I might be biased – by which I mean I am definitely biased – but 2022 was a year of big stories and big surprises. And that’s without getting into the way that my life got wildly upended, became very frightening, and generally fell apart in cataclysmic fashion. But just like Andre 3000 foretold, y’all don’t want to listen to me; you just want to dance, if in this case “dance” is more about “reading about major MMO stories that happened this year.”
And let’s be real, there were a lot of big stories that happened this year. I already covered the big surprises this year, and frequently there’s some overlap between the two, but this year a lot of the big stories either weren’t shocking in the same “wait, what just happened” way, or they’re big arc narratives that cover a whole lot of things going on. So let’s take a trip down the biggest stories of the year and remind ourselves of that time many months ago when we figured 2022 would be calmer than 2021.
1. Unions rising
With a year full of mergers, layoffs, and corporate nonsense, it was good to see that the year was also dominated by a whole lot of people unionizing and forming up to stand against it. A lot of the motion here was at Activision-Blizzard, which absolutely deserves the pushback and a unionized workforce to deal with, but BioWare workers and other studios out of our specific sphere formed unions as well. Go forth and unionize!
2. Crowdfunding launches
We’ve had trickles of crowdfunding titles hit launch over the years, but this year saw a bunch of games all make it into the launch field. Dual Universe, Temtem, and Embers Adrift all passed out of the realm of testing and into proper launches, and even Fractured Online made it into early access. Whether or not these games will be delighting for years to come or won’t make it the distance remains to be seen, but unlike some titles at least they did make it to launch. That’s a good thing.
3. Ultima Online turns 25
Is Ultima Online actually the first graphical MMORPG or not? There is some debate to be had, but the important thing is that it’s a flashpoint in the genre being a consistent thing… and it’s 25 years old as of this year. That’s a big milestone, even when the title has stopped being surprising every year and we’re now marking its growth in five-year intervals. By this point it should be wondering when the heck it’s going to get married, assuming it didn’t marry its high school spouse at 22, in which case it should be filing divorce paperwork.
No, that is not autobiographical.
4. Microsoft buys Activision-Blizzard
Activision-Blizzard doing bad things is not really a major story any longer, but it is a major story when Microsoft decides that all those bad things have lowered the stock price to the point where it looks like a reasonable purchase. This is, of course, hardly the first big gaming studio purchase Microsoft teed up, but it’s definitely the biggest one in terms of numbers, and it’s already having a notable effect on both the studios being bought and player perception. Let’s see if this goes through.
5. Crowfall shuts down
Yes, I know. Technically, Crowfall is just resting. And if you believe that, well… I’m sorry. This can’t be comfortable to hear, but the people who own the game do not seem to have a plan for how to rebuild this title and have it relaunch successfully. It is far more likely that it is never coming back after it failed to hit it off at launch. It’s not the ending anyone wanted. Do you want a hug? You can have a hug.
6. Diablo Immortal launches with one hand in your pocketbook
No one realistically expected that Diablo Immortal would launch and be happy funtime frolics with insane generosity, it’s a mobile title from Blizzard and Netease. Comments about whether or not you have phones were always going to be remembered. But we expected jokes about “don’t you guys have phones,” not “don’t you guys have at least a $10,000 limit on a new credit card when you start playing our game.” Seriously, this was extreme even by usual predatory monetization standards.
7. EVE Online makes every wrong decision
Bargegate. Shutting down spinoffs. Having a little superspreader event, as a treat. It felt like the powers that be behind EVE Online were holding focus groups every week trying to figure out the worst possible plan, and more often than not figuring out an even worse plan to go with. Long-running games like EVE feel like institutions, the sort of thing that can’t fall apart, but one of the things about institutions is that everything looks solid right up until it doesn’t.
8. The invasion of Ukraine affects everyone
The gaming industry as a whole had to react when Russia invaded Ukraine in February, with notable reactions coming from both Wargaming and My.Games cutting ties as much as possible with Russian origins. Across the industry there were drives for aid for Ukraine and initiatives aimed at providing financial support to the country while also distancing from potential connections to Russia, something that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon. As always, our best wishes go out to the people in Ukraine.
9. China’s crackdown on games continues
We noted in our most surprising stories that Blizzard lost its connection to China, but frankly gaming in China was having a rough year anyhow. The country’s government has cracked down hard on gaming in a variety of ways, between more restrictive measures aimed at people sharing games not officially approved and greater restrictions on playtime, and the slow approval process for new games and imported titles hasn’t changed. Gigantic company Tencent even laid off 5,000 people in the wake of all this turmoil. This has not been a good year if you live in mainland China but just really like video games.
10. Elite: Dangerous struggles to fly right
It wasn’t so long ago that it was easy to look at Elite: Dangerous as a prime example of what can go right for a crowdfunded title. Now it’s looking like a prime example of how fortunes can change, with Braben stepping down as CEO, a struggle to right the course after last year’s release, and the whole slow-motion console disaster that’s still unfolding. This is not great! I don’t think the game is about to fly directly into the sun or anything, but it definitely doesn’t feel like this was anything remotely approaching a good year for the game or the studio behind it. Whether you love the game or not, that’s bad news.
11. Crypto keeps edging in and not gaining traction
Last year definitely saw movement in the crypto sphere aiming toward the MMO market, but this year was when it seemed like it wanted to be the main character of the market. Unfortunately for crypto supporters, it was more like the main character of Twitter in that it was disliked, widely mocked, failed to get a foothold, and probably would have been better off without all of the attention. Among the more notable non-adventures this year were Little Orbit becoming a crypto villain alongside Richard Garriott, Legends of Aria fumbling around moving the goalposts on its crypto-backed relaunch and redesign, and Axie Infinity literally losing money as its economy crashed like Sonny Bono on a slalom course.
Look, I’m turning 40, I’m allowed to make a pop culture reference that’s more than two decades old once. As a treat.