2010: Looking Back

As much as I love retrospective posts and Top X Lists of the Year, I suppose it’s almost time to tuck those away for another 364 days.  January 1st always hits me like a wall of normalcy after the hectic month that was December.  Once tomorrow rolls in, it’s back to normal schedules and normal objectives and no awesome holidays until President’s Day (party central!).

So instead of getting bummed about the 1st, I wanted to take a couple minutes to look back at 2010.  While it may have not been much for MMOs, I thought it was a pretty exciting year — announcements, betas, getting back into old games, and so on.  I actually played a lot of MMOs this year, including:

  • World of Warcraft: I wrapped up my interest in this game early on in the year, and was finally able to say goodbye.
  • Lord of the Rings Online: I got back into LOTRO in February and have had an utter blast getting a character up in high levels, being part of a terrific kinship, and participating in many non-combat events.
  • Global Agenda: Played it for about a week, it’s decent for what it is, but it’s not for me.
  • Star Trek Online: Despite numerous hiccups on Cryptic’s part, I’ve enjoyed STO off and on during the year, and have spent about 100 hours in-game so far.
  • Ultima Online: Finally got a taste of this classic MMO for a few days — nothing compelling, but cool to be able to say I was there.
  • Anarchy Online: Spent a few weeks revisiting this title and my memories from back in the day.
  • Allods Online: I liked the beta, but the launch cash shop ruckus turned me off of it.
  • Age of Conan: Yeah, spent a couple days going through the newbie zone.  Decent game, but I didn’t feel like sticking it out.
  • DCUO: Played a very little bit of the beta, thought it looked really nice but I wasn’t too thrilled about the consoleish feel.
  • City of Heroes: Returned for a couple weeks with the intention of seeing the Going Rogue launch, but a once-familiar staple of my gaming life felt really drab and meandering, so I quit.
  • DDO: Enjoyed it off and on, but ultimately it lost its grip on me and I let it go with a teary farewell.
  • EverQuest II Extended: Went through the intro zone and generally liked it, but was turned off by the graphics and the bizarre pricing plan.
  • Guild Wars: Been playing through the campaigns for the Hall of Monuments calculator, and although I haven’t been in-game for a month or so, I have plans to return.
  • Rift: Got into the beta, and have been slowly won over by this gorgeous and pretty dang fun title.
  • Star Wars Galaxies: Played it for a couple weeks for a column, liked it so-so but it just got me itching for The Old Republic after a while.  Cool space combat, tho.
  • Vindictus: Tried the opening level, it felt way too much like a mindless click-fest and quit.

Whew, in retrospect, that’s a LOT!  And I’m not including all of my off-line gaming, including Mass Effect 2 (awesome), Back to the Future: The Game, Borderlands, Secret of Monkey Island, Dragon Age Origins, Torchlight and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

On the homefront, it’s been pretty crazy too: classes, work, family life.  Back in April my daughter was born, a daughter who’s now standing up and holding her own in play sessions with her one-year-old brother.  Being a dad is better than any game out there, which is why MMOs don’t stand a chance if they’re awake.

In February, I was hired by Massively to be a columnist and contributing editor, and in a way, it was a perfect fit.  I’ve always wanted to be a part of the games industry in some way, and writing about it comes naturally.  The folks over there are just terrific, and we’ve had a great year of covering the news and talking about the games we love.  I don’t know how you feel about the site, but I can testify to the real passion that everyone there has for MMOs.  It’s not a job, it’s being paid for what we were going to talk about anyway.  Well, okay, on days I don’t want to write, it’s certainly more job-like than others, but all in all I consider myself a very fortunate guy who has two jobs he really likes to do.

2010 wasn’t perfect — I didn’t lose all the weight I wanted to (although I made a small dent), I let a few projects slip that I wish I would’ve been better about, and I know that dividing my writing interests have hurt Bio Break in some ways.  But you have to take the bad with the good, and I’m pretty darn satisfied with how it ended up.

