What a wild and wacky 2017 it’s been! All right, maybe it wasn’t that wacky, but every end-of-year list is required by law to start off by saying how crazy-amazing the previous year was and how next year can’t possibly match up.
Even without the sensationalism, though, there were a lot of big news stories in the free-to-play gaming world in 2017, which is great, seeing as how the payment model has been taking its lumps recently. Some of those lumps are represented in the list below, but there are also some nice success stories to go with the clunkers. As one game falls, another rises to take its place; it’s the circle of life, though you can get +50% acceleration on the speed of that circle for just a few bucks in our cash shop …
10. Amazon Game Studios Suspends Development Of Breakaway; No Word On Its Other Games
The first thing you’re probably wondering is: “Was Breakaway going to be free-to-play?” The answer is almost certainly “yes,” based not only on the type of game it was but also on the ads we saw briefly and an email confirmation we got on that point that was quickly redacted. So yeah, Breakaway was about 99% confirmed as F2P.
And that’s about the only news we had on it in 2017, apart from hearing about its development being put on hiatus. It’s not a good sign for Amazon Game Studios, which opened its wallet for some big-name talent – Kim Swift (Portal), Colin Johannson (Guild Wars 2), Craig Sullivan (Need For Speed) and John Smedley (SOE/Daybreak), to name a few – and made a big splash at TwitchCon in 2016 but had nothing good to offer this year. Crucible and New World are still totally under wraps, and we’d bet on them not being F2P, but if their continuing development is as troubled as Breakaway’s was, we wouldn’t leave anything off the table.
9. My.com Takes Over Armored Warfare From Obsidian Entertainment
Two years ago, I visited Obsidian Entertainment’s offices in California to cover the launch of Armored Warfare. It seemed like roughly half the office was hard at work creating new content for the game, which they thought could be a major competitor of World of Tanks.
Fast forward to just 16 months later. Obsidian was relieved of its development duties on Armored Warfare, which was taken over by My.com. One person involved with the game said that Obsidian and My.com – which wanted nothing innovative, just a “World of Tanks clone” – frequently clashed. New content is still being produced on a regular basis, but any thoughts of matching, or even approaching, Wargaming’s stranglehold on the tank-battling genre have all but evaporated.
8. Magic Duels Ceases Development, Wizards of the Coast Announces New F2P Magic Game
From the start, Magic Duels seemed a little off of center. From its “YOLO launch,” as Zach Sharpes put it, to its relative lack of marketing and support from Wizards of the Coast, it just seemed kind of … there. It’s as if Wizards thought it needed a competitor to Hearthstone, and it needed it now, consequences be damned.
In June, word came down that development on Duels would be suspended, and a new free-to-play Magic game would take its place. In September, we got our first peek at that game, Magic: The Gathering Arena, and it looks worlds better than Duels, with its streamlined gameplay that fits the digital realm while still retaining that M:TG feel. It’s currently in closed beta and we should be able to get our hands on it sometime in early 2018.
(And then there’s Cryptic Studios’ Magic: The Gathering MMO, which we’ve heard little about since its announcement, but we’ll be keeping an eye on that, too.)
7. Firefall Finally, Mercifully Shuts Down
I wouldn’t say we saw Firefall’s closure coming from a mile away. More accurately, we saw it coming from about a thousand miles away. Firefall had been on life support for years, with every new development making us shake our heads in disbelief. Red 5 Studios purchased by a Cayman Islands cashmere company? Firefall going offline for a couple of weeks? Par for the course.
The ax finally fell in July, with the game’s players – both of them, probably – getting a mere 24 hours’ notice before the servers were shut down. The execution was swift and merciless, though there was mention of a Firefall mobile game being in development. That wins the newly christened 2017 MMOBomb Obox Award, which is given out to an announced product that we think has about a 0.001% chance of actually seeing the light of day.
6. Warframe Goes Open World
After four years of gunning down and stabbing bad guys in closed spaces, Digital Extremes finally gave its space ninjas some breathing room. The Plains of Eidolon expansion was greeted with oohs and aahs when it was first shown at TennoCon in July, and the gates were finally opened in October, leading to a record number of players.
