Ten Ton Hammer News Editor Stacy “Martuk” Jones
reviews the highs and lows, the launches and cancellations, the
lawsuits, bankruptcies, and corporate hijinx that made up this year in
MMOGs in our very last article of the year: The Ten Biggest MMOG News
Stories of 2010
10. Five New (and Non-Traditional) MMORPGs Launch
For all the bad news of 2010, it’s easy to overlook the surprising number of genuinely new and different MMOGs released. For starters, the future was a crowded place last February, when Star Trek Online and Global Agenda launched back-to-back, Both rode a wave of pre-launch hype (especially Trekkie- STO, of course) followed by decent sales, subscription-month disillusionment, a period of settling into their respective niches. Both also seem to be on the upswing: user-created content via the Foundry seems to be well received by STO players, and Global Agenda (having gone free-to-play this summer) has just launched its first PvE-driven expansion, Sandstorm.
LEGO Universe, Vindictus, and World of Warcraft: Cataclysm were the fall contenders in the MMO sector, along with a sputtering offering from Square Enix that we’ll discuss below. LEGO U offset a relatively small content offering with incredible player-created content options (over 50,000 player-created models and environments had been created at last count), while Vindictus’s stunningly visceral level of action gameplay revealed to us how much we’ve been missing with auto-attack. Finally, WoW went farther than any MMORPG has ever gone to reinvent itself with Cataclysm, a top-down revitalization of the celebrated original.
9. SyFy and Trion World Network Team Up for New "One Earth" TV Show, MMOG
Trion Worlds is gaining recognition for their upcoming MMORPGs Rift and End of Nations, but what you may not be aware of is that they also have another project in the works in cooperation with the SyFy channel. The project, currently under the working title of One Earth, will work to merge the MMO world with a television show that will run simultaneously. Events in one will influence the world in the other. It’s certainly an ambitious project that has only one of two possible outcomes: Epic Win or Epic Fail. I see no middle ground for this one.
8. Mythic’s Botched Billing
Playing your favorite MMORPGs can be costly at times, but it proved to be extremely costly for some. Warhammer Online and Dark Age of Camelot players earlier this year when they found out that Mythic’s billing vendor made a slight boo boo that resulted in several accounts being charged multiple times . In many cases these charges ran in the $300-$400 range, but some rare instances reportedly broke $1,000. While Mythic wasn’t directly responsible, this sort of screw up doesn’t do your reputation any favors in a market where people are already reserved about giving out their credit/debit card details.
Mythic took steps to make things right by players, but the damage was already done. Many players had to spend hours on the phone with their bank and Mythic to try and sort out any excess overdraft charges. This was the second major customer service snafu of the year – Atari’s removal of 60 days’ gametime for Star Trek Online Collector’s Edition purchasers created a storm of controversy in March. Atari later honored the deal.
7. Square Enix Replaces FFXIV Leadership, PS3 Version Delayed
When it comes to worst launch candidate of the year, I’m not sure if that dubious honor goes to APB for its short-lived existence or to Final Fantasy XIV. One of the year’s most anticipated titles, FFXIV was released in such a poor state at launch that developer / publisher Square Enix has yet to charge a month of subscription, delayed the PS3 launch, and swapped out the original project leadership team almost entirely. Following the FFXIV launch issues and leadership changes, Square Enix went on to cut its yearly net forecast by 90%. So the question is – Can the new leadership team turn things around for 2011?
6. Richard Garriott Wins $28 Million Suit Against NCSoft
Richard Garriott’s legacy isn’t in dispute, we’re thankful for all he did for the Ultima series and Ultima Online. Every UO veteran has great stories to tell and, that being the case, we tried not to take sides on this particular issue. We’d even be happy he’d made a cool $28 million, if it hadn’t come from the pockets of one of the world’s largest active MMO publishers.
