top 10 list

Perfect Ten: Best MMO debuts by year, 2007-2017

Continuing from my previous column, I’m going to be running through the second decade of graphical MMORPG launches and picking the best title to debut in any given year. From doing the first decade, I know that this thought exercise isn’t always fair; some years have several great contenders, while others see one mediocre one rise due to a lack of competition.

Still, it’s kind of fun to look back at MMO history and to see which game was really the best of that year. And if you ever felt sore that a particular title got overlooked, well, consider this a retroactive awards ceremony of some sort.

Let’s dive right in where we left off with 2007!

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Perfect Tenception: Our ten perfectest Perfect Tens (since last year)

Last year on the Fourth of July, I posted up a Perfect Ten that was a list of my favorite Perfect Tens Justin and Eliot had done since New Massively was born. It was a sort of a meta joke, but the post actually did well. Plus, I like funny listicles. I mean, we did one on sexy MMO monsters. We did one about robot fantasies. We did a sequel to the one where we pretend to have goofy conversations with anthropomorphized MMO studios. I love this job.

This year, I’m turning it into a new Independence Day tradition because literally nobody can stop me, and it amuses me to go back and look at some of these pieces that hold up so well over time.

So once again, in honor of those of you stuck at family gatherings today where you’re super bored, I’ve picked out my favorite Perfect Tens from the last dozen months and rounded them up for you below so you don’t even have to hunt for something fun to read. Just hunch over your phone and tell them you’re doing Very Important Work! I do it all the time!

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Perfect Ten: The best MMO debuts by year, 1997-2006

By now, many of you probably know that I’m the curator of the MMO Timeline on my personal blog. On this page, I’ve attempted to catalog the launches, expansions, business model shifts, reboots, platform transitions, and sunsets of MMOs by year. It certainly helps me to get a high-level overview of certain eras of online gaming history as well as to trace the development of certain titles.

For fun, because that’s a lot of what Perfect Ten is about, I wanted to start with the year that MMORPGs really took off and select one title per year over the next two decades that I felt had the best debut and was the most exciting title to launch that year. Some years it’s going to be really easy to pick, while others… man, I am setting myself up for some hate mail, aren’t I?

Let’s turn our time machine back to 1997 and get this show on the road!

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Perfect Ten: Ten things you need to understand about MMORPG Rogues

Sometimes I know that I may be a bit too old-school because there’s a little twitch in my eye whenever I have to refer to a given class as a Rogue. That’s become my go-to replacing Thief, and it really does make a fair amount of sense: Rogue skillsets are usually more covering a variety of skulky activities, which incorporates but is no means limited to thievery. Not to mention that calling someone a “Thief” seems like it’s underselling the situation.

Especially when the party is frequently engaged in the act of assault, murder, destruction of property, and unnatural acts with corpses.

A while back, I talked about how to understand the lifestyle of the MMO Warrior, because there’s always a Warrior. Just as surely, there’s always a Rogue, or a Thief, or if you have to go a little further afield, a Scoundrel or Stalker. So in the spirit of understanding these conventions, let’s talk about understanding MMO Rogues.

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Perfect Ten: What I’ve always wished for in a Fallout MMO

This week I’ve been absolutely consumed by the thought of Fallout 76. I know, I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up for a proper MMORPG, but even the prospect of some online multiplayer functionality thrills me to no end.

Fallout has been one of my favorite computer RPG series ever since its first installment way, way back in the 1990s. I played Fallout 2 like crazy back in the day, log in to Fallout Shelter frequently now, and just recently started my third journey into Fallout 4.

There’s so much to love about these games, which is I’m quite eager to see the full reveal of Fallout 76 by Bethesda at E3 next week. Before that happens, however, I want to share with you what I’ve always wished for in a Fallout MMO. It has such potential to be an awesome online RPG with a huge built-in fan base and big developer muscle behind it. Let me share my list and then you do the same in the comments!

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Perfect Ten: MMO features that help players express individuality

When you play a single-player game, you automatically feel quite special and unique. You are, after all, the very centerpiece that the entire game revolves around and caters to. Your ego soars high like the eagles and cannot be tamed.

This all changes when you step into a massively multiplayer environment. Suddenly we’re one of a crowd, a fish swimming among other fish made of the same templates. We’re part of the swarm of Chosen Ones destined to save the world. In that environment, it’s easy to lose that sense of individuality.

Happily, MMORPG designers have long given us ways to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the crowd if we so desire. There are plenty of avenues to express our creativity, inject our own personality and desires, and otherwise reclaim that sense of individuality in these virtual spaces. Today we’re going to march through a list of 10 ways that players can express individuality in their MMOs.

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Perfect Ten: The unique pitfalls of licensed MMOs

Making a list of the “biggest” MMOs currently running is always an exercise in frustration. It’s easy to put a few things on the list – no one’s going to argue with placing World of Warcraft on such a list, for example – but then everything else always gets mired in opinions and controversy, and endless cycles of “why isn’t this game I love on there while another game I don’t like is there?!” I speak from experience.