All that’s not bad for a game that publishers said would fail. Digital Extremes tried to leverage that goodwill toward a hero shooter, The Amazing Eternals, in 2017, but it didn’t pan out. The developer’s got more in the works, however, and we wouldn’t bet against it making the same mistakes twice.
5. Valve Announces Artifact: The Dota 2 Card Game, And Fans Instantly Hate It
Valve had a big new game announcement for its fans at this year’s edition of the Dota 2 International. The problem is, it was big for all the wrong reasons.
Artifact: The Dota 2 card game was greeted with a dismayed groan from the crowd at The International, and it hasn’t gotten any better since. The brief teaser currently sits at about a 14-1 dislike-to-like ratio on YouTube, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Valve is rethinking its approach to how it will market the game – or even whether it will come out at all.
4. The Secret World Re-Launches As F2P Secret World Legends
Every year, it seems like some prominent pay-to-play MMO makes the shift to free-to-play(-ish). Last year, it was Eve Online, in 2015 it was WildStar, and this year it was The Secret World.
Funcom did things a little differently with this move, however. Rather than simply appending a F2P option onto its game, it forced everyone who wanted to play its F2P game – dubbed Secret World Legends – to effectively start over with fresh characters. It was a bold move that went over surprisingly well, as SWL “dominated revenue” for the company in Q3 2017.
3. Marvel Heroes And Gazillion Go Belly-Up
We didn’t see this one coming – and on the other hand, we totally saw it coming. Marvel Heroes hadn’t really grabbed the headlines on the way to its demise the way a game like Firefall did. But insiders and dedicated players knew things were heading in the wrong direction all year, and when it all went down in late November — a month earlier than when it was first announced — it was met with both sadness and relief.
According to various sources, the game had been declining for years, and this year’s attempts to bring it to consoles were underwhelming. Still, games decline in their later years all the time without shutting down. Maybe Marvel/Disney just expected more, and Gazillion, for one reason or another, couldn’t deliver.
2. Devs Go Nuts With Loot Boxes, And Lawmakers Take Notice
Loot boxes have been a thing for a long time now, but in 2017, gamers had finally had enough. The fury really got rolling thanks to Star Wars: Battlefront II and its “pay, and then pay some more” approach, but free-to-play games – which have generally been more reliant on “gambleboxes” than their pay-to-play cousins – also got caught in the blast.
Whether it was Guild Wars 2 with its Mount Licenses, Paladins with its Cards Unbound update, or even just a re-examination and greater criticism of packs in virtual CCGs like Hearthstone, it seemed like every game that had some kind of randomized-cash-for-loot system was under heavier scrutiny in late 2017.
The situation has gotten so bad, various governments have gotten involved. In the U.S., Representative Chris Lee of Hawaii is leading the charge, and for a while it seemed like we were learning about a new country, or one of its gambling regulatory bodies, chiming in every week. Just last week, Apple made it so games that offered loot boxes on the App Store would have to disclose their odds, similar to what China did earlier in the year, with limited success.
Whether it’s self-regulation or something imposed upon them by governments or e-retailers, we’d bet that something is going to move on the loot box front in 2018. It could change gaming – and especially free-to-play gaming – forever.
1. Fortnite: Battle Royale Explodes, Gets Into Tussle With PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Fortnite had been in development for half a decade before finally launching into early access in July. It did OK.
Then, a couple months later, Epic Games decided to release a fully free-to-play 100-player deathmatch version of the game, Fortnite: Battle Royale. It did better than OK, to the tune of some 30 million players. It got big enough to make the king of the battle royale scene, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, nervous and even hint at legal action.
Numbers-wise, FN:BR is the unquestionable biggest F2P release of 2017, in part because it seems to be one of the most polished and stable battle royale games out there. If you think it’s not a serious threat to PUBG, remember that we used to think DayZ was unassailable, too…