Granted, it’s more than a little shady that NCSoft fired their Tabula Rasa figurehead in absentia. But, frankly, we think it’s at least as odd that Lord British took a couple months off to fly to space as the game bearing literally his name, Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa, crashed and burned. The judgment has us bummed – we’d much rather have seen that $28M go towards games like Guild Wars 2 than Garriott’s next near-earthescapade or his other new hobby (/shudder): Facebook game development.
5. Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment Files Bankruptcy
No one expected great things from Stargate Resistance when it launched on February 11th of this year, but any hopes for the game were quickly extinguished when developer Firesky’s parent company Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment filed a case for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy the following day. The game did manage to survive 2010 despite countless court complaints, a second round of not paying the devs and a bouncing of the game’s rights from CME to Dark Comet Games and then back to CME again, but it will meet its demise on January 15th, 2011 when the servers will shut down for the final time barring an extension of the Stargate license from MGM.
4. The Year’s Biggest Cancellations - APB Fires Its Last Shot
2010 was not a kind year to All Points Bulletin developer Realtime Worlds. The developer launched its flagship title All Points Bulletin (APB) on June 29th to lukewarm reviews. Less than two weeks later, Realtime Worlds announced restructuring plans for the company and by August 17th had entered into Administration. On September 16th, Realtime Worlds announced that APB would be shutting down its servers, making the 3-month old game the shortest lived big-budgeted online gaming titles ever. Fortunately for APB fans, free-to-play publisher GamersFirst acquired the title in November and resumed development of the game under its subsidiary, Reloaded Productions.
APB might have been the year’s most costly cancellation, but no single developer or publisher could quite match Acclaim Games’ body count. Playdom announced its acquisition of Acclaim Games on May 18th and by August 27th it had shut down Acclaim Games’ support for The Chronicles of Spellborn, 2Moons, Bots, Dance Online, 9Dragons and several others. Support for some games like 9Dragons and 2Moons were picked up by other companies, but Acclaim Games had possibly the biggest list of shut downs for any MMORPG publisher in 2010.
3. Star Wars: The Old Republic – A $300 Million “Failure”?
We’re not familiar with the Chinese zodiac, but 2010 might have been the year of the rat. First, in the wake of APB’s shutdown, former devs Luke Halliwell, Josh Howard, and Ben Bateman took turns calling Realtime Worlds’ decision-making to task. Then, in October, a disgruntled BioWare Mythic layoff candidate calling himself (or herself) EA Louse offered detailed observations regarding Warhammer Online’s shortcomings, going on to throw out SWTOR budget numbers and predicting that SWTOR will be “one of the greatest failures in the history of MMOs from EA.”
Intrigued, we took EA up on their offer to come check out the game in early December and were happy to see the game had improved drastically since we last saw it at GDC 2010, and was, in fact, a lot of fun. Will the rest of the game can compare to the Jedi and grouped experiences we previewed? We’ll find out next year.
2. LotRO Revenue Doubles Since Free-to-Play Launch
The biggest success story of 2010 this side of Azeroth belongs to Turbine’s The Lord of the Rings Online. The adaptation of a free-to-play model helped bolster the game’s concurrent user number as well as doubling LotRO’s revenue since the free-to-play/subscription hybrid switch. Congrats to Turbine for yet another fine free-to-play port.
1. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm – 3.3 Million Units Sold in 24 Hours
That Blizzard sells a bajillion copies of a WoW expansion borders on non-news. It’s just a fact of life, like the gravitational constant, triple-A launch delays, or Richard Garriott wearing a wacky costume. But we couldn’t resist the opportunity to point out that in an era where it’s fashionable to call MMORPGs obsolete and PC gaming dead, a PC-only MMORPG became the fastest selling video game of all time. Take that, Halo and Madden!
Thanks for joining us for a look back at the biggest news stories of 2010. Ten Ton Hammer wishes you a happy and healthy 2011, and we hope you’ll come to us for the latest in MMOG news in the new year!