MMOWTF: 2006 Year in Review

by Dan Fortier,MMORPG.COM

Dan Fortier returns this week to recap what was a rather eventful year in the world of MMORPGs
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fortier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of, its staff or management.

It's Christmas time and you know what that means: Time to stuff some stockings. I've got some coal and candy canes to hand out this week while I review the year that is mercifully almost over. The end of the year is a time of reflection on the year that was and they say that those who don't learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them. Pay close attention while I turn back the clock a bit since I know you all itching for some holiday cheers and jeers. Let's get started.

The year started off with so much promise. Warhammer Online went from a cancelled vapor title into Mythic's new flagship game. While Dark Age of Camelot had received a few graphical upgrades courtesy of a new expansion, it was clear that an RvR successor had been chosen. Shortly after April Fools day, Mark Jacobs, the CEO of Mythic, came out and told us that not only were they not selling out to EA, but that they weren't even in talks with them about a merger/buyout. Imagine our surprise when a mere two and a half months later he inks a deal that puts EA in front of Mythic's name. Paul Lee, the President of EA, was later seen doing a /chicken atop the Mythic HQ in Virginia, but all photos have since been bought or destroyed.

This wasn't the only major businesses getting down and dirty this year either. Shadowbane unexpectedly became free to play shortly before its creator, Wolfpack Studios, shut their doors and fired their staff. Somehow the game survived by a thread as UbiSoft kept the game on life support before turning over the reigns to the newly formed Stray Bullet Games. If Shadowbane were a cat he would be looking both ways before crossing the street. To say that it has been an up and down year for this title and companies involved would be an understatement, but it's still alive and that more than I can say for a few titles that had some high hopes during 2006.

Not all games managed to survive this year despite the odds though, as SEED was cancelled in it's fourth month. Some folks said they saw it coming and that it was the only fate for an under-funded niche game. While the idea of a non-combat MMO is a somewhat ridiculous thought to me, I still hope that role players will find a home someday in a playable game. While SEED was taking its last ragged gasps, Dark and Light and Horizons continued to run their respective traveling circus shows, each drawing shudders from audiences across the country with their sideshow tricks and snake oil salesman routine.

While neither game has worked right from the beginning, it takes a special kind of suck to surprise me and these two have succeeded. Tulga Games, the developers of Horizons, were swallowed by EI Interactive in July which in turn was eaten by Pixel Magic just last month. Throw in some unsecured billing transactions and a PR smokescreen and you can't do anything but shake your head. Dark and Light has had it's share of bungles in the financial department this year too. Not only do they still not have a button to cancel on your account page, but they also charged hundreds of players that never signed up for a subscription. Throw in the return of of Chaos and you've got an All-Star cast of people to blame for the lack of trust for independent Devs.

The biggest shocker this year would have to be the 'Death of E3 as we know it'. Why wouldn't game companies want to spend millions of dollars on booth babes, giant statues and multilevel bars to promote their games every year? Where else can all the gaming snobs and industry whores be seen all in the same place every year? Several of my internal organs shriveled up at the thought of not being able to drink martinis while rubbing elbows with self made celebrities and ultra-rich nerds. I guess eventually something had to give and perhaps we started to get too caught up in the glitz and glamour and lost focus about what game conventions are about...Nah. Damn E3, I'm gonna miss you.

Not all was gloom and doom this year though. EVE Online continued to break the record for most players on a single server instance moving past 32 thousand just recently and joining forces with White Wolf. World War Two Online celebrated its fifth year, proving that people still play MMOFPS. Guild Wars managed to squeeze in two stand-alone expansions to their popular game and World of Warcraft showed it can bulldoze it's way into TV as a setting for a largely popular South Park episode. It doesn't matter if you see these as a sign of the Apocalypse like me or are just thankful to play a working game you have to at least tip your hat to the guys that can make a working product.

Rounding out the 'Best of the Rest' are some other highs and lows from the headlines of 2006:
- Back in February Sony Online Entertainment asks current and former Star Wars Galaxies testers to participate in a focus testing group and pays them $125 for two hours just to prove that they made the right decision after all.
- A ganker was banned and crucified for all to see in Roma Victor. Perhaps he was driven to a life of crime by the wretchedly pixilated graphics...Now we'll never know.
- Blizzard announced they were getting into the fast food business to in an April Fools gag. Sadly, they never confirmed whether Children's Week was a farce. I mean, isn't that an ongoing attraction?
- Sony confirms they will be publishing Vanguard.
- POSSe Entertainment gave notice they will be making a WoW-killing MMO called Dragons and Legends. Call me pessimistic, but I am dubious that a company that begins with POS can make a great game.
- Cryptic cuts a deal to make a Marvel MMO. As much as I'd like to see another Super Hero title, why would you try and compete with yourself?
- The FBI recently busted an illegal Lineage 2 operation called L2Extreme. It's good to know that beating up some hackers takes precedence over other investigations that involve the security of the entire country. Good job keeping your priorities straight guys.

That's a wrap folks, I've had my say and I'm sure I missed pointing out a lot of great highlights so feel free to remind us all why 2006 will never be forgotten, at least until next year. Happy Holidays to all and see you next year when I'll look ahead to 2007.

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