['MMOG Nation' is a weekly column by Michael Zenke about current events in the world of Massively Multiplayer Games. This week's column looks back at 2006, and tries to give out credit and blame in equal measure.]

TrophyDespite 2006's expiration date already having past, it's the solemn duty of anyone with a column to reflect on what has come before. It's vitally important that we remember the best and worst moments of the previous year, so that when people screw up this year we can say we saw it coming. This year, of all years, it's even more important that we keep the past in mind. All three 'next-gen' consoles are now on the market, pundits are shouting from the rooftops about the 'revitalization' of PC Gaming, and there are at least two or three AAA Massive titles likely to be launched this year. At the end of this year, we'll be able to look back with 20/20 hindsight on what is sure to be a unique span of time in Massive Gaming. In the meantime, we can take that same look back on a year that ... well, wasn't that unique. Nothing huge launched, nothing big went under, and the only industry-shaking news was the 'death' of E3, something talked about at great length in many corners of the internet already. Just the same, there were some good times and some bad times this year that are worth noting. Read on for a listing of the tin badges I picked up at the corner store: the 2006 MMOG Nation awards.

The Big Winner Award

Big WinnerEVE Online - When EVE launched in 2003, it was competing with several other titles for the Sci-Fi niche of the Massive genre. At the start of 2007, it's almost the only contender left. Games like Anarchy Online or Star Wars Galaxies are just jokes now, and direct competitor Earth and Beyond has had its doors shuttered for quite some time now. That EVE is the only really viable SF MMOG running would be noteworthy enough, but 2006 saw the game just explode in popularity. A CCG, a new expansion, CCP's acquisition of White Wolf Games ... last year was an exciting time for the title. It is constantly topping itself for new 'most players' numbers, and unless something drastic happens I think 2007 is going to be a fantastic year for EVE as well. EVE isn't my thing, and I'm definitely not sure I agree with the MMORPG.com community awards. Just the same, I'd like to think I'm smart enough to know a good thing when I see it: EVE is a title to watch, in 2007 and beyond.

The World of Warcraft Award

WoWWorld of Warcraft - I think this is an award every Massive award list should just have, so people don't have to vote on WoW in other categories. WoW just wins the World of Warcraft Award, and that's that. What is there to say? The new expansion launches next Tuesday, on the heels of the announcement that the game has hit 8 Million subscribers. 2 million people in the U.S. play the game. Last year WoW became a CCG, the topic of a South Park episode, a meeting place, the new font from which all game addiction flows, and the template for every fantasy-genre Massive game to be released in the next decade. We'll see how well she does once the rocky Burning Crusade launch is over and done with, but there's no way this behemoth is going anywhere. WoW is the mountain on the horizon. We'll be using it to orient ourselves for a long, long time to come.

The Good to be Free Award

Good to be FreeGuild Wars and Shadowbane - This award mostly goes to Guild Wars, which was designed to be a free title. Shadowbane gets an honorable mention because some dedicated game-makers have kept the 'Play to Crush' title alive, despite reality and business sense telling them to give it up. More deservingly, Guild Wars is a title that is changing things for the better in the Massive neck of the woods. Monthly fee-less, high quality play experiences that aren't transplants from Asia can only serve to enrich the Western appetite for Massive games. I'm sure the next Diablo title is going to be huge, but I personally think that's a waste of time. We've got Guild Wars. What more do we need?

The Anybody Wanna Buy a MMOG Award

RyzomSaga of Ryzom - Oh pretty, pretty Ryzom. Such a beautiful, French game. Even your 'roll your own module' gameplay addition, possibly the most inventive idea to be introduced to the Massive genre in years, wasn't enough to keep Nevrax afloat. Saga of Ryzom was finally purchased, and not by the 'Free Ryzom' foundation more's the pity. It's a sad day, though, when such a unique experience has to fight tooth and nail for a spot at the table. With a new crew steering the ship, we can only hope that Ryzom will be able to find more players willing to inhabit its well-decorated and highly unusual niche in the marketplace.

The Green Is Beautiful Award

GreenWarhammer Online - If you'd asked me what I thought about WAR a year ago, I would have grumbled about a poor translation of the RPG experience and then turned away. Having actually heard the (very passionate) devs describing what they're trying to bring to the party, I'm much more inclined to think this is going to work out. Really, Mythic is leading with what they do best: Realm vs. Realm combat. The orcs and skaven and chaos beasts are all along for the ride, but gameplay-wise Mythic is doing what it does best, and turning the amp up to 11. If they pull this off (and that's a big if at this point), I think WAR might be the only game in the offing that can give WoW a well-deserved kick in the pants. Go Greenskins!

