While 2010 may not have been much to write home about in terms of newly launched MMOs, there was more than enough controversy to keep the discussion brewing for months. MMOs are big business, and when every move you make is closely scrutinized by millions of gamers, there's no room to slip up unless you like forum hyenas pouncing all over you, snapping and snarling at your faulty flesh.
So let's take a jaunt down our top 10 list of the most controversial stories of 2010 on Massively, keeping in mind that it was devilishly hard just to keep this list to 10 at all. What's a week without being riled up about pixels and polygons, after all?
While EVE is no stranger to controversy, by all rights CCP should've had a banner year in 2010. The game was being widely praised, the previous year's Apocrypha expansion proved incredibly popular, and subscriptions and concurrency records were constantly broken.
However, a collision of several festering problems -- mainly severe lag caused by patches and a lack of resources for customer service issues -- came to a head in August. Massively's Brendan Drain walked us through the causes and consequences of CCP's missteps, culminating in forum riots when CCP asked players to vote for the game at the European Games Awards. The ensuing backlash dumped a PR mess in CCP's lap, forcing CCP to publicly address these issues.
DDO was also shaping up to have a terrific year, as its free-to-play renovation ended up drawing in both the players and the big bucks for Turbine. It was inevitable that Turbine would continue to experiment with this highly lauded model, which is why it introduced the Offer Wall to the game on April 12th.
The Offer Wall was a way for players to earn in-game Turbine Points by visiting sites, filling out surveys and accomplishing other tasks. While it was similar to other F2P MMO incentives, DDO's Offer Wall quickly angered fans by not being up front with all of the details associated with it, not to mention even infecting some computers with malware when the owners visited Offer Wall sites. By April 14th, Turbine took down the Offer Wall and apologized to players for it.
More than a few of us were looking forward to Allods Online when 2010 began, as the game was incredibly polished in beta and promised to launch as a F2P title. People were singing its praises in the streets (I like to imagine this literally), and there were predictions that Allods would become THE big hit of 2010.
That all changed once the game launched... but it had nothing to do with the game itself. Instead, players discovered that Allods' cash shop featured insanely expensive items, such as an expansion from an 18 to 24-slot bag for $20. To make matters worse, several of these pricey items were needed to progress in the game past a certain point, otherwise the death penalty would make gameplay absolutely miserable.
Despite consumer outrage, gPotato dragged its feet until the title suffered irreparable damage to its reputation. Eventually, the company did revise its prices and cash shop strategy, but by then many had moved on to other games.
It was the immovable force vs. the unstoppable ego, and the only question left wasn't who would win, but how well we would be entertained by the end.
Let me back up. In March, troubled title Alganon announced that it was switching to a free-to-play model and evicting David Allen as the lead. Taking over for Alganon was industry firebrand Derek Smart, who posted a long statement about the switch by stating that he fired Allen in February for "insubordination." Allen in turn accused Smart of starting a "smear campaign" against him and his efforts.
Thus began a multiple-month public struggle between the two developers, who prolifically aired their dirty laundry, even though the situation became entangled in lawsuits. The pair continued to snipe at each other from official sites, blog posts and comment sections until the legal issue was settled in September.
Back in May, Blizzard announced what it hoped would be a solution to the cesspit that World of Warcraft's forums had become. Real ID was the very definition of "the ends justify the means": By forcing forum users to post under their real-life names, Blizzard hoped that the lack of anonymity would improve people's attitudes.
Unfortunately, the company did not think through all of the implications of such a move, and before we knew it, one of the biggest internet firestorms whipped up around the issue. Players flat-out resented being forced to reveal their real names if they wanted to use the forums, not to mention that many were worried about potential safety issues and the privacy concerns that were raised with this system. Several other MMO companies then promised never to implement a Real ID-type system.
Blizzard and the players faced off -- and Blizzard finally blinked. The company continued to allow players the ability to post under a pseudonym and restructured Real ID to be more palatable.
Proving that rumor and hearsay can be given legitimacy if it contains even a whiff of truth, an anonymous blogger who claimed to be an EA employee posted a long rant against the company, Warhammer Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Calling himself "EA Louse," the blogger delivered fuel to the flame wars between proponents and opponents of WAR and TOR, even though he was strongly decried within the industry.
Trying to isolate just one controversial move made by Cryptic and Star Trek Online this year is like trying to pull a needle out of a needlestack. Suffice to say, STO's maiden voyage was incredibly bumpy, with C-Store bungling, pre-order item exclusivity, the departure of Executive Producer Craig Zinkievich, a lackluster crafting system, the advisory counsel, a special Atari promotion that backfired, and so on. Fortunately for the title, it seems as though STO's flown out of that (sorry) briar patch and into smoother waters over the past few months.
Suffice it to say, there were quite a few unhappy fans when Final Fantasy XIV launched -- a fact which Square-Enix eventually responded to with extreme measures. But no player was quite as unhappy as an unnamed stockholder who dumped $26 million worth of Square-Enix stock in perhaps the most epic ragequit of all time. Square-Enix's stock dipped noticeably from the event, but soon rebounded.
Playing the part of squabbling divorced parents, Interplay and Bethesda continued their legal struggle over the fate of Fallout and a potential Fallout MMO well into 2010. While Interplay officially announced a Fallout MMO this year, the company said that it did try to sell it to Bethesda (which handles the single-player franchise) but was turned down.
It's hard picking just one controversial story from LotRO this year -- between WB purchasing Turbine, the announcement of the free-to-play conversion and the handling of the LotRO store, it's been a wild ride. But perhaps nothing was as unsettling and aggravating to players as the last-minute delay of the F2P launch (with the new zone and content) in Europe. Days stretched into weeks which stretched into well over a month of near-silence from the company, until finally Codemasters admitted that it was a legal issue that was on the verge of being resolved. Long saga short, Europe got its update, but the damage was done.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.