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.

We live again!

1. World of Warcraft

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.

So light it up.

2. Final Fantasy XIV

To this day, I am endlessly surprised by the success of FFXIV. And it hits me on the regular. I meet random people who talk to me about how great the game is in real life. I've been to the fan festival. I'm extremely excited about the game's second expansion and I can't wait to hear more about it later this month. That's a good sign for its health.

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.

Finally we are loved.

3. The Elder Scrolls Online

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.

Interships spacenet.

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.

Next year in Lion's Arch.

5. Guild Wars 2

The previous four games have gotten healthier since the last installment of this feature, but GW2 has arguably taken a few self-inflicted body blows. Heart 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.

Rune gon give it to ya

6. RuneScape

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.

Swing like you mean it.

7. Black Desert Online

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.

Occasionally spring.

8. Neverwinter

Much like RuneScape, Neverwinter might not seem such a likely candidate except for the fact that it seems to know exactly what it's doing to keep players rolling in and enjoying themselves across multiple platforms. Is it all that surprising, though? The game has a straightforward fantasy setting, an active combat system, two console ports, and a fanbase in place to keep it humming along nicely. Perhaps the only surprising thing about it is that it's not rolling out more classes more frequently.

We know exactly how this works.

9. Star Wars: The Old Republic

This is a good time to have the words "Star Wars" in front of your game's name. The franchise is pumping out plenty of new stuff, and this year's movie release also helps get people used to the idea that just because it says "Star Wars" doesn't mean it's part of a straight line of events. A new expansion is out for people to enjoy, and while there's some frustration around how exactly things have been balanced this time around, it's not something that seems likely to ultimately sink the game. Balance will need to happen, but SWTOR seems as if it'll be our port of call for quite some time.

These are always the voyages.

10. Star Trek Online

Popping a game onto consoles seems to be a pretty positive move for the games that have done it. Star Trek Online seems as if it's in no danger of going anywhere, especially when you consider that there's a new series on the way for the first time in forever. Will it be any good? Who knows; we sure don't yet. But it's still coming, just the same, and that helps the game's name recognition. It might not be quite as healthy as the games higher on the list, but it still seems to be in a solid place just the same.

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.

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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100 comments
boombza
boombza

I would not say BDO NA is healthy, give it a shot either way because it is still a very unique and polished game. I wish I could say the same about the management. I would have thought Blade n Soul would be on the list since it was placed as one of the top revenue earners for 2016 for free to play titles. 

Ghostmourn
Ghostmourn

what a nice list....I shall endeavour to play them all muahahahah!


(interestingly the spell check on this site does not know the spelling  of "endeavour")

Jnaathra
Jnaathra

I cringe at half the games on this list and it goes to further enforce why I can not find a game that I enjoy. 

Slaphammer
Slaphammer

@melissaheather I was hoping to see LOTRO on this list, but honestly I forgot EQ2 existed until you mentioned it.  :)

Suikoden
Suikoden

Kind of surprised to see two Cryptic games in the top ten for most healthy, but good for them.

Hey Bree, how about a list called: The Top Ten Games We WISH Were On The Top Ten Most Healthy Games List?

LOL

209vaughn
209vaughn

I agree completely.  I think WoW, FF14 and ESO have a very tight grip on the top spots.  GW 2 has so much potential but for some reason I can never get excited about it.


Must underrated award should go to ArcheAge.

MeiLiLinCheng
MeiLiLinCheng

You got everything right. My games are there and I believe they are only to get stronger (but not WoW, its end has only begun). Guild Wars 2, Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, EVE Online (yeah, the free-to-play move surprised everybody).


Though I'd say Ultima Online and ArcheAge should be in the list too.

ammalis
ammalis

I'm very glad to see EVE on this list.

Can I ask few questions to players:

What is the state of EVE? Did free accounts increased number of players? Did they upgraded player experience? Is it fun for someone without huge guild?

Sadric
Sadric

@ammalis Eve is in pretty good shape. The updates they've done have been solid and improved the game, over all. Right now it seems like the free accounts have been very popular, but we'll see how long they stay. It's still a complicated game with a lot of depth and doesn't have action, shooter style gameplay.


The game has a lot of open fleets available for solo players to join in. Here's an example of a guy who takes anyone and everyone, puts together a daily fleet and roams with them in null sec space: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoVIh3egdRSnpV_O_sxRTUA


You can also solo PvE, do solo industry, and quite a few things. The game is a lot more fun with others though and there's usually a corporation that suits everyone's playstyle.

ammalis
ammalis

@Sadric @ammalis thank you for your reply. I think it is best time to check EVE and give it fair time to check.

