Massively OP’s 2021 Awards: MMO Studio of the Year


Welcome back to Massively Overpowered’s formal end-of-the-year awards!

Today’s award is for the MMO Studio of 2021, which was awarded to ZeniMax and Cryptic last year. We asked our writers to consider all MMO studios as well as other online games studios we cover 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 2021 is…


Andrew Ross: Square Enix.

Andy McAdams: ArenaNet. It’s been great to see ArenaNet really make a turn around this year. From comms getting better to generally just keeping the light on and moving forward, and the EOD expansion which looks really awesome, ANet is just doing a lot right.

Ben Griggs: ZeniMax Online. In a year when long hours, allegations of impropriety and mistreatment, and bad culture dominated headlines for game studios, sometimes not making news is the best thing you can do. Hats off to ZeniMax for not only continuing to pump out a dizzying amount of content for its AAA MMO but for doing so with a seemingly good corporate culture and with both players and employees in mind.

Brianna Royce: I’m actually surprised to be voting for ArenaNet this year because the 2018-2020 period was not a good one for the company. It had scandals and layoffs, not to mention obfuscated its leadership and seriously trainwrecked its communication. However, this year, especially after the dismal ending of Icebrood, has been markedly different. Communication returned in force with dev blogs and roadmaps and betas, and the studio is actually delivering an expansion that people really want and had been begging for. I’m extremely glad to see it all turn around and happy to put my money where my mouth is; I preordered End of Dragons on day one myself. This award is well-earned, and the best part is, I’d have been equally pleased to see Square-Enix, ZeniMax, or several smaller companies win it because we really do have a lot of genuinely decent studios in the land of MMOs.

Carlo Lacsina: I’m going to have to make the controversial pick here. While Riot is deep in its own legal struggles with sexual harassment, it’s not in the same position as Activision-Blizzard. (Think Riot being in the frying pan while Blizzard is full on burning in hellfire.) The studio is actually releasing games and helping its flagship franchise grow. At this point, I’m considering it an MMO studio because they’re making an MMORPG. And unlike Amazon, which is still relatively new to online games, Riot has been around the block a few times and probably already developing the technology to fully realize their Runeterra MMO. All their music is super good too! Riot please, don’t squander this chance.

Chris Neal: ArenaNet, Square-Enix. How do you make an impact? By not being a noisy and awful cesspool, apparently. Also, you make an exciting new expansion announcement and you do things in response to player feedback, thus making them feel valued.

Colin Henry: Just because I’m the Guild Wars 2 columnist doesn’t mean I’m an ANet fanboy. ArenaNet has its issues. But this year it has done a great job communicating with the players, giving us more of a heads up about upcoming content and even penning some incredibly detailed and technical tomes about things like downtime and graphics updates. Even better, I think that the changes we saw in the fourth elite spec show that it is doing a great job of paying attention to player feedback as well. I don’t know if it’s because of new leadership or what, but it feels like ArenaNet is really getting its act together after a period of flailing.

Eliot Lefebvre: Square-Enix. A lot of studios this year mostly needed to just not be a trash fire in the wake of at least one major studio being a trash fire, so I don’t mean to shortchange Pearl Abyss, Zenimax, or ArenaNet for generally keeping their heads down and doing good work. But this year Square-Enix showed a lot of humility and generated a lot of goodwill toward the team behind Final Fantasy XIV, and that ain’t nothing.

Justin Olivetti: ZeniMax for keeping its nose to the grindstone and cranking out a very full year’s worth of new content, promotions, and events. I very much appreciate that this is one of those MMO studios that is diligent in doing regular dev diaries and keeping that communication level high.

Sam Kash: ArenaNet.

Tina Lauro Pollock: ArenaNet.

Tyler Edwards: ArenaNet and ZeniMax. No offense to ArenaNet, which seems to be doing fine, but I always feel like this is a category where the winner doesn’t win so much as the other options lose. It generally comes down to who’s avoided a major controversy the longest, and right now it feels like ANet’s doing a solid job of staying out of the spotlight in the good way. I think ZeniMax would also be a solid choice.

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

Reader poll: What was the best MMO studio of 2021?

  • ArenaNet (48%, 1,264 Votes)
  • Square-Enix (34%, 887 Votes)
  • ZeniMax (5%, 137 Votes)
  • Riot (1%, 31 Votes)
  • Amazon (1%, 33 Votes)
  • Pearl Abyss (1%, 24 Votes)
  • Kakao (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Blizzard (1%, 26 Votes)
  • PWE-Cryptic (0%, 6 Votes)
  • Daybreak (0%, 12 Votes)
  • Standing Stone Games (1%, 36 Votes)
  • CCP Games (0%, 10 Votes)
  • BioWare (1%, 23 Votes)
  • Visionary Realms (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Jagex (1%, 19 Votes)
  • Intrepid (1%, 14 Votes)
  • Gameforge (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Neowiz-Round8 (0%, 1 Votes)
  • ArtCraft (0%, 3 Votes)
  • Frontier (0%, 1 Votes)
  • Sega (0%, 5 Votes)
  • Nexon (0%, 4 Votes)
  • Gamigo (0%, 5 Votes)
  • Digital Extremes (1%, 26 Votes)
  • Grinding Gear Games (1%, 19 Votes)
  • Funcom (0%, 8 Votes)
  • None (1%, 28 Votes)
  • Something else (tell us in the comments!) (1%, 14 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,384

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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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