Now that 2007 is behind us, we here at WarCry take our annual look back at what went on. We came up with awards in six categories that recognize excellence in the MMO industry. Find out who takes home the hardware in our second annual WarCry Editors’ Choice Awards.
Last year, World of Warcraft was named Game of the Year as it rang up a few victories. Did anyone usurp the champion this year? Let’s find out.
|Studio of the Year
We hand out the hardware to the company that we felt did the best job on their core MMO and their overall business over the last year. In 2006, Cryptic Studios nabbed the award.
Almost every major MMO released one or more expansion packs in 2007. We looked at them all and came up with the one that we felt was the best. The answer may surprise you. Last year, EVE Online’s Revelations I took this category.
|Best Imported Game
In a brand new category, we look at the world of games adapted to English from foreign markets. Year by year they become a larger part of the MMO landscape. In this category, we recognize the best ones, regardless of when they were released.
|Best New Game
Of those MMOs that launched between January 1st and December 31st 2007, we identify the one that we felt was of the highest quality. Sometimes that is not an easy task. Last year, we chose not to give the award out at all, as no new game did enough to earn a badge. This year, one did.
|Most Anticipated of 2008
It’s no science to predict when an MMO might launch. Last year’s winner and honorable mention both got delayed into 2008, which makes the field even more interesting. Of those games we feel likely to launch in 2008, we selected the one that looks the best. Last year, that game was Warhammer Online. Will it defend that title?
|Game of the Year
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that World of Warcraft nabbed this category in 2006, but can it defend the title? This award goes to the single best MMO, regardless of when it was launched during the previous calendar year.
Before we go on, we wanted take this chance to thank everyone in the industry who has worked with us over the last year and all the readers who have been in to read the things we write. It’s been fun!
Now, onto the awards. First up: Studio of the Year.
Studio of the Year: Blizzard Entertainment
by Dana Massey
It’s not nearly as much fun to go with the obvious choice, but in 2007, Blizzard expanded World of Warcraft, announced a second expansion, revealed StarCraft 2 and merged with Activision. It was another banner year for one of the world’s most respected development studios and made this call a no-brainer.
On January 16th, after more than two years of development, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade was released. It sold over 2.7 million copies in 24 hours and has been credited as the inspiration for even more ludicrous growth of WoW’s already absurd active player numbers.
Today, Blizzard claims over 9.5 million players worldwide and has transformed World of Warcraft from a simple monster success into a pop culture phenomenon. Last year’s South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” snagged an Emmy in 2007 and there is even a Toyota pickup truck commercial that features the game. On top of that, Blizzard launched a new f pop-culture savvy marketing campaign that features celebrity-characters like Mr. T, William Shatner and Verne “Mini Me” Troyer and – in France – Jean-Claude Van Damme. The game is also featured in a Chinese Coke commercial and is currently being adapted for the big screen by Legendary Pictures.
In 2007, Blizzard announced “Wrath of the Lich King”, the game’s second expansion pack. In true Blizzard fashion, no release date was given, but the upgrade will feature an increased level cap, a new continent, a new Hero class and much more.
One of the world’s most successful game studios, Blizzard was also a key cog in an $18 billion dollar merger of game publisher Activision and Vivendi’s video game studios. The new company will be called Activision-Blizzard, which is a true sign of just how far this game developer has risen.
Finally, at BlizzCon 2007 – an event larger than some trade shows – the company announced StarCraft 2. The sequel to their legendary RTS will be available in 2009 and is easily one of the most anticipated games on any platform headed to market.
- 2006: Cryptic Studios
On the next page you’ll find out the Best Expansion of 2007.
Best Expansion Pack: EverQuest: Secrets of Faydwer (SOE)
by Dana Massey
The most original and innovative expansion of 2007 came from the grandfather of them all. It may not have had the buzz of World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade or even its little sister EverQuest II, but the team at SOE San Diego made an imaginative set of zones that unlike most of their more recent competitors, actually add some new ripples to the MMO experience.
This is an expansion with a dungeon inside a moving robot. The thing looks a bit like the Iron Giant, but if a player can successfully enter his toe without being booted across the zone, adventure awaits. If that’s not for you, load yourself into a giant cannon and shoot yourself up to the Fortress Mechanotus, home of Gnomes and adventure aplenty.
It’s not just style either. In the Crystollas instance, the dungeons don’t just sit and wait for players to crawl through at their own pace. In one hallway, some invulnerable fire elementals creep slowly behind and force the group to advance through the area quickly or die. In another, a series of Indiana Jones style boulders chase players through suspiciously round tunnels and force people to dart from one hidey-hole to another. It’s exactly these kinds of environmental challenges that are too often completely ignored by MMO designers.
