Picking the winners this year is just as hard as it was last year, maybe even harder. 2012 was an incredible year for MMOs, so I would rather have just put together an article that highlights every single favorite. In the end, it's more helpful to make myself pick out a winner. It's a rare thing for some of these games to even receive a nod on a major website, something I still can't figure out. Either way, it's best to think of all of the MMOs on this list as my favorites from 2012.
Anyway, let's get to the awards!
Winner: RuneScape. This title is so full of content and fun that it reaches well outside of the confines of the browser. It's possibly one of my favorite titles of all time.
Runners-up: Glitch, Nadirim, MilMo, A Mystical Land
Winner: Arcane Legends. This was a tough choice, considering the rest of the group, but I think Arcane Legends is just an all-around quality product. It offers something for almost every type of player, and Spacetime Studios' multiple-platform identity is refreshing.
Runners-up: Life is Magic, Deepworld, The Missing Ink
I'd love to say that we all root for the underdog, but the general gaming populace only roots for the underdog if it has heard of the title. An underdog is a game that is rough around the edges, beat up by sometimes years of mismanagement or neglect, but it's one that continues to offer something that no other MMO does. These are the games we should be pulling for.
Winner: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Ah, my old friend Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. I've probably put more hours into this game than almost any other title, and I am so happy to see that it not only survived but seems to be thriving... finally. We all heard about its rough start, but now the game is free-to-play and seems to be receiving regular updates. This game packs in a huge, immersive world, some beautiful graphics, wonderful lore, and some of the most unique systems you'll find in the genre.
Runners-up: Istaria, Salem, Alganon, Ryzom
Winner: Second Life.C'mon... as if I could have picked any other
Runners-up: Mabinogi, Wakfu, RuneScape, Ryzom, Salem, Wurm Online, Glitch
It's hard to surprise me. No, really. it is. I've seen so many space-themed MMOs with the same awful UIs and similar combat, so many bloated "AAA" adventures that are just a hamster-wheel with updated graphics, and so many wonderfully promising browser-based worlds that are literally one-click Festivals of the Bland. Seriously... developers can be very unimaginative. That's why I am so thrilled when a game surprises me, when it makes me feel that awesome feeling I felt when I first played MMOs.
Winner: Glitch. Although this game crashed and burned, I can say that it was the most wonderfully surprising thing I played all year. It would appear that many gamers were surprised by it or its unique delivery method. Many gamers who had never truly appreciated what the browser could do loved Glitch, and many players who never touched a sandbox enjoyed the world. It's too bad; this one will be missed.
Runners-up: Star Stable
Winner: There. There was one of my very first MMOs, and was the very first social MMO I played. It closed its doors a few years back, only to silently return this year. I have even been able to resurrect my old character, the same one I played with so many years ago! It gave me such a good feeling to see a favorite world of mine reappear. Hopefully we'll start seeing more games come back to life. *cough* The Matrix Online *cough*
Runners-up: MilMo, Asheron's Call 2
Winner: Second Life. Again, this was a no-brainer. There is no other game or world or experience out there that allows real people to hang out with each other in a grand, never-ending virtual world. Just popping in to the game for a few minutes can feel overwhelming because there is so much to do and see. If anyone tells you the game is nothing but virtual sex, you can guarantee two things: That person participated only in virtual sex or never explored the world. At all.
Runners-up: GameGlobe, Ryzom, Wurm Online
Runners-up: RuneScape, Ryzom, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Wurm Online, Glitch
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!