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.

1. World of Warcraft

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.

3. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Bucking the free-to-play trend and a horrible initial start, Final Fantasy XIV is the come-from-behind success story that has made loyal players out of thousands upon thousands. It's strong on the charts, is the talk of the town on blogs, has a popular IP behind it, and oh yeah, will be releasing 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.

4. The Elder Scrolls Online

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.

5. Star Wars: The Old Republic

Forget the troubles of SWTOR's post-launch rise and fall; we're in a completely new era of the game. With the advent of free-to-play, SWTOR has stabalized and even grown, commanding a solid following online and remaining in top 10 and 20 lists. Good indicators of its health include frequent 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.

6. ArcheAge

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?

7. RuneScape

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.

9. Marvel Heroes

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. Neverwinter

In a way, the tenth pick for this list was the hardest of all, because it had to justify being there versus all of the others I had to knock off. However, I feel fine with giving Neverwinter a nod of MMO health approval for several reasons. It's not just that it's reportedly doing 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)
Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line "Perfect Ten."
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377 comments
ByteStix
ByteStix

I believe RuneScape should definitely be above ArcheAge to be completely honest with you.

Drath
Drath

Having a large community isn't 'healthy' if the community is toxic and anti-social, which alas, stands for a lot of MMO's nowadays.

209vaughn
209vaughn

We need an updated list!!!!  I cant make my own decisions so I need my massively overlords to make them for me!!!!

likalaruku1
likalaruku1

Nice to see that RIFT was at least healthy enough for an honorable mention.

SwobyJ
SwobyJ

@likalaruku1 I hope it at least stays there for years to come. I don't fool myself that it'll be a top game, but hopefully a healthy 'honorable mention' with content coming regularly enough and expansions every couple of years.

mmend2123
mmend2123

The saving grace of ESO is the consoles. They lack MMOS so ESO will fill in a nitch. I honestly tried playing ESO on the PC again and its just boring.  

SteveLazarowitz
SteveLazarowitz

@Donquixote Doflamingo I'd love to see evidence of this. It was probably true before Guild Wars 2 went free to play, it might even be true briefly right now, due to the proximity of the Star Wars movie, but over all, I think Guild Wars 2 probably has as many or more players that SWToR.  After all, one of the games had to fire a third of their staff after launch and went free to play a whole lot sooner. No, my guess is you're severly underestimating Guild Wars 2's population.

justaguy2003
justaguy2003

I love seeing Marvel Heroes sneak onto these lists. It is a really fun distraction and deserves the recognition it gets.

tktalliance
tktalliance

@rebbeca757 This list is based on player population, not on the opinion of the author, like the list you linked is.

LucasFewins
LucasFewins

What I really want is a sandbox MMO like Runescape, like SAO. No classes, no restrictions, just a big skill list and freedom to level which skills you want, when you want. That's what ESO should of been to keep true to the ES franchise, no classes. I want to create a blank character like I used to in the old days of Runescape and see how it evolves, and to change my mind of what I want to be without starting again. I play WoW, but it doesn't satisfy me much, I don't want lots of characters with different roles, I want one that I can really mold myself. That's why runescape was so popular, it's simplicity gave you so much freedom. I can't believe I still can't find a decent MMO that realises this.

chosenxeno
chosenxeno

@LucasFewins There is no way to avoid optimal builds. That's a pipedream. If you want to avoid Optimal syndrome play Wizard101. I raided hardcore in WoW for 6 years and I raided in Rift. I also maxed in FFXIV and Wildstar. I just started Wizard101 a week Ago. I am pleasantly surpised. I like their TGC Style of combat. The combat is based on Decision Making instead of Rotations and Reaction. It's old yet somehow refreshing. I can't believe there aren't more clones lol

HeroTheory
HeroTheory

@LucasFewins The only one I can think of is The Secret World..ADMITTEDLY dead, but stillan amazing skill system..

Path of Exile is really great for that if you liked Diablo3. (Or if you knew diablo 3 couldve been good) 

Quetz
Quetz

@LucasFewins You described exactly what I think. Recently there is Albion Online, which they say that will rescue the old school MMO times like Tibia and Ultima Online, with full loot open PvP, economy driven by players and no levels. But,, really, like Runescape it will be hard to find or exist.

Austacker
Austacker

Neverwinter on the Xbox one is a miserable pay to win piece of garbage.  It runs terribly and spams you relentlessly with admin notifications regarding cash store crap.


