I kept my choices to games that I have actually played this year. I wanted to avoid games that appear to be really cool. If you want a more broad batch of prizes, check out Massively's best of awards. (Side note: I voted for Defiance as my game of the year.)
These awards are for games that are being created on a shoestring or independent of massive budgets. Some of them are connected to some money, of course, but instead of trying to define "indie," I will only repeat: You'll know it when you see it.
The Nominees: Eldevin, Grepolis, Herokon Online, Game of Thrones Ascent, Villagers and Heroes, The West
This was a tough one simply because there are so many quality browser-based games to choose from. I gave it to Eldevin because it keeps things old-school while also maintaining a more modern design for questing and lore. Eldevin really shines as an MMO that allows a player to grow a character over a long period.
The Nominees: Arcane Legends, Parallel Kingdom, Life is Magic, Grepolis
Unfortunately, this year is a repeat of last year. While the general mobile market is breaking the bank, the mobile MMO market has sort of flattened out. I think this stems from developers that continue to use the MMO description for games that are not MMOs. Spacetime Games has continued to make real, actual MMOs for mobile devices, and Arcane Legends is still the best one it offers. It's also cross-platform!
The Nominees: Ryzom, Ever, Jane, There
As soon as I read about this unusual MMO, I knew it would have a hard time going forward. Not only does it attempt something different with its mechanics -- something the industry desperately needs -- but it's being crafted by a very small woman-led developer team. On top of that, it's set in the world of Jane Austen, something that might turn narrow-minded players off before they even download it. I'm pulling for this one, and I think that as long as the lead developer keeps her goals realistic, she can pull in an audience that wants an MMO like this. I know I want an MMO like this!
The Nominees: Ensemble Online, Deepworld, Wurm Online, Achaea, Manyland, Second Life, The West, There
There should be no surprise that I chose this game for the best sandbox. Last year it was Second Life, for obvious reasons, but Wurm Online has added so much to the living world -- such as improved graphics and buildings -- that it deserves this award. I can only imagine how awesome the game will be in five more years!
The Nominees: Star Stable, Game of Thrones Ascent, Dinostorm
I was really surprised by how wonderfully the developer of this game, Disruptor Beam, crafted a game that does not interfere with the rest of the Game of Thrones world. Players control a character that works within the existing lore but still feels individual. The story-driven gameplay is fascinating as well. I'd love to see more MMOs use similar mechanics.
The Nominees: Myst Online: Uru Live, MilMo, Istaria
If you're a fan of mysterious, relaxing virtual sights and sounds and amazingly original gameplay, this formerly-a-game game is perfect for you. Myst Online: Uru Live didn't do so well when it was launched around 2007, but thanks to the community, its generous publishers brought it back and made it free-to-play. Its mysteries can often be quite a bear, so you might occasionally consult walk-throughs, but even peeking at the answer has not ruined my fascination with the game or lore.
The Nominees: Ensemble Online, Deepworld, Wurm Online, Villagers and Heroes, Ryzom
Potential is a loaded word. To some, it's a way to describe something that has great things in store. To others, it's a word that means that a game did not live up to what it could have been. This browser-based sandbox is from the former category, thanks especially to its very active developer team, which hosts tons of blogs and livestreams to keep players in the loop. Don't get me wrong, the game has a long way to go, but it can run on a toaster and offers some pretty interesting gameplay, two things that can only help it moving forward.
The Nominees: Star Stable, The West, Villagers and Heroes, Grepolis, Game of Thrones Ascent
This was a very, very hard one to give out but only because the list of indie games from this year was so stellar. I love the fact that this page links to games from all sorts of different categories and genres. There's something for everybody here. Villagers and Heroes sort of represents that idea by offering gameplay for almost anyone. It has fun, simple crafting, exploration, linear questing and combat, collections, neat housing, and unusual graphics. It's not perfect by any means, but one of the most exciting things about discovering indie games is the opportunity to watch them grow.
Villager and Heroes could do almost anything. A good MMO provides a solid foundation with which to grow almost any system or style of play, and Villagers and Heroes is solid indeed. Now, does that mean it will survive well into the future? I cannot say for sure because the indie market is often hurt by much more bland AAA games that suck the market dry. I have a feeling it will be just fine, though.
Congrats to all of the winners, and thank you for an amazing year in indie MMOs!
Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!