SOE even kicked off the expansion in style. This wasn’t just a patch day, a part of Norrath was literally ripped from the ground and moved through the sky as clockwork themed monsters rained down on players, regardless of whether they’d purchased the update.
Throw in some shape-shifting wereorcs and SOE created a winner with their 14th expansion to the venerable EverQuest. It may not have driven sales like its more famous competitors, but this is an add-on that should be required play for anyone who ever hopes to launch an MMO expansion.
Click on to find out who we selected as the Best Imported MMO.
Best Imported Game: MapleStory (Nexon / Wizet)
by Dana Massey
It seems there is a new foreign MMO localized for English-language audiences every few weeks, but despite the explosion of primarily Asian games, Nexon’s adaptation of MapleStory remains the gold-standard.
In 2005, the side-scrolling cartoon MMO came to these shores and like it had all over the world, quickly carved out a great number of players. MMO sites like this one fawn over World of Warcraft and their nine million subscribers, but across all versions, there have been well over 50 million accounts created for this “cutesy MMO”.
Like most games of its kind, MapleStory firmly embraces the free-to-play business model, where players can download and enjoy the game free of cost, but can spend money on enhancements or items for their characters.
In North American, a recent GM update states that the game approaches its 5 millionth account, which may not translate as easily to active players as subscribers, but is still a sizeable accomplishment.
The game itself has accomplished a lot with simplicity. Players adventure, fight monsters, explore dungeons and collect experience. There’s nothing revolutionary there, but MapleStory is a testament that players prefer a solid, fun experience over the latest pixel shaders. They’ve carved out their niche with a game whose graphics owe more to Super Mario than Crysis. For that reason, it was easy to name it the Best Imported MMO.
Honorable Mention: Exteel (NCsoft)
By JR Sutich
Exteel had its commercial launch in Korea in January of 2006. The game has been a great success in Asia and in December of 2007 was released in the United States. Exteel is an FPS/MMO hybrid that has fast-paced combat combined with a persistent character/skill system. Currently the game is using a Free-to-Play business model with a microtransaction currency available known as NCcoins.
Players engage in a number if different battle scenarios including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch or engaging NPCs. Characters are able to be ranked up and can acquire new skills and equipment some of which are only available by using NCcoins. If you’re a fan of John Woo, giant anime robots and intense PvP, then Exteel is a game you should definitely be checking out.
- New Category
Click on to see who grabbed Best New Game of 2007.
Best New Game: Lord of the Rings Online (Turbine / Midway)
By Dana Massey
A license like JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings can be a blessing and a curse for a development studio, but in 2007, Boston-based Turbine managed to walk the tight-rope of expectations and reality to deliver the best new MMO since World of Warcraft launched in 2004.
The game is not exactly revolutionary in terms of design, but it boils down what has come before to an exact science and throws it all into a beautifully crafted world that manages to fully capture the feel of Middle-earth and, more impressively, do so independently from Peter Jackson’s big screen version.
As an evolutionary product, LotRO moved the genre forward with a few key innovations: Monster Play created a new twist on player vs. player combat that made sense in Middle-earth and will surely find its way into future generations of games, while Deeds managed to capture the achiever crowd with a system of rewards that is second only to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Achievement system.
The classes are all relatively interesting and the story as good as any other MMO. LotRO did not exactly set the MMO world on its head, but it is solid in every single area. Most importantly, its launch was as smooth as one could hope and the game itself was polished to a fine sheen, which shows that Turbine did more than just claim they learned the lesson of polish from WoW. They made sure to put it in practice.
Sadly, it is a comment on the Western subscription-based MMO genre’s current weakness that despite the fact that LotRO is such a solid game, its commercial success is at best modest and likely below the expectations Turbine and Midway had for a game with such an IP. Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson was replaced later in the year and while outwardly everyone says the right things, if LotRO had met or exceeded their expectations, it seems unlikely that Anderson would have been replaced.
Nonetheless, Lord of the Rings Online is clearly a profitable project with a bright future of free and paid expansions laid out in front of it. Fans of the game and the genre finally received a fun and stable new MMO in 2007, which is more than can be said about some previous years.
- 2006: Not Awarded
Next up, the most anticipated game of next year!
Most Anticipated Game of 2008: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (EA Mythic)
By JR Sutich
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was our Most Anticipated of 2007. Since its release date was pushed back to Q2 2008, it became eligible for this year as well. A good part of the anticipation is based on the desire to see if this game is ‘The One’. Will WAR be the game to stand toe to toe with WoW? WAR is the Great Green Hope.