ESO on console is average at best.  Much of the issues with the PC version are hidden because the mod community was able to compensate for it's issues.  The console version has a LFG tool that was broken day one and never been fixed, combine that with NO TEXT CHAT SUPPORT and it's a horrid mess.  The levelling system in ESO sucks, it's painful with the VR grind (which they first said would be removed and then extended another two levels for their latest DLC) and the progression path through the VR ranks is poor.  You'll progress through the main campaign levels 1-50 + Cadwells solo fine, then before you get near level cap you have to do group content or grind mobs.  There's no player housing.  No seasonal events.  No chat box.  No mod support.  It's got a decent foundation, but has a LONG way to go.

tutu380
tutu380

When are they going to make a game similar to Royal Road from Legendary Moonlight Sculptor.

WildarX
WildarX

Interesting list, but considering how many MMORPG's exist these days, only listing 10 is miniscule.  Top 100 would be better.  By the way Justin, why do only some of the games include "play me" buttons?

Vagrant Zero
Vagrant Zero

@HarvyFreitag You just looked at the raw numbers and didn't bother to do even a the most basic of analyses. TERA has hemorrhaged over 33% of its playerbase in the last month. FF14 has grown by nearly 75% in the last 2 months (granted, it's from Heavensward but a sub is a sub). Speaking of subs...you need one to play FF14. You also need to buy the game. TERA has no barrier to entry being entirely F2P. 


Now explain to me how those vast differences somehow create a "tie" in your mind? 

Alisi
Alisi

Neverwinter? Really? That game has been hemoraging players since mod 6. Even the xbox version, which is at mod 5, (still fun) is already on the decline.

AVeryIrateF2P
AVeryIrateF2P

Runescape, healthy? None of its community is F2P. "Adds content" means "Adds content for people who paid for membership." Oh, let's not forget that the forums are members only.


Jagex Support: (This is a paraphrased account of my real experience) "Oh, you have a problem with the daily bonus awarding member's items you have to throw away? Please post on the forums suggestions on how to improve your experience." Thanks, jagex, I'll do that-NO I CAN'T BECAUSE ONLY MEMBERS CAN! It defeats the PURPOSE! If I stay F2P, I get no say in the game. If I buy membership, I lose the F2P stance I was defending!

Robert80
Robert80

@AVeryIrateF2P  Ew, they do that?  I hadn't looked at their F2P model in a long time.  That's terribad.  It reminds me of trying to drop a major phone carrier... you have a problem after you get the number turned off, and you can't even contact them because you need one of their phone numbers!  That junk is stupid all around!

AndreiNitu
AndreiNitu

@AVeryIrateF2P You derive pleasure from the product of a number of people. As long as you do that, and not pay them, they are entirely entitled to not give a flying fuck what you think, because you don't matter and have no legal foothold. If you buy the game, and therefore bought their service, you are legally allowed to criticize what you got. Untill then, bitch on i guess.

TE5LA
TE5LA

@AndreiNitu @AVeryIrateF2P WoW can't really be compared to games today and their business model. WoW is where it is because they got into the game very early and have a lot of players who won't leave because they've invested enough money into to have bought a house by now. They put up with the lousy graphics and antiquated engine because they know the game already. They have still lost millions of players from where they once were, but it doesn't matter. There are dozens of F2P games that are far better than WoW. Most popular doesn't mean better. If it did McDonald's would have the best burgers in the world.

KryptonianGL
KryptonianGL

Am I the only one here that finds it inexcusable that two games, one with the DC Universe IP and the other with the Lord of the Rings IP aren't in the top 10? Deservedly so! However, I think it goes to show not only how lackluster those two games are performing but also how badly those developers f***ed up a good thing.

IMHO, for LOTRO it's the butt fugly character models and animations along with the sometimes horrible optimization of the game that kills it for most.

For DC, I think it's a whole host of things, but if I had to put my finger on one, perhaps it's the absolutely horrible power sets; some of which do not feel very DC-like at all -- I'm looking at you Fire and Ice! Not to mention, the combat in the game just feels wonky. I'd wager that if the combat mechanics and powersets were closer to that of Marvel Heroes, DCUO would be doing much better than it is.

I'm a DC guy first over Marvel, but will fully admit that Marvel Heroes is a drastically better game that is loads more fun to play than DC.

Anyhow, I think it's safe to say that if you are responsible for the design of either DCUO or LOTRO, you've let your golden goose slip away. With IPs that huge, those games should be killing it!

AndreiNitu
AndreiNitu

@KryptonianGL LOTRO is old as fuck man, and never had a fraction of the budget WoW had, I really don't think it's worth criticizing. For all they had they've made tremendous amount of content. That there should be a better lotr game out there I completely agree, but that would imply a budget so ginormous, it's not gonna happen anytime soon. Which is sad, but whatchu gonna do..

