A Look Backward and Forward

Some trivial controversy has erupted over Massively’s recent Player Choice Award. The thrust of the arguments seem to be that Star Trek Online doesn’t deserve the accolades of coming off as the year’s top winner amongst new games.

While there are many arguments that could be made against this kind of award, particularly since it was based on a poll of fans and therefore had loads of potential for ballot box stuffing by the most rabid enthusiasts, I think it’s important to point out that this kind of thing in general – posting articles that stir up discussion in the community – is exactly what a site like Massively is in the business of doing.

Too, while STO may not be a very strong game in an absolute sense, the awards are for the year of 2010 alone – and the competition STO was up against was especially dire. You have one major release (APB) that did a faceplant of historic proportions and swiftly closed, another highly-touted title (FFXIV) that launched with Vanguard-level problems and is desperately treading water and shuffling both staff and blame, another (Mortal Online) that only the community’s most vapid participants were touting as the Next Great Thing but which practically vanished upon release and by all accounts was laughably bad, and a fourth (Global Agenda) that probably isn’t an MMO at all and which almost immediately claimed to be free-to-play in a desperate attempt to pander to potential players, even though it continued to (and still does,) charge a fee for a (physical or virtual) box.

So: It looks at a glance that 2010 was a weak year for MMO releases. That the mid-tier STO emerged as the champ of the new titles isn’t surprising considering that there weren’t any top-tier releases at all, and the other mid-tier offerings did poorly. Good for STO, I suppose – it looks at this point like a moderate success and should be at least stable with room to grow. Considering that Cryptic’s last attempt didn’t perform as well, it’s a step in the right direction.

Lest the memories of MMO aficionados abide by their history of staying short, however, let’s summarize the previous couple of years and made some comparisons.

2009
Darkfall, Runes of Magic, Free Realms, Aion, Champions Online, and Fallen Earth launch. No WoW expansion. Tabula Rasa, Shadowbane and Matrix Online close. Of the new launches, Aion makes a big splash before its western audience evaporates. DDO goes free-to-play. Overall, especially given the closings, not a great year, but we got two games, Darkfall and Fallen Earth, that appear to be in small but stable niches a year later. A comparable year, I’d say, to 2010.

2008
Pirates of the Burning Sea, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online and Wizard 101 launch. Sims Online closes. Warth of the Lich King dominates the year despite releasing at the very end. AoC and WAR both have strong starts but underperform in the early months. Of the two, after two years, AoC is unquestionably the stronger game, but both appear to be on sustainable trajectories keeping them in the middle of the MMO pack. A very exciting year in terms of releases, but in hindsight, not a very successful one for anyone but Blizzard.

So what will 2011 bring? It may be a huge year for MMOs, in that we have two titles (SWTOR and Guild Wars 2) which look like they stand a chance of making a dent in WoW. Of course, we thought that might prove to the the case with WAR as well, which proved to be foolishness in the end. We also have what looks to be a strong mid-tier contender in Rift, but I’m not convinced that DC Universe Online or The Agency are going to do anything other than sink like stones – the latter would have been exciting had it released in 2008, but nobody seems to care anymore, and SOE has burned a lot of goodwill over RMT and FTP. There are dark horses in Earthrise and Black Prophecy that might make some noise in corners of the hobby, and Champions and APB will debut as free-to-play titles – and maybe some others we don’t yet know about as well. And there’s oddities like World of Tanks and Company of Heroes Online, which I’m not even sure how to categorize.

Sitting at the starting line, 2011 looks like it will be a very busy year, at least if all these games make it to release. It should certainly be a bonanza for bloggers – here’s hoping this MMO blogger will actually be able to nominate an MMO for Game of the Year at the end.

3 responses to “A Look Backward and Forward

  1. Pingback: Daily Blogroll 1/5 – Epic Win edition - West Karana

  2. I agree with you, given the competition of _new_ Western MMO titles during 2010 I think STO very much deserved its position.
    That does not mean that 2010 was a bad year for MMOs in general though, I think sometimes too much focus is put on the new and shiny titles rather than look at improvements and additions to existing games. AFter all, MMOs are typically created to last a number of years (it would be a waste of money to not plan for that) – the year they are released is only a small part of their active life.

  3. 2010 was a great year for existing MMOs. DDO hit it’s stride, Wizard 101 got a lot of interesting new systems, and the swicth to FtP really reinvigorated LoTRO and EQ II, with both claiming that paying participants more than doubled. I got further in my latest round of EQ II then I ever did when it was sub based. Finlly Cataclysm sold more quickly than any PC game in history.

    It was a crap year for new MMOs however. I think Allod’s Online and STO are the only major launches that come to mind as even moderate successes.