue servers were allowed into this vote, the results would be very different indeed, but in the current moment, our writers and readers pegged Final Fantasy XIV as having the best of the big crafting systems.
Biggest Disappointment: Torchlight III & the MMO Downshift (2020), The Cancellation of Peria Chronicles and the Decline of Guild Wars 2 (2019), Industry Employment Scandals (2018), The Sad Death of Marvel Heroes (2017), EverQuest Next & No Man’s Sky (2016), World of Warcraft (2015), WildStar & ArcheAge (2014), DUST 514 (2013), City of Heroes’ Sunset (2012), Star Wars Galaxies’ Sunset (2011), Aion (2009)
Community Poll: The MMO Downshift/Lack of New MMOs (2020), The Decline of Guild Wars 2 (2019), Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal Mess (2018), The Sad Death of Marvel Heroes (2017), EverQuest Next (2016), EverQuest Next’s Silence (2015), WildStar & ArcheAge (2014), Final Fantasy XIV (2010), Aion (2009)
At the top of the year, we saw a pile of planned MMORPGs downshift from being MMOs into being merely multiplayer titles, including Torchlight III and Magic Legends, a deep disappointment for fans of the genre. Our readers likewise voted for that downshift, though the lack of new MMOs in development was a very close second.
Biggest Blunder: SSG’s LOTRO Fiascos (2020), Blizzard’s Bliztchung Fiasco (2019), Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal Bungle (2018), CCP’s VR Pullout & EVE Layoffs (2017), The VR Obsession (2016), Star Citizen Melodrama (2015), Dev Hubris – Multiple Games (2014), Elder Scrolls Online’s & WildStar’s Sub Models (2013)
Community Poll: SSG’s LOTRO Fiascos (2020), Blizzard’s Bliztchung Fiasco (2019), Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal Bungle (2018), The Death of Marvel Heroes (2017), EverQuest Next’s Cancellation (2016), Everything ArcheAge (2015), WildStar’s Endgame & ArcheAge’s Launch (2014)
Standing Stone Games has the 2020 dishonor of “winning” this award from both our writers and readers by a serious landslide, largely because it ran LOTRO off the rails this year. After winning hearts and allies by giving away mountains of content during COVID, SSG (and therefore Daybreak) suffered weeks of outages and technical snafus (and even one rollback), which were compounded by outrageously poor communication from the team. Players might’ve forgotten all that come awards time had it not been for SSG’s decision to falsely label and advertise a small patch as an expansion in order to charge for it. We’d like to see SSG turn things around in 2021.
Community Poll: EVE’s World War Bee 2 (2020), Elder Scrolls Online’s kill-dragons-to-help-cats campaign (2019), Elder Scrolls Online’s Fall Freebies (2018), Lord of the Rings Online (2017), The Elder Scrolls Online (2016)
The writers and readers were in clear agreement on this one too: EVE Online’s community-led conflict known as World War Bee 2 has been one of the highlight events of the year – in a year when we very much needed some “wholesome” entertainment.
Our biggest surprise award was well-earned this year, as outside of wild rumors, very few gamers seems to have seen this one coming. And yet it remains to be seen what kind of impact it will have on Bethsoft and its wide umbrella of games – and MMOs.
Community Poll: Final Fantasy XIV (2020)
Traditionally, the writer of our very own Jukebox Heroes column, Justin, picks multiple musical winners for the year, but this year we gave just one from the team, and it went to Final Fantasy XIV, specifically for the Shadowbringers OST music that was released this year.
Best Character Customization: Black Desert (2020)
Community Poll: Black Desert (2020)
Best character customization/creation was another new award for us this year, and while several MMOs put up a fight, Black Desert came out on top because of its exquisite detail. Think we should run this one again?
And that’s a wrap on our awards for 2020! For those of you who missed other special content over the holidays, we’ve rounded up all our Golden Yachtie blooper awards, our weirdest story series, end-year content from some of our feature columns, our monthly news recaps, our staff roundtables, and our favorite top tens and streams and polls and screenshots right down below. If you’re strapped for time, definitely hit the Schlag meme of the year, biggest stories list, biggest surprises list, healthiest MMOs list, best updates list, the uncertain futures list, our predictions for next year, the big crowdfunding news, all the MMOs we’re watching in 2021, and the best-value MMOs at the start of 2021 (coming next week)!