It's hard to forget any time you get a glimpse of the future, but whether it was the crystal ball, or the Tarot cards or just a long night with Mr. Jack Daniels, I looked into the future, straight into the year 2012 where I saw ten games that stood above the rest that year. Yeah... let's go with that.
The point of that week's list wasn't so much to try to predict the future as it was to try to craft an image of what the MMO world might look like just three years down the road. Now, three years may seem like a fairly long time, but in terms of MMO development, it isn't really enough time for any games that haven't made headlines by now to really make the scene, barring some kind of stealth mostly completed MMO announcement. So, rather than speculate on "the games of the future," I chose to concentrate on games that we know about, right now, today.
The final breakdown of the Top Ten Games of 2012 was:
#10 Aion #9 A Superhero Based Game #8 World of Darkness #7 EVE Online #6 All Points Bulletin #5 Star Trek Online #4 Final Fantasy XIV #3 Star Wars: The Old Republic #2 Guild Wars 2 #1 World of Warcraft
And boy did you guys let me have it. Right out of the gate, I read arguments over my choice of order for the games. I can respect that. After all, everyone has a different opinion of how good some games are compared to others, especially when you're talking about a lot of unreleased titles. As you'd expect though, a few of you took exception to some of my choices. In fact, I don't think there was a single game on my list that someone didn't either comment on or email me about saying: WTF, why do you think that's going to be popular?"
In this case, it was the games that people suggested for the list that hadn't made my personal cut that I thought were interesting: Blade and Soul, Global Agenda, Heroes of Telara, The Secret World, Fallen Earth... Some of you even scolded me for missing Diablo 3 (*cough* not an MMO *cough*). Honestly, I can't wait for 2012 to pull this old list out of mothballs to see how wrong I probably was.
This, I think, was one of my favorite lists of the year because it was also one of the most controversial. The premise of the list was that MMOs were evolving and changing over time, and it was trackable and provable based on five elements.
The Five Proofs of MMORPG Evolution were:
#5 The number of games being released #4 Moving beyond just RPG mechanics #3 Moving beyond Fantasy #2 Experimentation with alternate business plans #1 Gameplay Innovation
Any time you mention the term evolution, it seems, you're just asking for controversy. When writing this particular list, I remember thinking that it couldn't possibly generate the same kind of polarized discussion that comes up any time you bring up the "real world" evolution debate. I was wrong.
It seems as though many of you disagreed with my premise: That the MMORPG genre was actually evolving at all. Some of you even indicated that the opposite was true, that MMOs were actually de-evolving. I disagree.
I took to heart a lot of what was said by some of you in that thread, and I think that it's clear that the industry is trending away from the places that some of us might like, but evolution isn't necessarily a positive or a negative term. It just means change.
I think that if some of us really look into the trends in the way that the MMO genre is evolving, we might find that it's evolving away from our own personal tastes and while that sucks, it doesn't disprove the evolution itself.
In the end, evolution is about survival. It's no different for MMOs. As the evolution continues and more and more generations of games are born, you're going to find that the elements that carry over from game to game are going to be the elements that help games survive in a competitive marketplace, not necessarily the elements that everyone thinks might make a better game.
The number one slot for my favorite lists of the year goes to what I think may have been the gustiest breakdown of games that we saw all year. I'd like to be able to take credit for it, but it was my colleague Dana Massey that put this one together.
When World of Warcraft launched, it flat out changed the MMORPG landscape. In the time after that, many journalists and veteran players point to games before its existence when they talk about the best of the best that the genre has ever had to offer. Let's face it though, that's taking the easy route. What is more difficult is pinning down just what games have made the most impact in a post-WoW world, and that's exactly what Massey did with his list.
The breakdown of the Top Ten MMOs Since WoW:
#10 Vanguard #9 Fallen Earth #8 Atlantica Online #7 Pirates of the Burning Sea #6 Maplestory #5 Aion #4 Club Penguin #3 Wizard 101 #2 Guild Wars #1 Lord of the Rings Online
After reading this list, I was expecting there to be a number of comments that flat out rejected a number of the choices listed there. For my part, I thought it was a sound enough list. That said, I was particularly interested in the number of people who commented that the list actually highlighted a lack of quality in the world post-WoW. While I'm not 100% sure that I agree with that assessment, reading the comments to this particular list really gives a great cross section of what MMORPG.com forum goes feel about today's MMO product.