We gave out 21 formal awards over the span of December 2021, in addition to our annual recaps, roundups, listicles, predictions, golden yachties, oddities, community discussions, and retrospectives. Per tradition, we delivered over 100 special articles headed up by Larry’s Mo art. Mo’s a bit pensive and bewildered by 2021, and so were we!
Following our deep-dive into our awards, we’ll be collecting all of the end-year articles too. Enjoy!
MMO of the Year: Final Fantasy XIV & New World (2021), 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 (2021), 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 decided to include both new and old MMOs in our GOTY award so as not to discount existing live-service MMOs. This year, our writers were just about evenly split on the award, with about half wanting to crown a new king in the form of New World and half hoping to keep it on Final Fantasy XIV, which had already won four of the prior eight years. The fact that New World had struggled with its launch and that Final Fantasy XIV had to delay and then halt sales over Endwalker further complicated our deliberations. In the end, we decided to allow the duo to tie, meaning that pretty much nobody was entirely happy. Our readers sided with Final Fantasy XIV by itself.
Best Expansion/Update: Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker (2021), 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: Final Fantasy XIV’s Endwalker (2021), 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)
There was little hope for any expansion but Endwalker to run away with this award, and indeed, among our writers it was close to unanimous. Our readers clearly agreed.
Most Anticipated: Palia & Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons (2021), 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: Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons (2021), 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)
Palia’s announcement in 2021 clearly captured the hearts of many of our writers hoping for a new kind of sandbox, while Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons is already setting itself up for a massive 2022. The reader vote was much more split (it wasn’t brigaded), with the most votes going to Guild Wars 2, followed by Ashes of Creation.
Studio of the Year: ArenaNet (2021), 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: ArenaNet (2021), 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 saw a bit of complaining about this, as many people thought that Square-Enix being willing to halt sales of Endwalker in the face of its serious server congestion and queues merited this award. However, that was two weeks away from happening when we actually assembled our nominations and votes, and ArenaNet edged it out for its communication and its genuinely groundbreaking expansion betas across the bulk of 2021. Square-Enix is a very much beloved studio around here, so we’re sure it will win again (and of course FFXIV won several awards too).
Most Improved: Elder Scrolls Online (2021), 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: Elder Scrolls Online (2021), 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)
Had Star Wars The Old Republic not delayed its expansion, it would’ve easily taken this award, but that was not to be, and Elder Scrolls Online won our writers’ hearts the second time ’round, largely for the addition of companions with Blackwood this year. Our readers agreed, though just barely.
While this award is traditionally one of the most contentious for the writers, even resulting in a “no consensus” vote a few times, this year Guild Wars 2 won it easily, and I didn’t even have to campaign for it. Guild Wars 2 is ahead in the reader polls as well. “There is simply no MMO out there that gives away so much for so little,” I opined.
Most Underrated: Elyon (2021), 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: SWTOR (2021), 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)
“Underrated” is always a hard choice since the game has to be both under-appreciated and still worth appreciating. Ultimately, our staff chose Elyon, which may not be the blockbuster we once hoped for but is surely worth more than the 1500 players it has as I type this. Our readers nominated Star Wars The Old Republic by a hair, which is another worthy choice.
Story of the Year: Blizzard’s Sexism Scandal (2021), 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: Blizzard’s Sexism Scandal (2021), 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 hard to argue that Activision-Blizzard’s massive sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit and scandal wasn’t the gaming story of the year, as well as the MMO story of the year and possibly even the gaming story of the decade. Our readers agreed: No king rules forever.
It bears noting here that this award is given from the perspective of MMO players and customers, not from the perspective of executives or investors making bank, as one reader insisted it should be. “Business model” refers to how customers are asked to pay for an MMO from all its angles. This is year marks the fifth in a row that Star Citizen is winning this “award” from our staff, though it will share it this year with much more overt NFT and crypto-related scams; the fact that Star Citizen was offering a $40,000 pack this past season didn’t help its cause, and no amount of abuse from Star Citizen zealots (yes, we saw what you did) is going to change hearts or minds. Star Citizen took the reader vote as well, for the fifth year also, though crypto wasn’t far behind.
Best Trend: Games industry organizing (2021), 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: Games industry organizing (2021), 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’re still a long way from a mass-unionization effort in the gaming industry, but the antics of corporations this year brought unions to the front of the conversation. Indeed, as I type this, there are workers striking still at Activision-Blizzard. This is a trend the industry needs, and our readers agreed. Incidentally, we also ran a “worst trend of 2021” Daily Grind; crypto and NFT nonsense was most folks’ write-in nomination.
Best Not-So-Massively Game: Valheim (2021), 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)
Community Poll: Valheim (2021), Genshin Impact (2020), No Man’s Sky and Path of Exile (2019), Warframe & Path of Exile (2018), Warframe (2017), Overwatch (2016), ARK Survival Evolved (2015), Hearthstone (2014)
Valheim was the clear favorite for our writers and readers in 2021, at least insofar as online multiplayer titles that aren’t expressly MMORPGs. The Viking survivalbox blew up in 2021, proving that the subgenre isn’t dead yet.
This award is intended to honor a smaller game that’d never have a real chance at larger awards, and in all honestly, Crowfall was on track to win this until December kicked up uncertainty about the game’s future. Instead, we opted to pin the button on Ship of Heroes, a fan-favorite superhero MMO in production. Project Gorgon just inched ahead of Albion Online for the reader pick, and since both games have won this award from us in the past, we’re not sad about it, though it might be hard to argue that Albion Online, worth $122M as of last year, is an indie!
