Hey, if one of the perks of writing a blog is that you can arbitrarily create an award show with precisely one judge who hands out shinies from above, then you’d be a fool not to take advantage of that, right? Right? So I now present to you the 2009 Flushies, Bio Break’s first annual award show to whatever I remembered of the year previous.
Also, there are toilets. We have a theme to uphold.
Sleeper Hit of the Year – Fallen Earth
If you told me back at the beginning of 2009 that I’d be playing this unheard-of MMO — and more than just playing it, raving about it and loving it to pieces — I would have smacked you silly with a smelly fish. Yes, I keep smelly fish around just for that purpose. But in one of the most delightful surprises of my MMO career, Fallen Earth slammed through my monitor and knocked me breathless. Whether it be the post-apocalyptic setting, the bizarre sense of humor, the awesome dev team or the sum of its parts, I’m still recovering.
Innovation of the Year – LOTRO’s Skirmish System
Although I was only with LOTRO for a few months this year, I enjoyed my stay (but curse that North Downs duldrum!) and am continually rooting for this solid title. Their mini-expansion, Siege of Mirkwood, unleashed a brand-new feature that’s already having other games lusting after it — the Skirmish system. A fast-paced customizable instance experience, skirmishes let you hop into a quick battle either solo, in a small group or in a raid, and give you a companion character to equip and train for these encounters.
Flash in the Pan Award – [tie] Aion and Champions Online
While their settings, history or gameplay couldn’t be more different, both Aion and Champions shared a couple of eerie similarities. Both released in September after roaring amounts of anticipation, both were praised for their looks and accessible gameplay, and both were dropped from the public consciousness (as well as several subscriber’s budgets) by mid-October or so. Once the honeymoon ended, judgment hit these two titles hard, and both were found lacking of substance and long-term interest.
Fall From Grace Award – Warhammer Online
As much as Fallen Earth brought a smile to my face, the saga of Warhammer Online saddened my heart. By January 2009, WAR was still fun and we were holding out for future greatness — greatness that never seemed to come. 2009 hit WAR hard, with layoffs after layoffs at Mythic, subscriber defections, and a much-hyped Land of the Dead “expansion” that didn’t do much to reverse WAR’s fortune. Although they hit a couple of right notes with the unlimited trial and the Mac version, WAR’s fallen on hard times indeed.
Biggest Blog Spat – Soloers vs. Groupers
When you write or read blogs long enough, you see recurring themes that never quite get satisfied and/or agreed upon pop up over and over again. Out of these percolating topics, the biggest blog spat I saw in 2009 was the intense debate between MMO soloers (i.e. those who prefer to spend most, but not always all, of their time in game soloing and appreciate titles that accomidate that) and MMO groupers (i.e. those who feel that multiplayer games should always favor, encourage and design for grouping). My personal bit on this topic was here, but passions flared bright and hot for a good two-week period before all calmed down and we started jawing about why you might play a character of the opposite gender instead.
Renovation of the Year – Dungeons & Dragons Eberron Unlimited
Seriously, who thought we would not only be talking about DDO at great lengths this year, but actually praising a game that most expected to be on the way out the door? Not me, that’s for sure — but DDO’s renovation as “Eberron Unlimited” has injected a huge amount of new interest in the title, and proved that a MMO can switch from subscriber to F2P and make it work.
Trend of the Year – Free-to-Play/Freemium
Microtransactions, MMO stores, Turbine Points, Cryptic Points, Free-to-Play, Freemium and more were all the rage around the virtual water coolers this year, as several titles started exploring F2P options, giving players an unprecedented amount of variety and depth for no money down. And the good news for both sides is that this is trending well for companies with making money (if they hook you, your wallet will come) and for players on a tight budget.
Most Improved Award – World of Warcraft
It wasn’t the best of years for WoW — the China syndrome hurt Blizzard in the pocketbooks — but the MMO-that-could showed that it wasn’t afraid of reinventing itself with the upcoming Cataclysm, nor of continually expanding the game to make it more accessible and attractive to a broad field of players, with features such as their acclaimed Dungeon Finder tool. My history with this title might be contentious, but only because there’s still some love there, and I have to give credit where credit’s due.
Biggest Surprise – Torchlight
As action RPG fans continue to wait for the decade-in-development Diablo III, Runic Games quietly came along and stole the show with a casual Diablo clone that took their classic FATE and did it ten times better. Bloggers and gamers almost everywhere were loving on this title, which is a good sign as they prep to transform it into a MMO of some kind in the next couple years.
Biggest Disappointment – No Guild Wars 2 Until 2011
In 2009, the silence surrounding Guild Wars 2 finally broke, as trailers and first details about this much-anticipated title poured out of ArenaNet. But almost as soon as fans were whipped into a frenzy, the bombshell dropped — we wouldn’t be seeing this title until 2011… at the earliest. Suddenly, 2010 became a barren wasteland of a year for many souls.
Best Hype – Star Wars: The Old Republic
Hype’s almost a dirty word for many MMO gamers, but around here, it is what it is — an acceptible and traditional part of being a fan of this genre, and even enjoyable as you anticipate a (hopefully) good game coming down the pike. Hands-down, Star Wars: The Old Republic dominated the hype-o-meter this year, continually resurfacing to announce new features and classes, and dethroning temporary hype kings such as WoW, Champions and Star Trek Online. TOR’s hype is a creature that’s grown beyond BioWare’s machinations — the community for this game is absolutely huge, with multiple podcasts, blogs and sites salivating over this MMO.
Most Impressive Numbers – EVE Online Tops 300K Subs
Hitting 300,000 subscribers in a MMO is a respectable number, for sure. Hitting it after six years of constant growth is, well, almost unheard of. So kudos to CCP, showing us how to launch and grow a small MMO into a veritable giant empire in a shade over a half decade!
In Memorandum – Matrix Online, Dungeon Runners, Tabula Rasa, Shadowbane
It wasn’t the happiest of years for all gaming communities. Small and “niche” as they were, these MMOs received their pink slips and went into that final death spiral — some leaving too soon, some lasting far beyond what was expected. In any case, a toast to the fallen and to players who miss their virtual homes.