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2008 MMORPG.com Reader's Choice Awards: Biggest News Story

This year, MMORPG.com kicks off the voting for our 2008 Reader's Choice Awards by asking our readers which of these six editorial staff nominated news stories was the biggest in 2008.

What was the Biggest News Story of 2008?

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Activision / Blizzard Merge

Originally announced in December of 2007, the merger of goliath game studios Activision and Blizzard became official on July 9th of 2008, making it a contender for news story of the year in this year's MMORPG.com Reader's Choice awards.

Blizzard, owned then by the French media group Vivendi, are makers of such hit franchises as Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft, including, of course, the phenomenally popular MMORPG, World of Warcraft.

Activision, meanwhile, boasts such mega-franchises as Call of Duty, Quake, Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk.

The idea behind the merger was to create "the world's most profitable games business" and was said to be worth, at the time of announcement, 18.8 billion dollars.

While this piece of news may not shock the average gamer to the core, It speaks volumes about the current and future strength of the current #1 MMORPG on the market and of course required a nomination for our Biggest News Story of the Year.

Wrath of the Lich King Screenshot

Age of Conan Directorial Change

On September 17th, 2008, Funcom announced that Gaute Godager, the Game Director of Age of Conan, was stepping down from his position and that he would be replaced by Anarchy Online Game Director Craig Morrision.

Usually, a staffing change alone wouldn't be enough to garner a nomination for Biggest News Story of the Year, but this event get the nomination as much for the events that apparently led up to as for the event itself:

On May 20th, 2008, Age of Conan launched to apparently glowing reviews, but shortly thereafter, complaints began to rise up about, among other things, a lack of content in areas beyond the very well constructed Island of Tortage, performance issues, use of instancing, a lack of announced features like DX 10, and more.

While Funcom has, since launch, been working hard to eliminate these and other issues, the 16 year Funcom veteran cited dissatisfaction with certain elements of the game and a desire to get new, fresh eyes on the game as reasons for leaving:

"I have done my very best making this fabulous game, but I have concluded there are elements which I am dissatisfied with. I have decided to act on this, and as a result I have chosen to leave Funcom. It is time to get new, fresh eyes on Age of Conan, and I wholeheartedly support the appointment of Craig. I have had a fantastic time these last 16 years, and I am very proud of the many things Funcom has achieved. Funcom and Conan will always be a big part of me, but as I now look to new ventures outside the gaming industry I am certain Age of Conan's future is in the best of hands."

Morrison, who is currently at the helm of the game, comes from a journalistic background and employs a style that relies heavily on player feedback: said Product Manager Erling Ellingson:

"We have a tremendous amount of faith in Craig as a new producer and game director. One of the brilliant things about Craig is his extensive experience with handling large online communities, and right now key to Age of Conan's future success will be to listen to player feedback, analyze that and act on that. And I think Craig is perfect in that regard."

All of that said, because of its possible impact on a troubled game that had been so highly anticipated, the resignation of a Game Director and the naming of his successor have found a way onto our nomination board for Biggest News Story of the Year.

Age of Conan Screenshot

Bioware Announces Star Wars: The Old Republic

On October 21st, 2008, Bioware Austin finally revealed the truth behind what was almost universally known as the worst kept secret in the industry by announcing that the new MMO that they had been working on was indeed an online iteration of the popular Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic franchise.

Rumors that the specifically opened Austin satellite of the Edmonton-based company was working on a new Star Wars MMO date back almost to the March 13th, 2006 announcement that Bioware was forming an MMO studio.

After years of having Bioware devs skirt the specifics in interviews, July 17th 2008 marked the first time that they game was "officially" mentioned by someone in power. The word, officially, appears so dramatically in quotation marks above because the reveal happened in a John Riccitiello interview with Portfolio.com.

From the article:

"We've got two of the most compelling MMOs in the industry in development," said Riccitiello. The first title, based on the Warhammer property, will launch soon. "And the one that people are dying for us to talk to them about -- in partnership with Lucas, coming out of BioWare, which is, I think, quite possibly the most anticipated game, full stop, for the industry at the point when we get closer to telling you about it."

It wasn't, however, until October 21st that we got official (no quotation marks this time) word on the game's existence. At that time, we learned that the game would be called Star Wars: The Old Republic, that it would take place about 3 centuries after the first two Knights of the Old Republic games and numerous other announcement-day details.

Regardless of how long we waited, or for how long we've all secretly known in our heart of hearts what Bioware's secret project was, October 21st marked an important news day for MMORPG industry followers. Was is this year's biggest news story? You decide.

Age of Conan Screenshot

The Saga of Star Trek Online

Star Trek fans the world over have been foaming at the mouth to step foot into the Star Trek universe and have done so vicariously through five television series, ten (almost 11) movies, countless comic books, novels and video games but never before have Trekkers and Trekkies alike been able to actually exist within a persistent version of their universe.

