End-of-Year Eleven: The biggest MMO stories of 2023

I don't like you.

Some years, it’s hard to really cut a distinction between the biggest stories of a year and the biggest surprises. There can be a lot of overlap. There’s always going to be some overlap, to boot. But sometimes there isn’t as much overlap. Sometimes a lot of the stories that had the biggest impacts aren’t necessarily the ones you didn’t expect; they’re things you saw coming a mile away but had a big impact.

This year was a mix of both for the MMORPG and MMO genre. Sure, there were some moments that left me blinking with confusion as a totally unexpected event occurred; there were others where you knew it was happening but you were no happier about it while it was happening. And sometimes it turned into kind of a good thing after all. So let’s take a look at the biggest MMO stories of this past year and ask ourselves the burning question: Why did anyone think The Day Before was going to be a thing? (And maybe other questions, sure.)

well then

1. Microsoft buys out Activision-Blizzard

The part that continually gets me about this particular story is the number of people who treated it as a good thing. The reality is that this is yet another step of industry consolidation that does nothing to improve the industry but makes it materially worse, not because of any specific game that does or doesn’t show up on a platform but just because more consolidation means less competition, end of story. It’s not a net gain for Blizzard. It’s not a net gain for anyone other than the Activision-Blizzard C-suite that brought the company so low in the first place that it needed selling, and Bobby Kotick is going to get a diamond-studded gold parachute with no consequences.

I guess it’s a good thing if you wanted me to write a version of When The Tigers Broke Free angrily in the comments, though. That happened.

Good job!

2. Unity sets itself on fire

Yes, this one was also a surprise, and it’s also a bad thing. It’s been wonderful seeing the increased spread of alternative choices in the industry, and Unity then went and blew up all its goodwill in a profoundly stupid scheme that seems self-evidently designed to not work. Whee.

Seriously, though, whatever.

3. Blizzard loses China

We knew this was happening last year, but I feel like it’s even more important that we all acknowledged at the time because… like, remember Blitzchung? That all happened because Blizzard was willing to throw anyone under the bus in order to make inroads with China, and now as of 2023, it’s lost the country entirely, with almost all of its games now offline in the region and no successor publisher named. Just absolutely A+ work here, folks. Gosh Blizzard self-owning has showed up a lot in 2023, huh?

Oh good.

4. E3 is dead

I would not exactly say that E3 being replaced by things like PAX and The Game Awards is a straightforward positive thing, but it’s not like E3 was really a positive bulwark against these events. Indeed, having partnered with ReedPop for this year’s canceled convention implies it wanted to become more like those events. Insert your own Obama “then perish” meme down in the comments.

I hate everything about you.

5. Ghostcrawler leaves Riot Games

It has been swirling around in various places, but I think MOP’s Bree put it best when she argued that the only reason the unnamed Riot MMO project had any credibility or place in the MMO news ecosystem was the fact that it was led by former WoW dev Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street. And now he’s moved on to his own studio and project as the Riot MMO supposedly still continues. It’s hard to can something that wasn’t even named, but it seems plausible to me, and I do not feel very bad about this fact. On some level this could be argued as a surprise, but the fact that the project didn’t have any sort of name beyond a combination of other names at least to me made this kind of implied. Still noteworthy, though.


6. Amazon flips content cadence and monetization for New World

Seriously, I’m not going to front, I kind of expected Amazon to give up on New World by now. Instead, it’s been working hard to rehabilitate its image and keep it going, even releasing an expansion this year, along with rolling out its seasonal cadence and finally setting up a presumably sustainable monetization system. My predictions had been based on how badly the company’s prior games had been treated, but now? Yeah, this is a good sign. It’s not a full rehabilitation, but with Blue Protocol on the way (and technically Throne & Liberty I guess), Amazon seems to be going all-in on being an MMO house.

This is materially helped by no longer having John Smedley at the company. That might seem counterintuitive, but hey.

poke poke

7. A whole mess of delays

It feels like basically every single major title that was supposed to release this year wound up delayed until 2024, some of them on the seventh or eighth delay and some of them fresh this year. This includes my own anticipated title of the year, Blue Protocol, which I am kind of forcing myself not to look into too closely now because I don’t really want to be disappointed when it arrives locally next year. I’ve had enough disappointment, it can be spread out through 2024 at least a little. Please.


8. Swords of Legends Online and The Repopulation both sunset

Neither of these games broadcast a picture of untrammeled health and success before this year, with one of them having been swiped from the original developers in a series of underhanded legal moves and the other having launched to a resounding thud despite its pedigree. It’s not exactly a surprise either of them didn’t make it through to the end. But it’s still a big deal that neither of them made it, since both of these were big deals in their own rights.

The scholar sees when you do not index things, and he is not impressed.

9. The Final Fantasy XIV community’s bad apples shame themselves

This has been a bad year for Final Fantasy XIV fans opting to self-own in various capacities. First we saw the newest Ultimate won through cheating, which prompted a whole lot of people to claim that it’s not cheating to [insert thing that is definitionally cheating] and ignoring that, like… everyone who cheats has a reason. But then someone attended the Las Vegas Fan Festival with COVID and posted a whole comic about “if you think about it I’m the real victim here,” which is just… there’s self-owns and then there’s that. For a game lauded for its community, this year was an exercise in the community hurting itself in its confusion.

Now is the winter of our WHAT ARE YOU DOING.

10. CCP tries for blockchain and FPS spinoffs – again

It’s like the tide going out when CCP once again tries to make an EVE Online first-person shooter spinoff. I have legitimately lost count of how many times this has happened, especially if you count EVE Valkyrie in this bucket (and I definitely do). What was novel, at least, was that this year the company also promised it was going into the blockchain space again (remember when it swore that NFT meant Not For Tranquility? Well, Definitely For EVE 2). This would be a case wherein “novel” is not the same as “good” or “promising,” though.

Oh, good job.

11. RuneScape is shamed out of its attempt at a battle pass

I am avowedly not very fond of RuneScape on a variety of levels, from a basic gameplay one to just having to deal with Jagex. But the backlash to the game’s attempt at instituting a battle pass is interesting because it’s not exactly common for a game which has such a robust dedication to its monetization to find itself on the back foot. Players really did not accept this at all, and the result was Jagex backing down with egg on its face.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten usually takes an MMO topic and divides it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. And per tradition, we’re cranking this column up to eleven with our annual special features in the End-of-Year Eleven!
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