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2010 Flushies: Most Over-Hyped Feature, Biggest Surprise, Best Non-MMO

Winner: EVE Online’s “Walking in Stations”

I guess this is a Big Deal for the EVE community?  But every time I hear “Walking in Stations” said with this sort of reverent, hushed awe, I have this overwhelming desire to stand up on a chair and shout, “EVERY OTHER MMO LETS YOU WALK AROUND.  IT IS NOT THAT SPECIAL.”

CCP’s been teasing and drawing this feature out for years now, to the point where the phrase “Walking in Stations” is competing with “Duke Nukem Forever” for senior citizen benefits.  Okay, not really, but it does seem like much to do about nothing.

Winner: Minecraft

Seriously, who would’ve predicted that the breakout phenomenon of the year would be a visually blocky game that revolved around crafting and building?

In a pleasant surprise to pretty much everyone who got addicted to Minecraft, this game created the ultimate sandbox for the little kid in all of us.  By giving players the basic building blocks of the world and told to have at it, creativity and ingenuity reigned over combat and story.  Tales of Minecraft dominated blogs for a good period of time, and YouTube is replete with videos of absolutely insane Minecraft projects, like full-scale recreations of the Earth or the Enterprise.

Winner: Mass Effect 2

As cool as Mass Effect was, Mass Effect 2 ratcheted the awesome up to untold heights with its Magnificent Seven-style story of a group of lovable misfits banding together to save the galaxy from a growing threat.  If nothing else, it gave us one of my favorite characters of all time, Mordin, the ethically-challenged, oddly-speaking, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-singing alien.

Runners-up:

  • Back to the Future: The Game — A great return to the BTTF franchise with episodic adventures
  • Civilization V — Far more attractive and user-friendly than ever, although it still suffered from some of the series’ flaws

That’s it for this year’s Flushie Awards — and for the year itself!  If I don’t post again today, have a wonderful and safe New Year’s Eve, and I’ll see you on the flip side.

Bravo, World of Warcraft Community. Bravo.

From the WoW forums (thanks Victor!):

“I recently had an accident that resulted in the permanent lose of my hearing… I felt more alone than ever.”

Oh man, that… that sucks.

“Do you know what the first question i got from my guild leader was? He asked me if i could still use vent.”

Srsly?

“He tells me that i can’t raid unless i have vent. Guild rules and all. I was pissed. After a huge blow out between us i get removed from the guild and put on ignore.”

SRSLY?

/facepalm

2010 Flushies: Marketing Win, Trend of the Year, Misfiring in All Directions, X-Pack of the Year

Winner: Guild Wars 2 Hall of Monuments Calculator

So how do you reward loyal fans, rally gamers around an upcoming MMO, and get a bunch of new players to buy your six-year-old product?  If you’re ArenaNet, you come out with the Hall of Monuments Calculator.

By giving players incentives to both purchase and play Guild Wars 1 in order to stock up rewards for Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet revitalized the community in a way we haven’t seen in years.  Even yours truly was suckered into the deal, and I guess that means a win for the company.

Winner: Subscription Games Going Free-to-Play

It’s not as if it was a secret that free-to-play entices gamers like crazy, but it took DDO to break open the dam that ushered the Western world into this trend.  Suddenly, MMO studios were stumbling over each other with announcements that their game was going F2P: EverQuest 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Global Agenda, Champions Online, even (sort of) APB.

The results?  We can’t say for sure, but it looks as if this model is certainly paying off for a few titles, such as LOTRO, which gained a lot of publicity and additional playerbase by the end of the year.

Winner: Sony Online Entertainment

As I wondered a little while ago, what the heck is going on over at SOE?  Almost every time you’d hear from them this year, it was almost never good but usually confusing.  The Agency went so quiet we thought it was canceled, EverQuest II jumped on the F2P bandwagon in such a slipshod manner that it felt like it was a last-minute decision, the company announces (little to nothing about) the third EQ game, Pirates goes F2P, EQ2 charges ridiculous marketplace prices, and so on.

Sure, every studio has their ups and downs, but this once-mighty empire now appears to be fractured and misfiring everywhere.