Still, on our list of the healthiest MMOs at the moment, we’ve got only three licensed games: Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Those are by no means the only entries on the licensed game list, of course, but there does seem to be something of a dearth of those. And perhaps that’s more understandable than it seems. For all that we talk about how one setting or another would be perfect for an MMO, there are some unique troubles you inevitably run into when you get into the licensed MMO shuffle.

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Perfect Ten: How MMOs can become more accessible

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was remarkably reluctant to enter into the field of MMORPGs despite being a perfect candidate (a gaming geek who loved fantasy and sci-fi RPGs). All of the reasons that I had at the time for stalling really could have been boiled down to a single word: accessibility.

MMOs back then looked — and probably were — very inaccessible. They had a payment barrier. They required a lot of setup and hardware. Their interfaces were cluttered and their gameplay interactions were obtuse. Frankly, I got the impression that a lot of them were a mess that was only understandable to those who had put in hundreds of hours to decipher the format.

When MMOs started to become more accessible, particularly with City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, and Guild Wars, I eagerly jumped in. Those three titles in particular made giant leaps forward in opening up these games to the first-time player. But that doesn’t mean that MMORPGs have arrived at universal accessibility just yet. Here are ten areas that studios could be improving in order to make their titles more appealing and understandable to outsiders.

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Perfect Ten: You got your MMORPG in my tabletop RPG

Tabletop games and MMORPGs seem like they would go well together, but remarkably they often don’t. That’s true for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is that we have a lot more games adapting different source material separately. You can certainly run a Star Wars: The Old Republic-themed game with a Star Wars tabletop system, but neither one is based on the other. (Technically there was a supplement published for it, but that was covering the first two single-player games, which themselves were based on that tabletop system.)

But there have still been incursions from MMOs into the tabletop space, and MMOs which pluck that fertile ground for the seeds of inspiration. So let’s spend today looking at these games, when you can log off of your favorite MMO, gather around a table with your friends, and keep playing your favorite MMO. More or less.

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Perfect Ten: MMOs with different (camera) perspectives

By the time that World of Warcraft came on the scene in 2004, the MMORPG industry had already gravitated toward standard when it came to the interface — specifically, the camera angle. MMO players and devs seemed to prefer third-person views that either peered over the shoulder of avatars or followed right behind them. For decades now, we’ve grown used to watching our characters’ rears as they jog along, and we can’t really imagine the experience otherwise.

Yet when you think about it, while this camera perspective is overwhelmingly used in the genre, it’s not the only one that crops up in MMOs. We’ve seen both old and new titles experiment with the camera angle, sometimes out of style and sometimes out of necessity (here’s a great Gamasutra article on the subject).

For today’s list, we’re going to look at 10 MMORPGs where the camera is positioned in a different way than you’d normally expect, especially if you are coming from modern games.

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Perfect Ten: What your MMO quantity says about you

It occurs to me that it is very difficult to find MMOs that I have literally never played before in some capacity. There are titles on the list, of course, but it’s a short list. Which amuses me, since anyone who listens to me on a regular basis knows that I have a small number of games that I consider “my” games, and usually there are just two that are fairly consistently on that list. But it’s part of the job; back when I first got this job in the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (the late aughts), my lifetime game count was at four. Maybe four and a half, if you want to count the Champions Online beta that talked me out of playing it at launch.

Of course, that’s one of the interesting elements not just of this job but about MMOs in general. You react differently depending on how many MMOs you’ve played, and considering that these games are big, long-term time commitments, that can produce some interesting dynamics. So let’s go ahead and take a look at what your personal lifetime count says about you and your understanding of the genre.

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Perfect Ten: MMOs that claimed to be the first

We’ve all been there. We’re playing our favorite MMORPG and then self-appointed professors of game history start arguing in world chat about firsts — usually, which MMO was considered to be the “first.”

As much as we all like to feel and be right about something, the truth is that history is messy and often ill-defined, even history as recent as that of video games. If you go looking for clear-cut facts and definitions, you might end up with an assortment of maybes, possiblys, and who knowses.

So when it comes to “firsts” in MMOs, there’s a lot of debate over, well, pretty much everything. One thing that I have noticed while covering The Game Archaeologist for many years now is that studios do love claiming to be first in various aspects. Whether or not these firsts are legitimate or can be challenged is debatable, but I thought it would be interesting to compile these claims into a list for your enjoyment and future world chat arguments.

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Perfect Ten: Why trend-chasing doesn’t work at all for online games

Video games have always been a remarkably insular field; that’s the nature of development. Someone produces Super Mario Bros, and a few years later Sonic the Hedgehog sounds like a really good idea for some reason. But then you have games like The Great Giana Sisters, games that don’t try to just copy parts of what made the inspiration good but just copy the whole thing with one or two changes.

For normal video games, this can work out decently; a game that just doesn’t get much traction still sells some copies, hopefully. Just because Croc wasn’t Spyro didn’t mean that no one bought the former. But for online games, these trend-chasing games are almost always dramatic failures that litter the landscape. Why is that? Well, there are pretty good reasons, and today seems like a good time to talk about that.

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