Stormiest Future: Blizzard & World of Warcraft (2021), 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)
Community Poll: Blizzard & World of Warcraft (2021), Camelot Unchained (2020), Daybreak (2019), Star Citizen & Fallout 76 (2018), Star Citizen (2017), Star Citizen (2016), Star Citizen (2015), Star Citizen & ArcheAge (2014)
I think it’s fair to say that Blizzard is the biggest company or game to ever win our Stormiest Future award. As always, we note that we’re not hoping for a stormy future but merely predicting one along the current trajectory, and we combined Blizzard (for its scandal) and World of Warcraft (for its poor cadence/content performance) together since one influences the other. Our reader poll agreed with our writers.
I noted last year that our winner in this category is generally mystifying over the last few years, given the depth of the MMO roster for housing, but Elder Scrolls Online has somehow won it again. As I type this, it’s also tied with Final Fantasy XIV in the reader poll. I have been tempted several times to cut this award, but I also want to make sure that housing is given its proper prominence in our genre, so for now, it stays.
Biggest Disappointment: Way Too Many Underperforming MMOs (2021), 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: Blizzard/WoW and New World’s Launch (2021), 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)
So many MMORPGs struggled this year that we wound up granting this one to a combination of games that underperformed, from New World and Crowfall to Elyon and PSO2 New Genesis. Our readers, on the other hand, were roughly tied between Blizzard’s and WoW’s catastrophes and the messy launch of New World.
Biggest Blunder: Blizzard & WoW’s Clownshow (2021), 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: Blizzard & WoW’s Clownshow (2021), 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)
I think it bears repeating the full explanation for why Blizzard won this award from our staff and our readership.
Blizzard is going to walk away with this “award” rather handily, but I want to stress specifically what the “blunder” really was. Activision-Blizzard’s leaders betrayed their workers, customers, and the public. They misled their own investors and dissembled during financial calls. They covered up abuses including the death of an employee caused by those abuses. They stand accused of destroying evidence and lying about corporate memos. They tried to pacify the public by axing middle-managers who bore the least responsibility. They intimidated workplace organizers and tried to bust the emerging union. They lobbed cash at government agencies and charities instead of paying workers and fully compensating victims. They played games with the justice system and denigrated counsel attempting to hold them accountable. They laid off more workers while boosting their own compensation. They have refused to take real responsibility at every single step, to the doom of their plunging stock value and their dwindling reputations. They have embarrassed themselves in front of the entire industry and destroyed the legacy of a legendary studio. And these unforced errors have led to a botched pipeline and critical delays for the games themselves, whose underpaid developers have been forced to watch their “mentors leaving in droves.” This is not just a story that happened to the genre, and it’s not just a single blunder. This is an ongoing series of disastrous decisions that will leave a lasting impact on the industry and the MMORPG genre, one way or another.
Who doesn’t love a happy surprise? The sudden resurrection of Fallen Earth as Fallen Earth Classic, long after most MMO players had assumed the game was never really coming back, took everyone by surprise.
After a few years in hibernation, we brought back our Best PvP MMO award to hang it ’round the neck of Albion Online, which has blown up in the last few years and proven that old-school PvP sandboxes aren’t an impossible dream.
Best Classic MMO: Lord of the Rings Online (2021)
Community Poll: Lord of the Rings Online (2021)
Best Classic MMO is a new award for us in 2021, upjumped from its old position as a community question. Of course, sorting out which MMOs count as “classic” is half the fun. Lord of the Rings Online won this award handily from both writers and readers, in spite of its messy last few years.
Best MMO Rogue Server: City of Heroes Homecoming (2021)
Community Poll: City of Heroes Homecoming (2021)
Likewise, Best Rogue Server – which is to say, player-run server or emulator that doesn’t attempt to compete with a live game but also isn’t formally sanctioned – is another new award for us as of 2021. My heart still thinks SWG Legends deserved it in 2021, owing to its colossal launch of the planet Bespin, but City of Heroes Homecoming is far too popular among our readers and writers, and for good reason, so nothing else even stood a chance.
Best New MMO Class: Black Desert’s Corsair (2021)
Community Poll: Final Fantasy XIV’s Reaper/Sage (2021)
We decided to trial Best New Class as a new award in 2021 as well, and we could not have chosen a better year to do it, since so many MMOs added new classes for us to play with. Black Desert won easily, however, thanks to both its Corsair and its Sage classes added this year. Our readers played it more partisan; they chose Final Fantasy XIV’s Reaper and Sage.
Lifetime Achievement Award: EVE Online (2021)
Finally, we added an extra award in 2021 at the suggestion of MOP’s Ben: a lifetime achievement award, granted to an MMO that’s made great contributions to the genre but hasn’t necessarily been recognized in the specific year. We chose to grant the inaugural award to EVE Online. “Its stories of intrigue and drama are legendary, its contributions to citizen science are unmatched, [and] it’s still getting significant updates in spite of being older than, well, some of its own players,” we opined.
We do have a few awards we’ve given out in the past but didn’t this year; we might bring them back in the future, so here they are for posterity:
And here are all of Larry’s graphics for posterity too!
Whew! We made it! You made it to the end of this! That’s a wrap on our awards for 2021; for those of you who missed other special content over the holidays, we’ve rounded up all our Golden Yachtie awards, our weirdest story series, our end-year feature columns, our monthly news recaps, our staff roundtables, and our favorite top tens and streams and screenshots right down below. Make sure you check out at least the 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 2022, and the best-value MMOs!