Runner-up:

  • The Bible Online: Too bad to be intentional, too lame to be cool, The Bible Online turned out to be some hilarious photocopy version of the Bible (with Crusaders and such) that invited mockery from believers and non-believers alike.  The company then announced a name change (GodStoria — no, seriously) and Sodom and Gomorrah PvP (really), and we just gave up trying to figure out who these crazy people were.

Winner: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Crud.  Who mixed up the box art?  Arnie, was it you?  Stupid Arnie, always futzing things up in Bio Break’s image department.  Time for a bit of attitude readjustment, Arnie!  Into the poodle pit with you!

Anyway — yeah, Cataclysm, as if there was any doubt.  It sold a bajillion copies, was hailed as a savior of the stale leveling game, and was beaten in about 8 hours after release.  I give Blizzard props for giving the old world a makeover, although the longevity of the expansion is definitely in question.

Runners-up:

  • EVE Online: Tyrannis
  • City of Heroes: Going Rogue
  • Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer

2010 Flushies: Best Trailer, Dud of the Year, Customer Service Fail, Best Beta

Winner: Guild Wars 2 “Manifesto”

Bold.  Audacious.  Inspiring.  These were just a few of the words that popped into mind when ArenaNet began its Guild Wars 2 marketing blitz with a powerful “Manifesto” trailer that came out swinging.  After a series of strong statements — “Cause and effect, a single decision made by a player cascades out in a chain of events” — the devs shut up and let the game’s visuals and concept art speak for itself.  It’s one of those videos that made our little neck hairs stand up and an involuntary “heck yesss!” escape our lips.

Runners-up:

  • Global Agenda: Tired of Elves
  • Rift: Beta trailer
  • Star Wars The Old Republic: Hope

Winner: Final Fantasy XIV

Gah!  I feel so torn on this — partially because APB deserves it just as much, and because piling more onto FF14 feels like you’re picking on the weakest kid in the class.  But that’s how the cookie crumbles — no other MMO this year was as highly anticipated and failed as horribly as Final Fantasy XIV.  From out-of-touch developers refusing to listen to testers to a cryptically bizarre subscription model to terrible reviews to the sacking of a good chunk of the dev team, watching the launch of this title became sheer rubbernecking after a while.  I know that some folks love this game and appreciate it for what it is — and good for them — but it’s not a good sign when the company is still not charging a monthly subscription for a AAA title out of fear of the playerbase fleeing entirely.

Runners-Up:

  • APB: Winner of the shortest-lived MMO award.  By all reports, it wasn’t that great of a game, although it had a good character builder and some folks loved the concept of it.  But Realtime Worlds quickly went under and dragged APB with it, so it doesn’t really matter how good the game was or wasn’t.  The only positive news is that GamersFirst rescued it and will revive APB as a F2P title next year.
  • Allods Online: Unlike the other two games, Allods is pretty solid and polished — it’s just that it had a lot of promise and excitement surrounding the launch, and then the company shot it in the foot with a horrid cash shop prices that seriously crippled players unwilling to pay.  As a result, Allods went from golden boy to black sheep within a month.

Winner: Cryptic Studios

I’m not quite sure what went on in Cryptic’s Monday morning meetings, but it must’ve been massive bewilderment for the sheer vitriol that players kept throwing their way.  It was as if Cryptic didn’t quite understand just how much it was constantly putting its foot in its mouth with terrible customer service decisions, such as trying to charge players for additional content that should’ve been in their games in the first place, electing a small group of players to sit on a council and receive special attention over everyone else, or any one of the other 50 gaffes the studio made this year.

Runner-up:

  • Dungeons and Dragons Online: Turbine wasn’t exempt from a few wince-inducing decisions this year, from DDO’s ill-conceived offer wall to a glitch in a festival that caused the company to ban many players for “exploits” (and then tried to hush it up instead of dealing with it straight-on).

Winner: Rift

To be honest, I wasn’t in a lot of betas this year, but of those I checked out, Rift’s came across heads and shoulders more polished, more playable and more fun than any of the others.  So much so that I don’t want to play it too much more and spoil the launch.

Rift: Space Invaders

Rift’s third beta event’s going on for the next few days, although I’m reluctant to dive that much into it before launch — I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m growing attached to my little lightning-spewing dwarf.  But I did log on for an hour or so to check out the new changes, as well as check out the dynamic content more closely.

