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The Perfect Ten: Most significant MMO stories of 2011

Perfect Ten
2011 was an odd duck of a year for MMO news. A huge chunk of the year felt devoid of significant releases, but that was mitigated somewhat by the major launches of RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Titles got shoved back to 2012 or beyond, MMOs that we thought never would go free-to-play did, and the industry continually surprised us with revelations, ideas, and controversy.

So in my last Perfect Ten of 2011, I put together the 10 most significant MMO stories of the year. Ten seems like an awfully small number for such a great big field, so I had the rest of the staff members chime in with their nominations just to make sure I wasn't too off-base with any of these.

It was a whopper of a year, and Massively was there for all of it -- the ups, the downs, the queues, and the QQs. It's time to wrap it up with a pretty bow and dedicate it to the history museum!

SWTOR
1. Star Wars: The Old Republic's launch

My one big rule for this list was that I couldn't hit the same game up twice because there was a very real danger than SWTOR would take about six spots, easily. From kicking off the beta testing weekends to the pre-order situation to the announcement of the launch date to the actual launch itself, BioWare played a masterful hand of hype and buildup to the year-end cap of the release. While it's been plagued with queues and a few glaring issues at the time of this writing, so far the game has reportedly drawn in more than a million players who are raving over this MMO from a galaxy far, far away.

The biggest MMO launch ever? Quite possibly, and certainly the biggest in recent memory. We knew from the start of the year that SWTOR would dominate the scene... it was just a matter of time.

Free-to-play
2. Free-to-play sweeps everywhere

Free-to-play launches and transitions were an unstoppable business model juggernaut this year, and only a sliver of older MMOs and stalwart subscriber-only titles remained unaffected. It seemed like every other week a major MMO announced that it was offering a F2P option, including EverQuest II, DCUO, Star Trek Online, Aion, Champions Online, City of Heroes, Global Agenda, and Fallen Earth. Even Warhammer Online came out to play with its F2P MOBA, Wrath of Heroes.

Love it or hate it -- and there are plenty of folks on both sides of that fence -- F2P became the clear majority in 2011, muscling out subscription-only games to win over the gaming populace.

SOE
3. Sony gets hacked, SOE goes offline for weeks

Hacking and security breaches became a major concern this year as numerous MMO and tech studios came under assault looking to steal personal information and cause havoc. Sony got the worst of it all, as the company experienced a massive security intrusion in April that resulted in customer ID theft, huge amounts of bad publicity, and interruption of game service for all of SOE's titles. Players were abruptly disconnected from their MMOs and left waiting for days... which stretched into weeks of unplanned downtime. After the better part of a month, SOE finally brought its library back online with mea culpas and compensation for the situation.

EVE Online
4. EVE Online's Monoclegate

Brendan called it "the day that EVE Online died," and by the weeping and wailing from CCP fans, you could almost believe it to be the case. In fact, it was an ill-advised expansion patch, Incarna, that set into motion much-disliked changes in the galaxy of EVE Online. Players revolted against the long-promised (and halfway-implemented) "walking in stations," balked at the ridiculously overpriced microtransactions that CCP installed (including the infamous monocle), and stewed at a leaked internal memo called "Greed is good."

CCP not only had to deal with this PR fiasco over the year but also cut a number of jobs and scaled back production of World of Darkness. It was, in a phrase, the worst of times.

Perfect World
5. Atari drops Cryptic, Perfect World recovers the fumble

And that right there is the full extent of my knowledge of football lingo.

It looked like Cryptic was headed for the final frontier when Atari abruptly dumped the floundering MMO studio this past spring. Star Trek Online and Champions Online players were thrown into a state of panic for two weeks, until Perfect World announced that it would be acquiring Cryptic and all of its properties.

Since then, STO has announced its transition to free-to-play -- no doubt influenced by its new F2P-loving landlords -- and Neverwinter was sent back to the drawing board to be fleshed out into a full-fledged MMO.

SWG
6. Star Wars Galaxies sunsets

It was a shock, to say the least, when news of Star Wars Galaxies' impending shutdown hit the Massively offices. Tears and curses were shed, Jef spent the entire day pronouncing something called "woe" on LucasArts, and the MMO industry as we knew it was about to change.

Following the announcement were six long months of goodbyes, retrospectives, and -- oddly enough -- atmospheric flight. Because why not? Shortly after its Star Wars MMO brother began its early access, SWG slipped silently into a maintenance mode from which it would never rouse.

World of Warcraft
7. World of Warcraft counters SWTOR with Kung Fu Pandas

As 2011's BlizzCon approached, millions of WoW loyalists wondered how their almighty Blizzard overlords would be answering the looming threat of The Old Republic. The answer was not exactly what anyone was expecting. "Pandas!" Blizzard exclaimed. "Monk Pandas! Also, Pokemon! And you'll eat it all, mister, if you know what's good for you!"

Cue an unstoppable wave of Kung Fu Panda jokes. They're irresistable.

RIFT
8. RIFT launches and soars

For many, RIFT seemed to come out of nowhere to become the headline of the first half of 2011. Despite accusations of being yet another WoW clone, RIFT sucked in more than a million players, produced a smooth launch, and became the golden child of the year. Trion Worlds made a name for itself with both a solid product and its incredibly fast-paced rollout of meaty content updates (which continue to this day).

DAoC
9. Dark Age of Camelot hits the 10-year mark

Newer games weren't the only ones making the front-page news this year, and Dark Age of Camelot proved that this with its astounding 10th anniversary. It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since the title's 2001 launch, but DAoC's blend of PvP and realm pride have given this title legs beyond many of its competitors.

RuneScape
10. RuneScape's Bot Nuking Day

Why is this on the list? Three reasons.

First of all, the graphic that Jagex made for its Bot Nuking Day has to be one of my favorite PR pieces ever. Second, it's rare to see a company outright declare war on a sizable segment of its playerbase knowing that it would cost the company a loss of revenue even though it was the right thing to do. Third, for those suffering from the bot-infested game, it must've sent them cheering for a straight week to see the cheaters nuked to hell and back.

Honorable Mentions: League of Legends tops 11.5 million active players, EverQuest opens progression servers, Hangame MMO accidentally deleted and shut down forever, SOE closes offices and cancels The Agency

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 justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.