When game obituaries and studio layoffs start to pile up in the news, Massively can seem like a herald of doom, but the reality is that the MMO industry is stronger and richer than ever. We've got more features to try, more business models to play with, more studios (and indie Kickstarters) to vie for our favor, and more titles to play than most of us could possibly sample in our lifetimes.
Today, Massively's staff honors the best of the best for the year 2012. We asked each writer and streamer to vote in each category with an anything-goes nomination process. No MMO, company, or headline was off the table.
Enjoy our picks for the best MMOs, expansions, studios, stories, and innovations of 2012... and our most-anticipated for 2013.
Massively's MMO of the Year: Guild Wars 2 (Runner-up: The Secret World)
The Massively staff was deeply divided on the subject of best MMO this year (would you expect any less?). Guild Wars 2 may have won in the end, but The Secret World scored an impressive number of nominations. In fact, only a single staffer offered up a game other than one of these two for the top honors.
Patrick: Is anyone really surprised by this? My heart goes out to TSW, which really is a great game, but Guild Wars 2 just did everything right. Polished, great gameplay, and just genuinely fun all-around with no niggling bits.
Lis:GW2 is not exactly a shocking nomination, coming from me, but it has done a great job delivering on (most of) its promises.
Eliot: While there are a lot of places where Guild Wars 2 is a seriously irritating piece of work, there are also a lot of flashes of brilliance. It's not the redefinition of gaming that the fans have been touting, but it's a good game (with some huge glaring issues).
Shawn: I would like to thank Funcom for doing something different and exciting with MMOs. It's a shame that the game is reportedly not selling as well as the studio had hoped, but I really enjoy everything The Secret World has to offer more than anything else this year.
Best Expansion/Update of the Year: RIFT's Storm Legion (Runner-up: EVE Online's Retribution)
Justin:Riders of Rohan was terrific, and in any other year it would have my vote. But Storm Legion has just so dang much for an expansion pack: two new continents, four new classes, upgradable gear, dungeons, raids, new rift types, and oh yeah, one of the best dang player housing systems created for MMOs. All hail Crucia!
Brendan: While EVE Online is a sandbox MMO that can be played any way you want, it has always been a PvP game at its core. Retribution seriously overhauled a lot of EVE's PvP systems, improving dozens of ships, introducing new bounty hunting mechanics, and adding a whole new crimewatch system that lets players take the reins of justice. This was EVE's 18th free expansion, and for me, the most impressive game addition since 2009's Apocrypha expansion. I may not be getting many kills, but I've been spending a lot more time in EVE since this came out.
Best Non-Traditional MMO of the Year: PlanetSide 2 (Runner-up: Torchlight II)
Battle of the sequels! We let the MOBAs and MMOFPSes and MMORTSes and Diablo clones of the world duke it out for this award. You know -- all those games people say aren't "real" MMOs, whatever that is. Of course, whether PlanetSide 2 is a pseudo-MMO or a "real" MMO appears to be up for debate...
MJ: I have to say PlanetSide 2 definitely wins for the best MMOFPS, hands-down. I mean, come on -- it's an FPS that hooked a very non-FPS person. That takes talent! The fact that I can play vital roles without being the best at shooters is awesome.
Mike: There's a reason Torchlight II landed on Time's list of the best games of 2012. That reason, of course, is that it's amazing from start to finish.
Most Underrated MMO of the Year: The Secret World (Runner-up: Star Wars: The Old Republic)
MJ: I know change is hard, but for all the clamoring for something new on the market, it still surprises me how many gamers have been reluctant to give something new (and totally awesome) like The Secret World a try. Instead, they stick to what's familiar. Boy, are those folks missing out!
Matt: Despite all of The Secret World's excellent features (the skill wheel, investigation missions, cinematic quest dialogue, interesting story... the list goes on), it's widely known that the game didn't perform as well as it could have. With any luck, the recent removal of subscriptions will entice some people to give this diamond in the rough a second try.
Eliot:Star Wars: The Old Republic has a huge fandom, certainly, but it also has a legion of people who hate it with a vitriol usually reserved for those who commit horrible atrocities in third-world nations. Or rival sports teams. I've been subscribed since launch, and while there are things I don't like about it, there's a lot to like, a lot of polish that it doesn't get credit for, and a lot to do for the heck of it. It's become a focal point for gamers who dislike certain design elements, and that's unfair to a fun game developed by a good studio.
Most Anticipated for 2013 and Beyond: WildStar (Runner-up: ArcheAge)
WildStar is no stranger to these awards; it won "Most Anticipated Beyond 2012" last year as well. Can it deliver in 2013? The team sure thinks so.
Justin:WildStar's quirky and lush graphics have me thinking about what originally attracted me to World of Warcraft, but I'm digging the player housing, the sci-fi/Western setting, the humor, and the varieties of gameplay paths as well. Can't wait to get my hands on it!
Larry: Sure WildStar is cartoony; sure it's a bit wacky. But this sandpark MMO is really stretching the genre in the directions that I think it needs to go. It really doesn't label itself as one type of MMO, and everything from exploration to combat seems to test the limits of design.
