This was the year of high-profile game launches, even more popular expansions, layoffs, and some epic-level studio face-palming decisions. It's easy to sit here and say that we predicted everything that was going to happen this year, but c'mon, you have to admit that you were surprised by at least one or two events in this industry.
It's incredibly difficult to sum up the biggest news of the year without coming to grips with the fact that many stories aren't one-and-done; a lot of what I'm going to be talking about in this list happened over the course of weeks or months and still may not be fully over. That's how news stories are sometimes!
After World of Warcraft blew up into a globe-spanning mega-hit 10 years ago, the logical question that was asked repeatedly was, "What will Blizzard make as a follow-up?" The answer came when we started hearing rumors in 2007 of Project Titan, a top-secret MMO that would be quite different and more contemporary than WoW's fantasy setting. Even an official restart on the project back in 2013 didn't do much to dampen hopes that lightning would strike twice for Blizzard.
However, we'll never know if Titan could have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with WoW because Blizzard canned the project this past fall, saying that it just wasn't very fun. Personally, I think the studio got cold feet and decided there were too many ways to lose trying to create a second MMO. Either way, while Titan was scrapped, its assets were repurposed into a superhero-themed team-based shooter game named Overwatch.
2. The grand ArcheAge saga
While there were a lot of big-name MMOs making a splash this year, ArcheAge gets my distinction for being both a roaring success and a flaming failure. The swell of excitement began when Trion announced that ArcheAge would finally be making its long-awaited Western debut this year, and that excitement did not die down one whit. In fact, it powered an overwhelmingly popular test cycle and propelled the title to two million registered players within weeks of the launch. It was clear that gamers were hungry for a feature-rich sandbox and were enthused about ArcheAge in particular.
Even as popular as it was -- or perhaps more so because of it -- ArcheAge suffered from a rocky launch, crippling queues, DDoS attacks, notorious exploits, horrible bugs, server outages, and waves of alleged botters. Fingers have been pointed at the exploiters, Trion Worlds, and XLGAMES for these issues, and truth be told, the blame is spread across all of them. The end result was that ArcheAge is leaving this year limping when it should rightfully be jogging majestically.
3. Asheron's Call gets an interesting sendoff
What could have been a sad ending to a long-running MMO ended up being an exciting experiment. Earlier this year Turbine announced that it would no longer be actively updating or charging a subscription for Asheron's Call. However, instead of turning off the servers, the studio said that AC and AC2 would remain on indefinitely. Even better, the devs expressed a desire to turn over the keys of the server code to players to allow them to run their own versions of Asheron's Call.
While the layoffs at the studio probably put a damper on the progress of this project, it does appear that work is still being done to facilitate the continued journeys of this 1999-era game.
As we headed into 2014, it looked as though an experiment had been set up to see if subscription-only MMOs could be launched and survive in this climate. On one hand, we had WildStar, a new IP with a hardcore attitude and an experienced staff, and on the other we had Elder Scrolls Online, a vastly more popular IP with a team new to MMOs. In both cases, it didn't seem to matter; each title launched to a flurry of newcomers only to flounder as the months went on.
The sub-only business model wasn't the deathknell for either (and indeed, both are still trucking along), but it didn't help matters when these games were compounded by unfortunate events and bad decisions. WildStar bet too much on large-scale raids, saw staff desertions and layoffs, and couldn't make it past Drop 2 before it stopped doing monthly updates. Likewise, ESO suffered from layoffs and an unpopular endgame, and it completely failed to push a promised console release out the door even by the end of the year. It wasn't long before the studios were the only ones chanting that these games deserved sub-only status, as all but the most loyal studio fans assumed that free-to-play was an inevitability.
5. Sony Online Entertainment shutters four games
While SOE had a lot of high points this year, it was also the studio responsible for the vast majority of notable MMO closures in 2014 as well. In one fell swoop, the studio announced that it would be shutting down the beloved worlds of Free Realms and Vanguard as well as the you've-forgotten-them-already Clone Wars Adventures and Wizardry Online.
Of course, in paring down the studio's library, it left room for it to grow again. SOE has an impressive three MMOs in development (that we know of!) and continues to actively support the rest of its line-up, including EverQuest, which got its 21st expansion this year.
6. Warlords of Draenor proves that World of Warcraft's still got it
For most of 2014, World of Warcraft was suffering. It endured an incredible 14-month content drought, saw its subscriptions drop to levels not seen since 2006, and was given the brush-off at last month's BlizzCon.
And yet, what a difference an expansion makes! Warlords of Draenor was a rallying call for the faithful and new alike, and even though it suffered an embarrassingly bad launch, it pumped subscriber numbers back up over the 10 million mark while selling 3.3 million boxes in the first day.
The living story -- the ongoing episodic narrative that unfolded throughout the game world -- was the ship on which Guild Wars 2 sailed unapologetically this year. While its purpose and quality proved to be controversial with fans, it's undeniable that this MMO saw more go down in its world than most all of its competition.
The first half of the year saw the end of Season 1, during which players worked out their newfound hate toward Scarlet Briar and dealt with the demolition of Lion's Arch. Then following a brief respite, ArenaNet jumped into Season 2, implementing more user-friendly features such as replayable missions and a more cohesive storyline. Maybe we'll get an expansion next year, or maybe not, but it looks as though the living story is here to stay.
8. Landmark experiments with high-profile development transparency and testing
SOE's ultra-sandy sandbox, Landmark, marched to the beat of its own developmental drummer this year, starting with a paid alpha program that dropped its NDA mere days after starting. From February on, everyone could discuss and discover what was going on with the title as it was being assembled piece-by-piece.
It's not the only MMO out there that's eschewed secrecy for more community involvement, but it was a large gamble for SOE to take on a product that wasn't even a full skeleton when players started arriving. It may be up for discussion whether or not this was helpful to the game, but it was fascinating to see how an MMO is put together even while players are running slipshod through its lands.
9. Destiny launches big -- but perhaps not big enough
Destiny is a fringe MMO at best, but it contains enough elements of one that we here on Massively consider it worth covering. Fringe or no, it was hard to ignore the sheer frenzy that developer Bungie whipped up with this persistent online shooter, and one analyst speculated that Destiny could easily sell over 15 million units.
While the launch was a mighty success by any MMO standards, boasting 3.2 million daily players by October, the studio and its publisher downplayed total sales, leading some to believe that it didn't come close to Halo-era numbers (one source lists 7.14 million units of Destiny sold by early November).
10. World of Darkness' cancelation establishes CCP as an EVE-only company
Like the first news item on this list, this story was important because players genuinely wanted to see what a successful MMO studio could do with a new franchise. And like Project Titan, World of Darkness ended up on the studio's cutting room floor, perhaps more a result of corporate downsizing than anything else.
Any hopes that CCP would pick up another franchise to develop were soon dashed. Additional layoffs in both Iceland and San Francisco sent shockwaves through the community, and CCP formally announced that from here on out, it would be an EVE Universe-focused studio.
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 email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.