When I was logged in, there were around 3-4 rifts open at any one time, which seemed like a lot (but then again, I have no idea how many people were in the zone).  I trotted down to a life rift and helped another player mop up the final few mobs, but I guess we were a little slow on the killing spree, because right when we thought the rift was going to close, it spat out an invasion instead.

Invasions are like 6-8 elite mobs (don’t quote me on numbers) with a boss mixed in there somewhere, and because they have 5K health to your 500, it’s a suicidal idea to stand in one’s way without backup.  So I got steamrolled, and fast, then rezzed to follow at a safe distance.

Let me tell you, these rampaging invaders are pretty cool to watch in action.  They definitely have a goal in mind — these portal stone things in the middle of quest hubs — and they chew through anything on their way there.  I saw these guys pause to slaughter a few spiders who wandered too closely, which amused me to no end — EvE combat, finally!  And their carpet effect follows them, changing the terrain in a circle around them with spiffy effects (kind of like the ground is melting).

So they got to the town, and a boss starts setting up a foothold as there were too few of us to stop him.  Once it was set up, the place got even worse, and as we attacked the portal stone, it would pulse on occasion to knock us away.  I thought it particularly cool that when we took out the stone and threw off the foothold, the boss immediately tried to set up another one instead of just vanishing.

Anyway, nothing super-impressive, but I’m definitely liking how much this changes the environment around you.  Nothing seems as safe when a rift or invasion can come along, and there’s some nice incentives to fighting back instead of taking the path of least resistance.

2010 Flushies: Name-Changer, Cash Shop Insanity, Most Hyped MMO

Winner: RIFT

Games in development often change their names, true.  But the marketing team over at Trion Worlds apparently had a mid-life crisis this year, and decided to change RIFT’s name on a bi-weekly schedule.  First the game was called Heroes of Telara — dull, but functional.  Then it became Rift: Planes of Telara.  Then the word “Rift” was capitalized as “RIFT”.  Then the “Planes of Telara” was dropped and the game simply became Rift.  Then Trion sent out word that we had to call it RIFT again.

Seriously, by the end of this year it was something of a running joke: “What will they change it to next?”  My money is on ~*RIFT*~.

Winner: Blizzard’s $25 Sparkle Pony

This was probably the most difficult category to figure out, mostly because it seemed as if every MMO studio was majorly out to fleece players this year through ridiculous cash shop prices.  While Blizzard’s $25 Celestial Steed may not even be the most expensive item out there, it instantly pushed the bar way higher for how much players would tolerate stupid prices in the name of buying their way to the top (in this case, one of the best mounts of the game).  Outrage, arguments and discussion ensued, all while Blizzard raked in millions from a sparkle pony.

Runners-up:

  • Warhammer Online: Which allowed players to simply buy a level for $10.
  • Allods Online: Which vastly overpriced its necessary store items, driving players away from this promising title in droves.
  • Cryptic: For pretty much everything in the C-Store that should’ve come standard in the game.
  • Fallen Earth: For cash shop items that were highly priced for a niche title.
  • SOE: For the obscenely priced $55 guild name change service.

Winner: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Whew — another tough category with strong nominees.  When it comes to hype, it’s not a question of “which MMO” so much as “how loud they’re being.”  In the lead-up to 2011’s titles, there’s been so much noise that it’s hard to distinguish between them all.

That said, I’m giving the very slight edge to The Old Republic this year.  Between the marketing blitz, dev videos, convention appearances, constant reveals, and massive community, TOR is already at tsunami-levels of anticipation and hype.  Will it succeed?  Will it fail?  I don’t really care, as long as I can shoot Jedi with a laser cannon.

Runners-up:

  • Guild Wars 2: This stalwart community treated even the tiniest scrap of news about GW2 with shirt-rending frenzy, and ArenaNet was not stingy with the announcements.
  • RIFT: I felt that the groundswell of hype only started to take purchase for this game in the past couple months, but since then, it’s been tremendous.  People aren’t calling it a WoW killer, but an improved WoW substitute?  I have heard that.