Best MMO Studio of the Year: Sony Online Entertainment and ArenaNet (tie)
Jef: SOE's portfolio is second to none, and it's one of the few big studios that isn't afraid to experiment with non-combat features and virtual world bells and whistles. EverQuest, EverQuest II,Vanguard, DC Universe Online, PlanetSide 2, Clone Wars Adventures, and Free Realms all are high-quality games that speak to a wide cross-section of gamers, and SOE's willingness to scrap initial EverQuest Next plans in favor of a sandbox reboot was the best piece of news I heard all year.
Richie: ArenaNet takes a tough stance with its community. It doesn't write off offensive names or abusive behavior as acceptable behavior on the internet. The devs listen to their fans, are very accessible, and aren't afraid to admit it when they make a mistake.
Larry: Not only did ArenaNet have the best pre-launch advertising, but it also delivered after Guild Wars 2 was launched. The devs budgeted like champions and were able to deliver a quality product and incredible events for despite not having a subscription fee. And they also have the best community team I've ever seen for a game.
Best Mobile MMO of the Year: Arcane Legends
Matt: I've played Arcane Legends only briefly in waiting rooms and during car rides, but it's hands-down the best of the "Legends" series so far. The controls are crisp (which I can't say for most touch-screen games), and it's the perfect game to pass 10 minutes or occupy time on waiting for your plane to board.
Beau: If you take all of Spacetime Studios' previous successes and glue the best parts together along with nicer graphics, you get this fun mobile MMO.
Brendan: Mobile MMOs are evil and should be destroyed!
Biggest MMO Story of 2012: The fall of 38 Studios and the death of Project Copernicus (Runner-up: SWTOR goes F2P; bonus runner-up for most bizarre story: Curt Schilling auctions bloody sock to pay debt)
Beau: The Project Copernicus wackiness is an important story because it showed just how easily a "AAA" game can fall, same as an indie project with two employees. Money doesn't buy you any guarantees.
Justin: It's hard to understate just how huge the 38 Studios story was. It was a perfect storm of tragedy: mismanaged funding that involved the state government, the mainstream media going hogwild, baseball legend Curt Schilling, the sale of Big Huge Games, the massive layoffs at 38 Studios, and of course, the premature death of an almost-finished top-tier MMO. The industry learned a lot of lessons, but at the end of the day, the developers and fans were hurt the most because of it.
Eliot: We've been moving steadily away from the idea of MMOs as boxed games, and SWTOR's F2P conversion is really another step in that direction. The fact that the game was humming along at subscription numbers that many other games would love to have and decided to switch over marks a turning point. This wasn't saving a failing game; this was deciding that the market had shifted and what worked before will not work now.
Biggest Disappointment of 2012: City of Heroes' sunset (Runner-up: Guild Wars 2)
Only on Massively can we vote a game best game of the year and also give it second place for biggest disappointment of the year. We're a rough audience, man.
Justin: Two years in a row now we've had a game that still had a healthy population and was making money get shut down by forces outside of the devs' or players' control. The news of City of Heroes' closure was brutal to hear, the player rally to save it was inspiring, and the end result was depressing. A good game cut down before its time should always be mourned.
Larry: In an industry that seems to produce a lot of cookie-cutter games, trying to steal users from existing games, City of Heroes has always done its own thing. The designers at Paragon Studios really listened to its playerbase and taught many lessons to many MMO designers. Hopefully, future producers will see some of the extraordinary things CoH did -- like side-kicking, player-generated content, and unlockable classes -- and carry them on to the next generation of games.
Jef: I'm sure I'll be crucified for this, but I don't see what all the fuss was/is about regarding Guild Wars 2. I enjoyed it in beta and for about a week at launch, but it's nothing I haven't played many times before. It also has a number of annoyances that older games have long since solved.
Richie: Where's my guesting, GW2??
Most Important MMO Innovation in 2012: SOEmote
It's telling that when we put out a call for innovation nominations, most of the responses were not actually innovations at all. Or, as Patrick put it, "There were MMO innovations in 2012?" SOEmote just barely edged out the rest.
MJ: While there are definitely games that iterated on known features, SOEmote came out of nowhere and is truly unique. It gives players a way to identify with their characters and immerse themselves in the world, and it shows a company willing to think outside the box when coming up with features. My dream from even before I started MMOs was to be able to experience in virtual reality the tabletop games I played or books I read; SOEmote is one step closer to that little pipe dream!
Most Improved MMO Since Launch: RIFT
Here's another category in which there were almost as many nominations as nominators, but RIFT scored a few more than the others.
Justin:RIFT launched with a great product, but dang it's been improving by leaps and bounds ever since. We've had a dozen major content updates as well as an expansion, with the team at Trion patching in loads of features. RIFT now offers so many ways to play, from traditional questing to instant adventures to PvP to housing to different types of dynamic content, and that's really impressive when you consider what other MMOs do with their first 18 months.
Coolest Developer Name: Ragnar Tornquist, Atanas Atanasov, and Tasos Flambouras (tie)
Shawn: Atanas Atanasov -- his name's so cool, it's there twice.
Oh come on guys, can't we have a little fun too?! Congratulations to all of the winners! Now please stop closing down my favorite MMOs, and don't let 2013 suck! -Bree