The Men In Tights Award

TightsMarvel Universe Online and DC Online - They get to share this one. They'll be when they finally come out, so it seems only fitting that they get started here. While the DC MMOG has been publicly in the works since 2005, the yang to its yin was only announced as of E3 of 2006. The possibility of a fightout between MMOGs for both the DC and Marvel worlds is delicious to behold. If you add in City of Heroes, the three-way battle that will ensue becomes not only fascinating from a gaming perspective, but a business standpoint as well. Two of the games will be run by Cryptic Studios, which has proven itself capable if somewhat unimaginative with the superhero formula. SOE, on the other hand, is a Massive industry leader ... but they've never done anything like a comic-book MMOG before. It's going to be a fight to remember, and so the humble origins are important to remember.

The 'Most Improved Student' Award

StudentThe EverQuest Franchise - Both EQLive and EverQuest 2 saw the launch of kickass expansions this year. In the case of EverQuest, I think the Serpent's Spine justifies its existence in a way that recent developments have not. As for EQ2, World of Warcraft's ugly kid sister has blossomed into a prom queen. Faydwer gives old school players their propers, while introducing new twists and the extremely adorable Fae. The theories rolling around is that the next expansion will offer up a new evil city, and a new evil race. Whatever it is, I hope it can live up to the customization and creativity of the little folk. Say what you will about some of SOE's other properties, but the folks working on EQLive and EQ2 are doing a bang-up job. Can't wait to see what they have in store for us this year.

The Thanks For All The Fish Award

The FishIf you've been reading along with the column, you already know some of the MMOG bloggers I enjoy, but I wanted to make sure to publicly thank two gents for their writing. They're moving on to bigger and better things, and so we'll no longer be able to rely on them for insight into the MMOG-releated issues of the day. The Cesspit and Darniaq: Verbosity Unleashed are both now (mostly) quiet after several years of intelligent discourse. I'm especially saddened by Darniaq's sign-off, as I was hoping he'd be my first Citizen Spotlight for 2007. So it goes. Good luck to both Abalieno and Darniaq; your posting will be missed.

The Nigh-Onto-Clueless Company Award

?Turbine - Those folks need their heads examined. This is now a company offering the biggest disappointment of 2006 (DDO), a title from the era of EQLive that still has most of its original paint (Asheron's Call), and a game that looks like the most boring incarnation of Tolkien's vision ever to be brought to a computer screen (LOTRO). Seriously, how the hell do you make Tolkien boring? Lord of the Rings Online looks to be shaping itself into a gigantic waste of a very important license. When they proudly began showing us trailers and screenshots in 2006, it was all I could do not to laugh out loud. Wow ... so, you can autoattack? Orcs? And you can play a dwarf? Fascinating! There is a talented group of people working a Turbine, and it kills me to see their work showcased like this. DDO is just now starting to go interesting places, but how do you survive a launch like the game had? The concept of monster-based PvP is intriguing, but how do you convince people that LOTRO isn't EQ with added Tom Bombadil flavoring? I honestly hope they do better this year, but 2006 was just a bad year for Turbine.

The Big Loser Award

At Least He TriedAuto Assault - What if they threw a MMOG, and nobody came? That question was answered last year, when NCSoft proved that they don't always have the golden Massive touch. Even with the popularity of titles like City of Heroes, Gulid Wars, and Lineage cushioning the crushing failure of Auto Assault, the wasted time and effort of 44 employees has to hurt. The continued existence of this game just makes me sad. I really hope NCSoft tries to make the best of this by dropping the monthly fee, and aiming for a box-sales model like the one employed by Guild Wars. I say give those employees reasons to be proud of their work again, and give AA the only chance it has to make it in this cut-throat MMOG market. Otherwise, I hope the 2007 future of this title is a quick, painless death.

Whatever comes our way in 2007, there's going to be a lot to talk about. Here's hoping that you keep reading GameSetWatch, and keeping an eye out for the MMOG Nation column. Have fun in the Outlands, folks!

[Michael Zenke is also known as 'Zonk', the current editor of Slashdot Games. He has had the pleasure of writing occasional pieces for sites like Gamasutra and The Escapist. You can read more of Michael's ramblings on Massive games at the MMOG Nation blog. ]