Perfect Ten: The top 10 healthiest live MMOs
One question that consistently pops up across the MMO gaming circuit is, "What are the most popular/healthy/active MMOs out there?" Every time I see this question, I sympathize with the concern behind asking it. For some players, finding a game that not only exists but is hopping and has the greatest potential for a future is of paramount concern.
Massively OP reader Duffy suggested that we cover this very topic when he asked, "Which MMOs are struggling and which seem to be rolling in gravy? Do MMOs in general do very well or are most just able to keep the lights on?"
It's a difficult question to answer off-the-cuff because there are a lot of variables to consider. Instead, I researched several angles, including player tracking services, frequency of patches, financial reports, and even how often each game pops up on blogs. While the following isn't definitive, I feel strongly that the following 10 games are the healthiest live MMOs on the western market right now.
Yeah, this one's a no-brainer. Even with the loss of three million subscribers and the hooplah around flying, it's still a juggernaut a decade after its launch. It tops or is near the top of pretty much every chart I could find, dominates blog chatter, inspires over 34,000 YouTube videos a month, and even has a movie on the way. Its greatest advantage is in numbers, both in active players and former players who have shown a willingness to return for expansions and promotions (let's not forget the three million sub boost that Warlords of Draenor sparked). You want the safe, predictible, proven choice that will most likely still be thriving 10 years from now? Pick WoW.
2. Guild Wars 2
Tyrians are in a really good place right now. Not only does Guild Wars 2 come up as a solid number two in many places (including its insane 117k subreddit subscriber count), but this year's Heart of Thorns is poised to be the expansion event of the year. With a world that's constantly evolving, a popular e-sports circuit, positive financials from the past quarter, and one of the most active developer and fan communities I've seen, there's no doubt that Guild Wars 2 has a bright future ahead of it.its own mega-expansion this month as well. I see Square-Enix as very motivated to keep it operating for a long time with lots of updates (and continued global penetration), so this is about as assured as any game could be concerning its long-term prospects.
I'll start out by saying that I have mild reservations about putting ESO on this list, mostly due to its relatively young age and some questionable design decisions in the past that showed the developers as being somewhat ignorant of how MMOs work. That said, it belongs here anyway with a rabid following (borrowed heavily from the popularity of the Elder Scrolls franchise), its new buy-to-play model, intriguing systems not typically seen in online games, and the recent console launch. This is a game that can only grow larger, both in content and in players, and by the end of the year we'll have a much better idea how long its legs will get.in-game events, the return of the popular 12x experience boost, a twice-a-year expansion release pace, and even a positive word from Electronic Arts. With the popularity of the Star Wars franchise set to spike with this December's movie, you can't go wrong hanging out in this virtual galaxy far, far away.
Yes, I hear some of you right now bringing up the extensive laundry list of ArcheAge's failings and its penchant for attracting drama. However, the numbers don't lie: ArcheAge is very, very active across the board, from Steam concurrencies to its tracking on Raptr. Just about everywhere I turned, players were still talking about ArcheAge and loving its sandbox features. With the game's continued content growth and its increasing distance from the problems of its Western launch, I see this game and its potential as only improving (especially with Brasse heading up its CM team). Maybe it deserves another shot for those who have dismissed it?
OK, here's the big surprise of this list. But is it really? Everyone is so quick to dismiss or ignore RuneScape -- that is, everyone except its massive, devoted community. Jagex's fantasy MMO had the fifth highest subreddit subscriber count that I found, was the 13th most popular game being streamed on Twitch, and had more YouTube uploads than titles higher up on this list. Besides all that, RuneScape has been around for a long time, continually reinvents itself, frequently adds content, and even invested in a classic server. You could settle down in worse places.
8. EVE Online
Here's another game that's shown serious staying power, even with a hardcore attitude and a sub-only business model. While EVE's numbers may not be what they once were, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more fanatical (in every sense of the word) community. Blogs, forums, Reddit, comments -- the EVE legion is everywhere. And with semi-monthly game updates, an annual fan convention, and an exciting new direction for its future expansion and story, EVE shows that it's still a great time to get into spreadsheet spaceships.
Other games can only seethe in envy at what Marvel Heroes has: the talent behind Diablo II, the full weight of the sizzling Marvel franchise, and a business model that simultaneously hands out freebies like candy while raking in gobs of dough. It only takes a look at the passionate playerbase, the regular (sometimes weekly) patches, the constant expansion of its hero roster, the frequent event schedule, and the bountiful tie-ins to Marvel's films and television shows, and you'd have to agree with me that Marvel Heroes will be a rising star for the forseeable future.
10. Neverwinterdoing gangbusters on the Xbox One (although that helps) but that it keeps throwing in giant updates without charging for the new content or classes. That's kept the players rolling in and willing to spend money elsewhere (companions, lockboxes, mounts). Other plusses in its favor are its casual-friendly approach and the always-trendy Forgotten Realms D&D setting. Yeah, I'd say that Neverwinter is a good place to be indeed.
Honorable mentions and notes
Whittling this down to a top 10, even with the assistance of a wealth of data and indicators, wasn't easy. There are several that could be contenders but weren't strong enough to dislodge the above. TERA might boast high Steam concurrency numbers, but it was virtually absent everywhere else that mattered. Lord of the Rings Online has a faithful base with some blog chatter, but is past its heyday. EverQuest as a franchise whole is fairly strong, DC Universe Online allegedly is hot on consoles, and RIFT is always a worthy pick. But in the end, I had to choose.
For the purpose of keeping this list focused on MMOs, I eliminated fringe titles (such as Destiny), games that haven't released in the west yet, and MOBAs (such as League of Legends) from consideration. My focus wasn't just on how many players were in a game, but how often it was being discussed, how active the community was, and how much positive vs. negative publicity it's been generating as of late. I should also post a public disclaimer that my personal feelings and involvement in specific games did not influence the rankings here (several great MMOs I play aren't on this list!).
I used the following sources to compile data, references, and indicators to help me make my decision:
- Reddit (subscribers to MMO subreddits)
- Massively OP news coverage
- Topsy (social media analytics, particularly for Twitter mentions for the past 30 days, some title names are common words and could not be included)
- Raptr (most played games using that tracking service)
- Steam Charts (peak concurrency for the past 30 days on that platform)
- Google Trends (news headline count)
- Tally of mentions on 300 general (more than one game covered) MMO blog posts over a span of three days
- Twitch (viewer count)
- Xfire MMOs
- YouTube (game-related videos updated in the past 30 days)