Bourne_Endeavour
Bourne_Endeavour

Little surprised not to see Blade & Soul on this list, given NCSoft's fiscal numbers earlier in the year. Granted, I couldn't get into the game myself. So I'm a little curious how if it's fallen from grace.  

cheesybites76
cheesybites76

@Bourne_Endeavour After playing for a couple of years on Cn and Jp servers, I can tell you that the game simply does not have enough content.  One of the more common terms for BnS is "all blade, no soul."  The combat is fun, and sure it's pretty, but there is precious little to do at the level cap other than a few dungeons.  Anything other than combat is essentially an afterthought in the game, plus the fact that the payment models in pretty much all countries is awfully cash-grabby.  Jp subs were $30 per month at one point.  All in all, it just has trouble with retention, period.

Bourne_Endeavour
Bourne_Endeavour

@cheesybites76 @Bourne_Endeavour I've heard that being a frequent complaint. Among the reasons I eventually quit was how little attention any other bit of content was given. Coming from the crafting system in FFXIV, I was more than mildly disappointed by the practically non-existent equivalent B&S. Shame too, because the combat is solid. 

ColdinT
ColdinT

Interestingly, I think both DDO and LOTRO should be on this list. They've both been getting consistent updates over the year, and both have planned "Expansion" updates in 2017. That's about as healthy and stable as most games can get.

Droniac
Droniac

@ColdinT There's another factor to the health of a game: a large active player base. Neither DDO nor LOTRO has one when compared to any of the games in this list. On top of that, Turbine itself hasn't been looking too healthy for a while now. Infinite Crisis was a failure and all they seem to be working on now is maintaining DDO & LOTRO and building mobile games. DDO and LOTRO may be looking good, even better than they have in a while, but they're not quite as healthy as the games in this list.

Jnaathra
Jnaathra

@ColdinT With both of them changing hands in the past few days, it puts them further away from being on this list. Apparently they are not worth keeping to Warner Brothers. AC1 and AC2 shared data center space with them and those two titles are about to be defunct. Quite a mess over there. 

Tutorix
Tutorix

Ah, Neverwinter and The Old Republic. I love Neverwinter's gameplay, hate the game world. I love SWTOR's world, hate the gameplay. An action RPG with SWTOR's story could be great. A new game with Neverwinter's bones that focuses on cooperative multiplayer and does not pretend to be an MMO could be great.

Wyattearp1989
Wyattearp1989

I've actually been getting back into BDO and the population looks good. It will probably go up more once the new area and class comes out next year. Having fun playing something that isn't like other MMO's out there atm. I mean, Archeage is similar but... Trion. >.>

Rheem Octuris
Rheem Octuris

We also need an UNhealthiest Live MMORPGs list.

Hopestealer1
Hopestealer1

This was a good read. I am surprised that STO makes it as I played it at launch and it was a major snooze for me.

However as I understand it they have made drastic changes to their gameplay and that's great for them.

Cambruin
Cambruin

No LotRO on the list. Not the least bit surprising, but I can't help feeling sad about it. I didn't need this list to tell me how bad it's gotten, after all, friends list never lie, but seeing it confirmed... once again?


I really liked that game, played it for 10+ years but wherever I go, whether it's reddit, the official forums or the various blogs; it's painfully obvious and with the many layoffs I simply don't see them turning things around. I want to carry on, but the negativity is just too... disheartening I guess? :(


It's gonna be hard for me to leave this behind, to not compare the next to the previous. :(

wanderv15
wanderv15

@Cambruin May be you should less whine, read forum trolls and doomsayers but just play the game? The game is not major player on the market - yes. At best it has 200-300k active players. It's mediocre in terms of health project bt it's still alive and developing. We got regular updates and will get Mordor expansion next year.

TheMMOBro
TheMMOBro

@Cambruin If this was extended out, LOTRO would probably rank #12. It's doing fine.

Duke_W
Duke_W

@Greyraven @wanderv15 I can believe it.


I remember playing maybe... five years ago? Just stumbling around outside the Shire as a lowbie scrub. Outside of Bree (I think), I came across around 60 players riding out from the town. When asked, they explained they were planning to travel across the land in an RP army.


I found the concept really awesome, and followed them until they reached a zone in the highlands which was really high level. They were really welcoming, and it was nice to be part of something fairly unique.


Years later, I'm now hosting some of the biggest open community events in GW2, involving travelling across the land in a huge horde. It's not exactly RP, but it sure is fun. I think it's partially due to the inspiration from those formative years in LotRO.

Perfect Hero
Perfect Hero

Archeage is doing really well. I even saw some players this morning in the main city. A few players were chatting in faction too.

MaxSand
MaxSand

Warframe is doing better than ever..... more than quite a few on this list tbh.

Godson691
Godson691

@breetoplay @MaxSand  I agree Warframe is a great game. It's not a traditional MMORPG, but a weird hybrid that has found it's niche.  You can easily see how much the Devs love and care about their game.

breetoplay
breetoplay moderator

@MaxSand I'm not sure even Warframe's developers would consider it a traditional MMORPG, though we're rooting for it nevertheless.

rottenrotny
rottenrotny

Wish TSW would make the list, but I worry for it's future.

