All the memes say 2016 was a lousy year in the real world. In the free-to-play world, things were ... well, sometimes good and sometimes bad? Let's go with that. Sure, there was that one thing that you know will be #1, but a lot more happened that wasn't so bad. And some that were. And some that seemed like big deals but we aren't sure just how big.
Got all that? Good. So let's dive into the top 10 F2P gaming stories of 2016, as selected by the MMOBomb staff:
10. Evolve Goes F2P, Then Ceases Development
Turtle Rock Studios' asymmetrical shooter Evolve debuted to a lot of hype and hoopla in early 2015. But gamers quickly soured on the concept, in part due to the truckloads of DLC that followed shortly thereafter. Acknowledging the "DLC shitstorm," Turtle Rock announced the struggling game would go free-to-play in July.
Evolve: Stage 2 was pretty well-received, especially since it didn't have any microtransactions until three months after its relaunch. Just a month after that, however, Turtle Rock announced that it would be ceasing development on Evolve. The company's now working on a new F2P dark fantasy FPS, hopefully having learned the lessons of its last game and hoping to improve upon its previous design.
Adapting from a previous state? If only there was a word for that ...
9. Gwent: The Witcher Card Game Gets Standalone Edition
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was a huge success. As Geralt the Witcher, you recruited a vast army, taking on comers from all over the realm -- in Gwent, the CCG game-within-a-game that proved almost as popular as the sword- and spell-slinging action of the main game.
So when CD Projekt Red announced a F2P standalone version of Gwent, it was met with applause from virtually all corners of the internet. Though some of us had reservations about the power curve, CDPR seems to be cognizant of the issues and is taking measures to make sure that what worked as a "free" mini-game can get by on its own in a game with microtransactions.
8. Trion Does Something With ArcheAge
We tried to stick with mostly singular events on this list, but we couldn't ignore ArcheAge and all its related drama. While there might not have been any one story that screamed for attention, Trion Worlds -- oh, wait, XLGames, because nothing wrong with AA is ever Trion's fault -- continued to annoy fans with one dubious decision after another. Whether it was questionable cash shop items, technical issues, or poor communication, the combined "WTF Factor" was enough to place ArcheAge on our list.
What was your favorite ArcheAge moment of 2016? Was it the recent issues with the Fresh Start servers (which totally aren't pay-to-win)? How about launching an event during server maintenance? Remember the $100 hot tub that granted in-game benefits? Or the time they reversed a scam for a popular streamer?
If you're still actually playing ArcheAge, you could probably find a lot more to disagree with than these few examples, so we ask: What was your "favorite" ArcheAge moment of 2016?
7. Chinese Games Forced To Disclose Lockbox Odds
Here's a story that would potentially be #1 on our list -- if it was enacted in the United States or Europe. Instead, it's gaming companies in China that will have to disclose the odds on their paid RNG boxes, if the translations provided by NeoGAF are correct.
As I laid out in the article, this could be huge if similar laws were enacted in the West. Even if they aren't, you'd better believe those numbers will make their way to English-speaking gamers, especially as it relates to games that operate in both China and the West. It's a potential watershed moment in the operation of F2P games, but it might still be a while before it impacts you or me.
6. Tree of Savior Annoys Players With Its Pre-launch Antics
As I was looking through MMOBomb articles from 2016 to compile this list, I was amazed at how much Tree of Savior "news" there was before it launched. First, IMCgames announced "exclusive" founder's servers with up to three months' early access. It took all of one day's worth of player outrage to force IMC to announce that there would be a different plan. And that plan would be ... voted on by the fans. A nice gesture, but geez, couldn't you guys have planned things a little better? The eventual result was a one-month early access period, with higher-priced packs just resulting in more goodies.
So, all's clear for launch now, right? Not quite, as the late changes resulted in pricing problems on Steam, depending on what region you were in. That pushed back the official launch another couple of weeks. Despite all those issues, the game was still very successful -- so much so that IMC asked Valve to stop new players from downloading the game via Steam, due to server instability. So even when things went right, they went wrong.
