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Ask Massively: The one where we talk about our 2014 awards

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Massively's 2014 awards series is over, but we like to go back and take a look at the reader polls and some of the big questions and neat comments that arose during the course of our rollout because many of our awards were contentious, as they are every year. It'd be no fun if they weren't, I suppose. Allow us to pontificate, and in the course of the review, we'll try to answer some frequently asked questions as well.



Do note that the reader polls are open until the end of the year; I am writing this just before Christmas to run the day after, which means the reader polls may yet shift in the next week.

MMO of the Year: Nothing. "Nothing" took the reader poll with almost half the vote -- a bigger margin than for the writers, even. This was a brutal award. I tallied our internal votes and sat on it almost a week, trying to decide what to do. Swing the vote with mine? Discount the nothing votes, even though we'd agreed upfront that a nothing vote would count? Ultimately, after discussions with several writers, I decided that giving it to nothing was the right thing to do rather than give the award to "least sucky." For some of the smaller awards, "least sucky" is big deal, but game of the year? That should mean something. Yeah, our GOTY award medallion won't be on a game website next year, and a few angry posters informed us that we were doing our award all wrong, but we'll make that sacrifice rather than put our seal of approval on something not-as-bad-as-everything-else. No, it doesn't mean we're shilling for Big Nothing. We simply expect better from the genre.

We do understand that some readers were confused that pre-2014 games (like World of Warcraft) weren't eligible for this award, but this is standard practice for GOTY awards across the industry, and it was clearly spelled out several times in our post. Older games were eligible for some of our other awards, but this one was strictly for MMOs that launched this year, which is true of all of our GOTYs spanning back many years. Incidentally, 2013's winner was Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which probably would have won again in 2014 but for that rule.

Most Anticipated for 2014: EverQuest Next/Landmark. The reader poll is currently a struggle between the fanbases of Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar, with the EverQuest Next/Landmark amalgam coming in third (we put them together again this year because of their parallel, intertwined development). Skyforge, Star Citizen, and Black Desert had nice showings, too. This sort of poll is one of the reasons we give our award from the writers rather than leave it up to the readers: We can't really police polls to ensure that only our regular commenters are participating, nor would we want to, which means that we get a lot of folks parachuting in for the polls when they've been directed here by their communities or social media. I'm not complaining, mind you, because hey, traffic, right? And maybe some of them will stick around! But these polls aren't really scientific and were always meant to be for fun. We've omitted them in the past for this reason, but we opted to include them this year to see how they went. I think we'll keep them next year too.

Best Update/Expansion: Guild Wars 2's April Feature Pack. The reader poll went to WoW's Warlords of Draenor, followed by SWTOR's and GW2's offerings. So much for our readerbase hating WoW, right? This was probably one of the more diverse set of votes and reflected what our writers love and play, which meant that GW2 literally won by one vote, and it really could have gone to a number of strong expansions and updates this year. I think it shows how fabulous and healthy the industry is in spite of 2014's weak newcomers. We did have a few readers angry at us because we didn't give the site's award to Draenor because it's the biggest ("obviously" we just "hate Blizzard" and the usual nonsense), but that's because our award isn't for biggest playerbase but for what we think is the best in terms of quality. We look at the whole genre; WoW is just another MMO here. It casts a broad enough shadow without our help. I myself play Draenor and still think GW2's massive patch early on in the year was bolder and better.

Most Likely to Flop: Star Citizen. The reader poll currently shows Star Citizen and ArcheAge each with 32% of the vote. Star Citizen's inclusion by several of our writers, never mind its win, was a bit of a surprise to me; after all, the game has set actual world records for crowdfunding, though not nearly enough to put it among the most expensive AAA MMOs to date. Still, I think that most non-fanatics are watching the game's development with skepticism, doubtful that the hype surrounding the game currently can ever be fulfilled. It probably won't flop in a crash-and-burn sense, but it probably won't be space sim fans' end-all, be-all, either.

By the way, this award was a prediction, not a hope. We don't make a career of writing about MMOs because we enjoy or want to see any MMO flop. Even if we weren't gamers ourselves, bad games are bad for our business too: Flopped MMOs are terrible for hits long-term.