I myself am firmly entrenched into WoW.

I've almost got pathfinder part 1, have cleared Emerald Nightmare in my ultra casual raid group and am looking forward to hitting Karazhan and Trial of Valor. 

Also, Boat Day? :D

Greyraven
Greyraven

Good List  am glad to see Neverwinter and STO get the recognition they deserve.



I honestly think we are going to see less and less mmorpgs and more RPGs that offer an Open or Pseudo open world  where you can play with up to five or six people..


Having MMO qualities (Quest crafting, Dungeons ) with limited exposure to the unsavory types that play MMO's seems to be the growing trend.

Chukii
Chukii

Well I'm not surprised at STO and Neverwinter, I've played more of those two since getting a ps4 than i have FF15 and Fifa, especially Neverwinter; it always felt like more of a console game and works really well on the ps4, not so much STO.

I think ARPGs, thanks to consoles, will feature a lot more next year.

Deja Twixt
Deja Twixt

@Chukii It would be nice to have a console Grim Dawn but I now have a Steam Link so for me it is not an issue. But that is game is a damn good arp. Also, Path Of Exile. 

Chukii
Chukii

Agreed, i think it's only a matter of time before we see a console grim dawn, the numbers it would bring in would be a surefire guarantee of a sequel!

ArdoNorrin
ArdoNorrin

I fully expect WoW, EVE, and FFXIV on this list to remain on this list (if not on the top) for the foreseeable future unless their companies make a conscious decision to move on. Any time EVE's star begins to wane, a big story comes out about in-game wars that gets people coming back. SE has committed itself to FFXIV and putting out an extremely high-quality product, so it should remain strong so long as Yoshida is in charge. WoW is like a D&D troll with 26 Constitution: a ton of HP and regeneration, which lets it shrug off damage that will kill most lesser beings.


ESO is going strong, but I think its position is more precarious than the others in the Top 4, mostly because I'm not convinced that its team will remain stable and continue to make generally good decisions. GW2 seems to have driven off a lot of the players that I knew who played, but I think they may be refocusing on what made people like the initial game. We'll see how it goes over the next year.


SWTOR, on the other hand, now has a very angry core player base, and has made moves that only angered the core players more. EA has a lot of money sunk into the game, and produces a ton of profit, but Bioware needs to do something to pacify the masses.


StevenWilliams3
StevenWilliams3

@ArdoNorrin I agree completely. Great assessment! I've played FFXIV since 1.0 alpha, and yet I still have lots to do in the game! I tend to pace my content more than rush through it, is why. Edge Faire, stopping to smell the roses for over half a decade. >:)


WoW definitely has the advantage of having an uberstrong, longstanding fanbase who will come back again and again. The only other MMO I know of that has that kind of driven and set-in-stone playerbase is XIV.


ESO's been making some great decisions, but I think it still suffers from trying to balance being an elder scrolls game and being a solid MMO. I think it should try its own thing! 


I agree, I don't hear much about GW2 since Heart of Thorns. I don't know why, though. Can anyone tell me why this is the case?


SWTOR reminds me of Mabinogi; a game with developers making increasingly-bad decisions and one that took me years after the fact to give up. Looking back, I should have left the game when Reforges were introduced. I think SWTOR players will have that feeling, too, in a few years. "I should have left the game when X was introduced," etc.

Droniac
Droniac

@StevenWilliams3 @ArdoNorrin GW2: Heart of Thorns was a good expansion, but added a couple features that didn't pan out as hoped (WvW map for example) and A LOT more grinding (guild halls, new profession, legendary armor, post-80 traits). Afterwards there were practically no updates, aside from some staged raid content. The game placed a big emphasis on raids and nothing else for a while, which most of its players clearly weren't into. I've been hearing a lot of positive stuff about the latest updates though. It sounds like season 3 of the living world content is much better than 1 & 2.


SWTOR... kind of sounds like a Star Wars MMO curse at this point. NGE anyone?

imayb1
imayb1

@Droniac @StevenWilliams3 @ArdoNorrin Good summation, Droniac.

GW2 had a very comfortable pro-casual thing going. HoT introduced more challenging content and raids. There was WvW and PvP discontent (and water is wet). The guild hall grind broke guilds (and made them broke). There were long time periods without substantial updates, too.

Fortunately, updates are coming along at a good pace now and the new maps and stories have been accessible to casuals and had much more positive feedback from the community. 

Living World season 1's biggest gripe was that it was terrific content, but it was all one-and-done. People who missed it, missed out forever. So, season 2 was all repeatable and it was pretty good; it was obvious they'd learned a lot. Then came HoT's higher-challenge story... that many casuals couldn't complete-- particularly the buggy end instance. Compared to previous seasons, season 3 has been a huge success with popular new maps. I see good game population every-where/when I go lately.