Oh, and then there were the $17 haircuts. But that seems rather insignificant by comparison.
5. H1Z1 Ditches F2P, Splits Into Two Games
The first sign of the year that things weren't quite right at Daybreak Game Company -- and there will be more -- was when zombie survival game H1Z1 split into two games. H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Kill both became $20 titles, and they're both still in early access, despite a launch date for KotK in September.
But at least KotK gets lots of viewers on Twitch, right? Well, maybe that's not nothing. As much as we might have groused about the move, it was probably the right decision, at least for King of the Kill, which seems to be doing quite well.
4. Blade & Soul (Finally) Launches in the West
After what seemed like forever, NCSoft's Blade & Soul finally launched in the West in January. It was initially successful and then kind of ... well, continued. There were new classes, new content, more new classes, more new content, and the game's still pulling in good financial numbers.
But it doesn't seem to have that same energy and excitement among players that it had before launch. Maybe it took too long to come out in the West, or maybe it's just another typically competent but not spectacular Asian MMORPG that gamers quickly moved on from. Still, as the "most anticipated" game on a lot of people's lists for a lot of years, its actual launch seemed worthy of a high spot on our list.
3. Turbine Quits The MMO Biz, Ships Off LotRO and DDO
Here's a late entry! Just this week, Turbine announced that it was handing off development of The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online to newly formed Standing Stone Games. SSG appears to be composed of former developers from Turbine, so the games should pick up right where they left off. So maybe not that bad, right? It's better than being part of a "free-to-play, mobile development studio," right?
The games will be published by Daybreak Game Company, which gives people pause. But maybe it shouldn't. Most complaints about Daybreak have been with the company's development rather than its actions as a publisher, so things probably aren't too dire -- at least no more than they would have been if the MMOs had stayed with Turbine. It's a better fate for DDO and LotRO than what's happening to Turbine's other MMOs, Asheron's Call and Asheron's Call 2, which are going away completely in January.
2. Eve Online Gets Limited F2P Mode
After 13 years as a subscription-only game, Eve Online finally took the (partial) plunge into free-to-play waters. Free players can play an "alpha" clone with a limited set of skills, while paid players are considered "omega" clones with all options available. With the move came a revamped new player experience, as the venerable MMO pulled out all the stops to bring in new players.
And that's what it's all about. Like with any F2P move, clone states in Eve are designed to draw in more players and, hopefully, convert them into paying customers. Seeing as how CCP Games hasn't released any subscription numbers for a while, the belief is that the game has stagnated and needed a shot in the arm to get going again. Or maybe it's just a short-term attempt to boost numbers for a prospective sale.
1. EverQuest Next Cancelled
It's not an exaggeration to say that EverQuest Next's cancellation shattered the hopes of millions of gamers worldwide who were eagerly anticipating the "next big thing" in MMO gaming. Promising dozens of classes, action-based combat, destructible voxel worlds, advanced AI, and much more, it was to be the game of the future, an epic continuation of the most storied name in MMOs this side of World of Warcraft.
Its shuttering not only devastated gamers but also Daybreak Game Company. The former Sony Online Entertainment has been hammered all year long for its decision to cancel the game -- because it "wasn't fun" -- to the point that it's hard to imagine it ever regaining player trust. Even though H1Z1: King of the Kill is doing well, as noted, and there appears to be a new FPS in development, the fallout from EQN's fate has made the developer poison to many gamers.
Even beyond the effect on Daybreak, EQN's cancellation has had an effect on the MMO industry, and players' perception of it, as a whole. The notion of the "all-in-one" AAA MMORPG is all but dead now. Instead, the focus is more on "limited" titles, such as MOBAs, CCGs, shooters, and the like. The "WoW killer" has officially been killed, and it's hard to imagine any MMORPG coming along that will ever draw people in mass quantities as occurred in the heydey of the genre.
Have a happy 2017!
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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