But yeah, a state of the art, waesomely animated and modeled LOTR game, sort of like an mmo Shadow of Mordor that plays like Neverwinter (action-adventure combat, with only 5-6 skills usable in combat, but I'd want a lot more freedom in choosing those 5-6 than Neverwinter gives. Something like an ability tree of 25-30 skill, each with branches, completely separate from the passive talent tree), would be so exciting and blood pumping. Adding ofcourse the acrobatic element, because if you're gonna play as an elf, bitch you better move like an elf.

VilleUusitalo
VilleUusitalo

9/10 of these games have cash-shop.

4-5 of these have Very hard-core cash shop aka p2w


Imho only WoW and especially FF14arr deserve a mention in this list - looking from players perspective. I truly love it when games like FF14arr flourish without going cash shop/p2w.


Btw - Tera NA doesnt get any mention? They just made the impossible->possible with opening a new server on "old" mmorpg. Thats an achievement nowadays when mmorpg players are slowly moving to other genres like FPS, Heartstone, MOBA's and Isometric arpgs like D3 and Path of Exile.


Would had love to see PoE ranked in here. But Maybe MassivelyOP should make another list of: Healthiest Indie Games!


I also feel that MassivelyOP as independent mmosite should give more coverage Indie projects rather than promote corporate based games. Kickstarter projects need more love - as do games such as Path of Exile! Indies for Indies - Games for Gamers^_^

AndreiNitu
AndreiNitu

@VilleUusitalo SW: The Old Republic only has a cash shop to compensate for whoever doesn't want to sub. Subscribers are given full access to the game, and even given complementary shop cash monthly should they really want to buy something cosmetic. Apart from that, as a sub, everything else you earn in game through normal progression, no grinding involved. So I dunno, all the months that I've played TOR I've always subbed because I like star wars and Bioware, and neither have I regreted it, nor have I ever put any other money in the game apart from my monthly sub. And I did buy a few cosmetics in game.

Aiscence
Aiscence

I wonder why Dofus/wakfu are never quoted. I know they are controversial but after 10years they are still adding content every months or two, and they have a low price sub ...

tominva2012
tominva2012

"Every time I see this question, I symphatize with the concern behind asking it." 

My inner editor is cringing at "symphatize". :) 

As for the MMOs listed here, I am considering a return to WoW for a brief sojourn, and SWTOR and Neverwinter are still on my radar, but I'd sooner play STO than any of them. (Though right now I am thoroughly enjoying some recent SPRPG games.)

ThompsonClaytonRadcliff
ThompsonClaytonRadcliff

Even mentioning LOTRO in a top ten list for current MMO's is a bad move.  Your title says 'HEALTHIEST'...it hasn't been even remotely healthy in two years.

Rayko
Rayko

Marvel Heroes is not a MMO

orbaliskbane
orbaliskbane

@Rayko It definitely doesn't play like a typical MMO but it some ways it actually is.

digi_owl
digi_owl

One do wonder how well Neverwinter will do on console once mob6 hits...


I used to have a blast when mods came round, but mod6 i just can't get into.

FeveredDreamer
FeveredDreamer

GW2 being #2 definitely warms my heart.  Aside from being an absoltuely amazing game I think that GW2 also pushed the industry to reconsider some of our standard MMO beliefs.

keysmachine
keysmachine

@FeveredDreamer it was supposed to cause a massive paradigm shift in the industry and force wow to shutter their servers due to the immense popularity of the title. of course all this was boasted months before release but that's none of my business.

Lethality
Lethality

@FeveredDreamer And we still have no idea how many active players GW2 has. Wish they'd release numbers.

FeveredDreamer
FeveredDreamer

@keysmachine @FeveredDreamer As others have noted the WoW comment is kind of nonsense, as for the paradigm shift I think many of the "old school" folks on MMORPG forums would disagree with you that GW2 hasn't caused one.  The shift toward horizontal progression and away from infinite level/gear grind/progression is a meaningful one for sure.

JakeDunnegan
JakeDunnegan

@Nreff @keysmachine @FeveredDreamer /agree with Nreff. I doubt anyone but a troll would have said that ____ game is/was going to knock WoW off it's perch in this decade. (In other words, since 2010). It's been so overwhelming dominant, that it's nigh on impossible. And I haven't played more than a few score of hours since 2006, but even an idiot like me can see that WoW is the MMO equivalent of Elvis.

Hail to the king, baby.