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Ask Massively: The order of all the things


This week in Ask Massively, we're fielding two queries about how we position games in some of our weekly roundup columns. As an obsessive list-maker, I understand the need to make sense of list chaos, believe me. I actually have lists of my lists. I'm not kidding.

Our first question is from Siphaed, who wondered about the entries in our Week in Review:
I'm a bit confused why The Elder Scrolls Online and Star Citizen got above FFXIV. Don't get me wrong, I honestly don't like either game and still prefer the one above all three (Guild Wars 2). However, I see that FFXIV has four key articles dedicated to it this past week and the other two have only three each. I would think that it would get a slight priority in the pecking order based on that. If not, what are the credentials for one game getting priority over the others in the article listing?
I love that you guys think we're sitting around steepling our fingers trying to decide which game should go on top and get the golden star sticker for the week, but unfortunately, it's nowhere near that much fun!

I've been writing Massively's Week in Review for exactly three years today; it kicked off on September 19th, 2010, and honored the sunset of the original version of All Points Bulletin (and featured the screenie heading this article). Since that time, the column has changed quite a bit. For starters, I try to include primarily those posts with the best hits, minus news that is outdated by Sunday, plus other things we'd consider important or interesting to the genre. Because of the success of the network and the site, our minimum standards for inclusion have soared upward; a post that would have made the top 20 three years ago wouldn't even come close to doing so by page views alone now. (And this is awesome.)

Last winter, we moved from a pure list format to a roundup that divides posts a bit more by topic. Why? Because it's pretty, because it's a smarter layout for our audience (and for Joystiq's), and because -- I'll admit it -- it's easier. I have a big ol' chunk of html with images for all of the games likely to have multiple big posts every once in a while. If there are enough posts to justify that game's getting a super special unique snowflake banner that week, it stays. If not, it goes into the "everything else" pile.

They're basically in the order I put them in originally, and they don't change much if ever from week to week. Long story short: I love all my MMO children equally, and the order is more or less random. Don't read anything into which game is on top. The real game that's on top is in the introduction, anyway!

Betawatch is another constant struggle for Massively's writers as there's so much disagreement within the MMO community as to what constitutes a beta. We pulled several games from the Betawatch list in the last few weeks on the grounds that they had effectively soft-launched, and a reader named Volkanik objected:
When is the "it has a cash shop, therefore it's launched" lunacy going to stop? To me, a game doesn't lose its beta designation simply because of this, especially when it's being developed by a small indie team that needs a steady influx of revenue to fund the continual development. If there are core elements missing, the game still has regular (more than monthly) updates, then it's a beta. Whining about "soft launches" [and he means players here, not Massively, as he later clarified] isn't going to change that, especially in the current F2P environment.
You can blame this one on me. I took to heart an ahead-of-its-time 2011 article written by former Massively staffer Rubi Bayer about eternal betas, and last year during my tenure as caretaker of Betawatch, I embarked on a purging spree to clear the list of games that had made no moves toward launch in several forevers. I set down rules for open vs. closed testing (since many games no longer use the beta designation) and tried to sort out which games had been operating with full cash-shop amenities without any sort of official launch. This was long before Neverwinter and more recent games made the word soft-launch part of the global MMO lexicon, which is probably why no fuss was made over the purge over a year ago and why people care a whole lot more about it right now.

I suppose it just annoyed me that certain games were receiving what amounted to free advertising and a free link in that roundup every Friday night for years. It seemed wrong of us as an independent blog to perpetuate their pretense that they were in a beta when we all knew they had launched in everything but name. The list was also difficult to manage for the writers and hard to parse for the readers, so it wasn't a very helpful tool for players looking to go test a game that wasn't also going to demand money seven ways from sundown.

Last year, I turned Betawatch over to Massively's Eliot Lefebvre and made beta classification his problem (you're welcome, Lefebvre!). I can't claim this process is easy or obvious; for example, when Glitch returned to closed beta with a cash shop and no signups, we weren't exactly sure what to do with it. But we're trying our best to be consistent, and we've tried to supplement Betawatch with Make My MMO, a column that rounds up Kickstarter MMOs separately. We're not trying to neglect indies, but there aren't many indie MMOs out there right now that wouldn't fit on one or both of those lists.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every other Thursday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at Just ask!

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