2010: Year in Review
Neil Kewn (Murxidon) – OnRPG Journalist
Now that the dust has settled on 2010, a moment of reflection is due. You will be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t a particularly exciting year for MMO fans. The genre took a backseat somewhat, whilst gaming in general witnessed the release of new-fangled motion technology, billions-making military first-person shooters and the continued domination of iOS devices of the handheld market. It wasn’t all bad for MMO gamers, though. We were treated to some very interesting events, announcements and releases in 2010. It was the year that brought us the Cataclysm, Vindictus, Star Trek Online and All Points Bulletin (if only for a short while). EverQuest II brought us the illusion of free-to-play, The Lord of the Rings Online actually did it and Final Fantasy XIV used it as means of an apology. 2010 was the year of hype, disappointment and reinvention.
The year began with the imminent release of Cryptic Studios latest, Star Trek Online. The game had been in development by the studio since 2008, and the resounding success of J.J. Abrams movie reboot coupled with the fact that, well, it’s Star Trek, meant that expectations were high for the first MMO of the 2010. The game finally hit shelves at the start of February to a mixed reception (you can read our review here).
The year was filled with more hype, previews and announcements than actual releases. Star Wars: The Old Republic continued to provoke a wide variety of responses from gamers. There isn’t enough information about the game to form a general consensus just yet, but from what has been shown the game is shaping up to be overwhelmingly disappointing. It may have been hyped to the moon and back, but how long can the “but it’s Bioware – They don’t make bad games” argument last?
Free-to-play gamers were also treated to a steady stream of open and closed betas, trailers, screenshots and reveals this year. Perfect World Entertainment showed off its highly anticipated MMO Forsaken World, with players (myself included) impressed by the beta tests that lasted through the latter half of 2010. Fans of Guild Wars were also in awe of what ArenaNet had to reveal, the upcoming sequel to their bestselling MMO will not feature the traditional “holy trinity” of tank, healer and damage class structure found in other MMOs. The combat mechanics of Guild Wars 2 were also detailed, and a playable demo of the game was seen at several video game conventions last year.
In terms of free-to-play releases, Vindictus went live to a strong reception. Nexon’s action-MMO is based on Valve’s Source engine, enabling for some excellent graphics and truly spectacular environment destruction.
One of the saddest news stories of 2010 was that of the highly publicized demise of Realtime Worlds. The company behind the greatly anticipated All Points Bulletin went from being one of most exciting game development companies around to bankruptcy within a year. News of the company’s struggles broke just mere months after the release of APB, which failed to live up to both player expectation and sales numbers. Critics greeted the game with a decidedly average response, and immediate player uptake was not enough to keep the company afloat. After the company announced major redundancies just weeks after, the majority of developers found themselves out of work. Realtime Worlds was put up for sale, although the game’s servers were kept online for several weeks after. The game was eventually shut down for good on September 16, less than four months since hitting the shelves.
After purchasing the game’s assets, K2 Networks are planning to re-launch the game under the title APB: Reloaded later this year as a free-to-play game.
Speaking of which, The Lord of the Rings Online enjoyed new-found success last year after re-launching as a free-to-play title. The game, released in 2007, had respectable subscription numbers for an MMO in the pay monthly market and was highly regarded by many. Developers Turbine, Inc. and Codemasters announced in June that a vast portion of the game would be freely available to players, along with the implementation of a cash shop to fund it. The launch was a resounding success for both companies, with news that revenue had tripled in just three months.
Final Fantasy XIV wins the “Wow, what were they thinking?!” award for 2010. The fourteenth iteration in the famed series of role-playing games came just months after FFXIII disappointed us all. Square Enix unfortunately continued that trend by releasing XIV in a completely unfinished state. The game was condemned for being too confusing, restrictive and incomplete. The interface garnered the most criticism, with some describing it as the worst GUI in MMO history. The company quickly responded to the claims, controversially sacking the majority of the development team and giving players free subscriptions for the next several months. Square Enix released a formal apology in regards to the current state of the game, and asked players to continue supporting them as they applied the necessary fixes over the coming months. The PlayStation 3 version of the game has been delayed indefinitely.
The year wrapped up nicely with the release of World of Warcraft’s third expansion, Cataclysm. The world of Azeroth, inhabited by over twelve million people, was reshaped after the arrival of Deathwing the Destroyer in a free patch. In addition to a new level cap and zones, the older, slightly more dated areas of the game were given a much needed facelift. Players have responded positively to the changes, with the re-invention of questing in the lower-level zones being a notable success. Continuing Blizzard’s trend of expansion packs that floor critics, Cataclysm was a critical and commercial success. The game sold almost five million copies in the month of its release, becoming the fastest-selling PC game of all time.
2010 was a year ups and downs. There were a few exciting announcements and a variety of dramatic news stories, but nothing this year came a long and shattered our expectations. World of Warcraft continued to slaughter the competition like the behemoth it is, RuneScape lured me back into its cold embrace and the world apparently kept on turning. It would be foolish to consider a year to be disappointing because a new king of MMOs wasn’t crowned, as we are probably a very long way away from such an event, but I can’t help but feel that 2010 was a mild disappointment when we remember how excited we all were back in January. Oh well. Hello 2011.