Perfect Ten: The healthiest live MMORPGs at the end of 2016
About a year and a half ago, my colleague, co-worker, and friend to man and beast alike Justin compiled a list of the healthiest live MMOs at the time. Since then, every single one of those games has shut down, except for... you know, all of them. They're all still doing just fine. So as we wrap up 2016, it seems prudent to look at which games are looking hale and healthy before we head into 2017 and beyond.
As before, this is based on a combination of several factors including news trends, news stories, Steam charts, Reddit, and our own experience in the news room. It should not be taken as an ironclad promise, but it does mean that if any of these games were banished to the land of wind and ghosts, we would be quite surprised. So if you're looking to see what games seem to be doing well and are worth counting on still running in another year? Yeah, here's the way to bet.
If anything, WoW is looking healthier now than it did the last time we went through these. While Warlords of Draenor was slumping its way through two weak patches and isn't high on anyone's list, a lot of people are over the moon about Legion. It might not be perfect, but it has been relatively well-received, and it drew people back in for a look while also drawing in a few new players. (Yes, there are people out there who have never played the game before. I'm as surprised as you are.)
Now, there will be rumblings if the game is winding down 2017 without another expansion on deck and with another content lull beginning. But this is now, and now is good.
Even beyond that, though, it's important to note that this game is being run by Square-Enix, which has had Final Fantasy XI in "maintenance mode" for quite some time while still dropping monthly content updates. Yes, monthly. So you can get in on this game and be pretty well assured it'll still be running in the future.
Sure, you could argue that ESO made a bit of a blunder out of its recent addition of lockboxes. That's not great. But we've got housing coming to the game in 2017, so that's great, and the game's One Tamriel update was another major update that pulled in the crowds with its level-scaling freedoms. Despite its youth and some missteps here and there, the game seems to be settling in for the long haul, and it keeps getting better and better with time. Some of that is helped by the fact that it doesn't have a brand-new Elder Scrolls game to compete with, but the point remains.
4. EVE Online
While it surprised a lot of people with its free-to-play move, the fact of the matter is that EVE seems less as if it's trying to sustain itself with free-to-play options and more as if it's just moving with the times. Someone once opined that this game could change its entire lore and setting overnight and players wouldn't even care, and the fact is that I think that's kind of accurate. It's a niche game that has settled into its niche and remains in its niche, and it shows no sign of being unable to sustain itself within that niche.
5. Guild Wars 2Heart of Thorns was definitely a big event, but it was also a divisive expansion, and several of its mechanics weren't necessarily received with open arms. Then the game went quiet on updates for a protracted period, which helped further alienate players, and it's lost a number of high-profile devs in 2016, including its head honcho. Still, the game is swinging back into form and working on its next expansion, so it would be wrong to say that it's struggling. It may not be as healthy as it looked before HoT, but that isn't the same thing as "unhealthy," and the game saw a definite perk-up over the summer once new content started rolling in.
I think a lot about RuneScape. I don't play it and likely never will, but much like EVE, it seems to have its niche and can sustain itself there quite nicely. It's just that its niche appears to be "RuneScape players," which is the sort of thing that I would say could never keep the game going except for the fact that it clearly does. It has its old-school servers, it has its experiments, it has a spinoff card game, and it has a ton of people playing it. I don't know why what it's doing works so well for people, but it clearly is working very well, in spite of Jagex's ownership shuffle this year.
Here's this year's controversial pick, I imagine; Black Desert Online hasn't been around for all that long, and the game does have a tendency to attract controversy and player rage like... something else that attracts controversy. That metaphor kind of got away from me.
However, for all of its missteps during its first year of operation, the game has managed to make a splash, get noticed, and attract no small number of players looking for something just a bit different than its contemporaries. While the initial fury of its launch has quieted, there's still a lot of energy flowing into this game, and I'd be surprised if it weren't around for some time from now.
10. Star Trek Online
Secondary notes and noteworthy addenda
As before, and as noted in the introduction, a number of sources were used to determine which games qualified as "healthy," including content updates, news stories, Steam charts, Reddit subscribers, and dark alchemy. This is not an exact science, something that several of us had occasion to learn many times over the years. Consider these betting odds more than absolute facts.
In keeping with the spirit of the previous list, certain titles were left off right out of the gate, including MOBAs such as League of Legends and SMITE and multiplayer games like Marvel Heroes and Overwatch and ARK: Survival Evolved. If you're curious which games from those subgenres probably would have been on there... well, there you go, I just told you. Feel free to make your own choices about which existing entries would be pushed off the list.
Should your favorite game not be on here, don't despair; as mentioned, this is not an exact science, and these are not likely to be the only titles left standing after 2017. They're just the games that seem to be the healthiest as they move on from launch. We'll no doubt revisit this again in the future, and for all we know, something new will be on there that time. The industry is forever changing.