Another part of what makes us salivate like one of Pavlov’s canines for this MMO is the PvP. While other games have dabbled in PvP, WAR has been designed from the ground up with player versus player combat as an integral part of the game. It will be interesting to see if WAR can become the first PvP-centric game to break out of the ‘niche’ category.
The Warhammer Universe is one of the most popular tabletop gaming licenses in the world, and it has a fanatical player community. Whether or not it will attract the ‘Beer and Pretzel’ crowd is yet to be seen. But the interest shown by many at various gaming conventions over the past year truly solidifies Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning’s place as the repeat winner of this category.
If you really want to know the reason why this is the Most Anticipated Game of 2008, we should probably ask an expert:
“Waaagh! Dis iz da game that lets Da Boyz crush da Stunties and the Pinkies. Da Boyz iz ready to use da choppas and da bashas and let the bludd run redd.”
Honorable Mention: Age of Conan (Funcom/Eidos)
By Dana Massey
In the unpredictable world of MMO development, it’s tough to say exactly when a game will launch. Clearly, last year our predicts were wrong. Both Conan and WAR slipped into 2008 and over that year, nothing has changed to make us change our minds. Age of Conan retains its badge as an honorable mention for the Most Anticipated MMO of 2008.
Over the last year and its many delays, Funcom has rethought combat in a way to reinvigorate the traditional MMO experience and stitches it all together with a story told through top-notch voice acting. Despite another delay – which now means the game is due in May – Age of Conan has appeared polished and well on its way to a successful launch.
Age of Conan is also better suited to eventual console adaptations and is poised to lead the MMO parade onto the Xbox 360, roughly six months after the PC launch. It won’t be the first MMO to grace the consoles, but because of its AAA graphics, more adult story and console-friendly combat, it could be one of the few games to reach many new players and introduce them to the MMO genre.
Last, but not least, our Game of the Year!
Game of the Year: World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment)
by JR Sutich
World of Warcraft won our Game of the Year Award last year, and it has successfully defended that title in 2007. Joining Warhammer Online as a back-to-back winner was no small feat, however. Lord of the Rings Online did give the MMO from Blizzard a good run, but in the end, LotRO had to step aside and let the juggernaut that is WoW rumble past.
It wasn’t just the fact that there are at ten million paying customers or that over one-third of them bought the Burning Crusade expansion that helped WoW win again this year. World of Warcraft also succeeded in making the larger non-gaming population aware of the MMO industry as a whole. From a Toyota commercial that debuted during college football broadcasts to mentions in several network television shows and now with commercials starring a variety of pop-culture icons, Blizzard has used WoW in such a manner that will only reap rewards for everyone operating or developing an MMO.
While the Burning Crusade expansion did add a great deal of content to World of Warcraft, the original game did get its share of updates. The most notable, or notorious, of these was the patch that made it easier to gain experience and lowered the experience necessary from Levels 20-60. Many saw this as a desperation move in order to get players to buy the expansion or to stop them from moving on to other games. It seems to have worked, as now many of WoW’s competitors are making their own changes to adjust the time and manner in which players gain experience.
World of Warcraft is WarCry’s 2007 Game of the Year for being an industry leader not only in subscription numbers, but for also blazing the trail that other games will follow into the next year.
Honorable Mention: EVE Online (CCP)
By Dana Massey
It wasn’t a perfect year, but CCP Games launched two new expansion packs in 2007 and continued to grow their game in a way unlike most other MMOs in the market. The combination of the two expansions, steady growth and the way they’ve set their game up for a longevity few other MMOs appear to boast, made this a serious contender for Game of the Year.
In June, CCP launched Revelations II and in December, Trinity was added to the already successful MMO. The first expansion built in several gameplay improvements and new mechanics, including “heat”, which allows players to overload ship modules for an added bonus, and most importantly, overhauls the game’s tutorial, which addresses a common complaint that EVE is often too hard for new players to get their heads around. Trinity, though, really sealed the deal for EVE Online. It completely overhauls the game’s already impressive graphics, adds loads of brand new ships and more.
As of the end of the year, CCP boasts 200,000 subscribers. It’s a modest number, but makes it one of the largest Western subscriber MMOs on the market. The number is even more impressive when charted over the game’s 4 year history. It has steadily piled the subscribers on to become the second largest virtual world on the planet. Controversies aside, it was a good year for CCP’s flagship.
- 2006: World of Warcraft
It was a fun year here at WarCry and we once again thank all of you who read us over the year. We look forward to another great year in 2008.
Congratulations to all of our winners!