That dream seemed about to come true for fans back in September of 2004 when San Francisco based Perpetual Entertainment announced that they had obtained the rights to make just such an MMORPG.

Development on the project continued much as with most MMOs tend to do for the next roughly three and a half years (In January of 2008) when, after a number of unpopular design choices, company layoffs, a company sale, the cancellation of the company's pilot project and even legal issues, the MMORPG community learned that Star Trek Online had been scrapped entirely.

Not to fear though, for fans of the franchise, the news of the game's cancellation came with a caveat... The franchise looked to be going to "another bay area studio".

Speculation about who the mysterious studio might be ran for quite some time, but at a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas on July 28th 2008, everyone's favourite Vulcan Leonard Nimoy (take THAT Tim Russ), was on hand to participate in the announcement that former City of Heroes and current Champions Online development studio Cryptic Studios would be boldly going where only one failed MMO studio had gone before.

The official unveiling wasn't words alone, but included a gameplay footage trailer that seemed to be a way to tell the waiting audience that it wasn't likely to see a repeat of the trials and tribulations that plagued the game's original incarnation.

The re-announcement of an MMO based on such an important science fiction franchise was enough to get our attention and a nomination for Biggest News Story of the Year. Do you agree? Let us know!

Star Trek Online Screenshot

Tabula Rasa Closure

Perhaps the most recent of our Biggest News Story nominees, the November 21st 2008 announcement that NCsoft would be closing the doors to the barely year-old game bearing the name of a man that many consider to be the father of the modern MMO, Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa.

When the game launched in November of 2007, there were those who liked it and those who hated it. The game itself seemed to be an attempt to mix the action of a first person shooter with the mechanics of an MMO.

With gun fights, lazers, diving for cover, alien intrigue, war and other exciting elements, combined with Richard Garriott designed features like Logos (a symbolic language that allowed certain humans to unlock amazing powers) and ethical parables (a chance for players to make actual decisions with their characters), this game had the potential to be a hit. Unfortunately, the audience simply did not agree and while Tabula Rasa has made an effort to improve itself since its launch, the decision was made to close the game's doors.

The announcement, however, didn't come as a complete shock to many who had been following the news surrounding it. On October 12th, the game's namesake, Richard Garriott, lived out his lifelong dream of blasting into space. On November 11th, less than a month after his return to Earth , Garriott made the announcement that he would be leaving the Tabula Rasa team:

I am happy to finally be able to write the players and community of Tabula Rasa. We've been on quite a journey together. First in creating a game unlike any other on the MMO market, then growing a loyal community and finally launching the game and its players into space with Operation Immortality. It has been quite an unforgettable journey, one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

I am very grateful to you loyal players for sticking around through what I think we can all honestly say was a rough launch. I thank the development team for pushing hard to get polish, updates and new content out every month since launch...a feat that I think is unusual in MMO development. They have a lot to be proud of.

Many of you probably wonder what my plans are, now that I have achieved the lifelong dream of going to space. Well, that unforgettable experience has sparked some new interests that I would like to devote my time and resources to. As such, I am leaving NCsoft to pursue those interests.

This news is difficult for me to deliver. I am honored to have worked with the team I've had and I'm grateful to the community who makes this game so unique and fun.

Thank you and farewell.

That announcement was followed ten days later by the closure announcement. Biggest News Story of the Year? You decide!

Warhammer Ditches Four Classes and Four Capital Cities

The last of our nominees for Biggest News Story of the year is the one that I am perhaps the most proud of. On July 11th, MMORPG.com was the first to report that Mythic Entertainment had decided to cut four capital cities (all but Altdorf and Inevitable City) and four careers (Choppa, Hammerer, Blackguard, Knight of the Blazing Sun).

While features get cut from MMOs all the time, it's simply a part of the process, what makes this story unique is that the announcement was made only two months before the game's launch in September and would certainly shape not only player opinion of the game going into its launch, but also what would seem to be the rather delicate balance between classes and sides that is required to run an RvR game (the decision left four of the game's six races without one of their careers).

The decision, we were told, was made because neither the cities nor the careers in question were of the quality that Mythic had hoped to capture:

Said Mythic boss Mark Jacobs of the career cuts:

"This isn't something that I can say that it is really a good thing for the player," he began. "We're cutting out some classes. I can say that we are doing this for quality, absolutely. Unfortunately, what I can't say, and I won't because I've never lied to the player base and while this would be a great place to start, I'm not going to."

"Four of the classes that we've been working on, we just couldn't get great," he continued. "We looked at them and we said these careers are just not great... and we tried, and they weren't coming out well."

Did this announcement have a significant impact on the game, or even on the MMORPG genre as a whole? Was this decision 2008's Biggest News Story? Let us know!

Warhammer Online Screenshot

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