Biggest Blunder: Dev hubris/obstinance. The reader poll is again nearly tied between disdain for WildStar's endgame obsession and ArcheAge's pitiful launches. I tried with this award to come up with a team answer that would encapsulate everyone's more specific nominations, but the readers were undaunted. You guys were out for blood with those two games.

The biggest blunder and flop awards showed the downside of splitting our awards into 12 discrete posts. In recent years, we've put out one awards post with all of our awards and just a few writers weighing in on each. That's mean that most of the reader discussion was on just a few awards, and the smaller or more negative awards were swallowed up in the noise. In splitting them up, we hoped to collect a few more hits, convey all of our writers' opinions, and create space for better discussion for each award. But it also meant that these sad-trombone type awards were much more exposed, all out there by themselves, leading some readers to complain about the negative tone, even though the award categories were identical to last year's, when we received no such complaints. It's certainly something we'll think about next year, but still, we're not the genre's cheerleaders. We're the commentators, the critics. Sugarcoating is the opposite of our job. There are plenty of sites that will cheerlead if that's what you want to hear.

Trend of the Year: Sandbox stuff. Sandbox stuff won last year as well, and it's winning this year's reader poll by a large margin too. Between voxel-based building games by the score and housing coming to darn near everything, I think it's safe to say that the reintroduction of non-combat elements and mechanics will continue in the next few years as both sandboxes and themeparks struggle to carve out their niches in the existing MMO space. I'll also say yay for all of it. This is a trend we've desperately needed.

Pseudo-MMO of the Year: Hearthstone. Hearthstone took the reader poll also, but not without plenty of angst from the peanut gallery and players insistent that our definition of pseudo-MMO should be replaced with theirs. In truth, this is not a category the Massively writers usually feel particularly strongly about, as our domain is core MMOs, so whether we run this award next year will probably depend on how awesome the not-so-massive field turns out to be. Also, hat tip to pseudo-MMO-ARPG Marvel Heroes, which technically came out in 2013 but this month has managed to captivate half my staff such that I suspect everyone is playing it instead of writing.

Biggest Disappointment: Tie between WildStar and ArcheAge. That's roughly how the reader poll has worked out too; as of this writing, it's 1666 to 1677. This is another of those sad-trombone categories, but I think it's a fair assessment of a disappointing year when it comes to headlining MMOs. Interestingly, though Elder Scrolls Online came in a distant third here, more people voted for it here as a disappointment than voted for it for GOTY.

Best Studio: SOE. City State Entertainment, my own pick, completely ran away with the reader vote, followed by SOE, Blizzard, and ArenaNet, but that's more a result of strategic social media maneuvering, I suspect. I think SOE has done a lot this year to create AAA transparency, so I can get behind the choice, and I think the nod to CSE, whose reps routinely answer our community's questions in our comments, is more than deserved too.

Most Improved: Final Fantasy XIV. XIV took the reader poll as well, followed by SWTOR in a distant second place. This award is one that will probably be expanded or renamed next year as it's become our de facto "best old game" category, and after a year like this, we think old games deserve more than a pat on the back. XIV deserves the accolades, two years running, having dug itself out of a massive ditch and managing to attract a wide variety of MMO players who are just looking for something that's pleasant and deep and functional in return for their subscription.

Biggest Story: ArcheAge's failboatery. And the readers agreed with the writers here hands-down. This might be the only award I can't personally get behind this year; I still think the loss of Titan was a bigger story that will send ripples across the surface of the genre for years to come, but I certainly understand the rage for the way ArcheAge has been handled by developer and publisher alike, and I hope it won't hurt other inbound sandboxes.

Most Underrated: Elite: Dangerous. The readers chose Elite as well, though "nothing" was a close second. This is one of those "sleeper hit" awards that won by a single vote, but I think Elite deserved it this year; it's been seriously overshadowed by Star Citizen both in terms of money and hype, and yet in spite of its last-minute PR snafu, it's a solid MMO that just needs to work a bit more on its "MM."

So that's a wrap on this year's formal team awards. We also tapped WildStar's soundtrack for best of the year, rounded up our 10 fave One Shots submissions from 2014, made predictions about 2015 and scored last year's, and chatted about the awards on a podcast roundtable. Stay tuned this weekend as Massively's Justin explores the games we are all looking forward to next year and beyond!

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 Friday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at ask@massively.com. Just ask!

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