It struck me, very recently, that a decade is a long time for MMOs.
If we’re going to count Ultima Online as the first proper MMO as we think of them – and I am – we’re almost 18 years out. Most games have not seen all of those years, and I’m not just talking about the games that launched more recently. It’s rare to find a game that’s been going for a decade, and even rarer to find one that’s been going for a decade and is still getting updates rather than just being stuck in maintenance mode.
So here’s a Perfect Ten celebrating 10 titles that have made it past that mark, even if they’ve just squeaked over the border. Sure, they’re no longer the fresh-faced darlings of the industry, but when you look at all of the great titles that have either shut down or slipped into quiet maintenance over the years, “still going” is often a pretty huge boost by itself.
1. Ultima Online
Full confession: I have never once played Ultima Online, and I have about as much desire to do so as I have to run my face over a belt sander. But I am going to be miserable if this title ever closes down. We’re talking listening to sad music on repeat, sobbing, pouring out 40s on the street corner miserable. Why? Because it’s the gold standard. It’s the first title that kicked all of this off, and in three years it’ll be old enough to legally drink. And it’s still getting updates and humming along. There’s even another expansion on the way.
Others have opined with more eloquence than I that the move over to Broadsword Online has been a boon for the game; I’m inclined to agree. Certainly it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and it’s good to see the game in the hands of people with a genuine passion for keeping it moving.
All right, so it’s not exactly a surprise that WoW is still running and getting active updates, but it’s a bit telling that it’s been casting a long shadow for more than a decade now. Whether or not it’s maintained the same level of quality for that entire decade is a debate that I’m sure people will eagerly leap into down in the comments, especially after yesterday’s revelation that three million people stopped subbing in the last quarter, and for that I wish you good fortune.
The funny part is that very little of that original game is still present. Cataclysm revamped such a large portion of the title that the fields you walked in when the game first launched are likely forever changed. Still, you could well be playing the same character you made on launch day, and even if you’re not playing that one, it’s probably still on your old server. You know how it is.
We never really think about MapleStory, do we? It always seems to be that game that we know must have a bunch of players, and it’s been running for a decade now, but do you actually know anyone who plays it? Yet it’s obviously been doing something right to keep running this long. And hey, more power to it. There’s even a sequel in the works, although that seems to not have the whole side-scrolling platform aspect to it.
4. EverQuest and EverQuest II
Hard to believe that these titles are both past the 10-year mark, isn’t it? It feels like there’s more time between them, but both came out closer to the release of Ultima Online than to the present day. They’re both deploying content a bit differently now, compared to the long-running tradition of frequent and meaty expansions, but they’re both still going strong.
And speaking of EverQuest and games that were very clearly influenced by it…
5. Final Fantasy XI
I freely admit that I’m cheating a little bit with this one. Yes, Final Fantasy XI is not currently in any form of maintenance mode, but that’s not going to be the case for much longer. But as of this writing, it’s still updating, and it’s crafting a big story sendoff before it slips into maintenance mode. Not to mention that it did all of this while supporting itself on multiple consoles.
Even after the game has finished with its major content updates, there are still plans to develop a mobile client for the game as well as a single-player spinoff that’s currently slated for release in Japan only. So while the game itself is going to be going dark-ish, it’s going to be one of the most active maintenance modes I’ve heard of.
6. EVE Online
I’ve joked that this game is a sequel to Microsoft Excel, but it’s a jest made in good spirits. EVE Online is a game that knows its audience and how it works, and it’s kept up a fairly steady stream of content and systems to cater to exactly that. Assuming you ignore experiments like DUST 514 that didn’t exactly pan out in the long run, but we just won’t mention that.
Again, that is.
Not only has RuneScape kept going strong, but it’s done a fairly good job of both changing over time and providing players who preferred its older versions a sandbox to play in in the form of its old-school servers. Points for that. Jagex knows how to keep its fans happy… on this title, anyway. (Would-be fans of Transformers Universe are the opposite of happy.)
8. Anarchy Online
There was a time a little over 10 years ago when Anarchy Online was basically the punchline to any joke about horrible launches that no game could ever recover from. It’s still that punchline, even now, when it’s long since patched up those issues and outlasted several games that postdated it. You can argue that the game never got quite as big as it would have gotten had it not suffered through such awful launch troubles, but it managed to do all right for itself in the long run.
9. Lineage II
This entry inspires a bit of resentment that I realize is entirely unreasonable because Lineage II has passed the decade mark when City of Heroes never got the chance. And since both of them are tied to NCsoft, well, there’s my dose of silly bitterness that I am aware is based on absolutely nothing.
Seriously, I am certain that there was not some sort of face-off wherein executives were picking between the games when deciding who would live and who would die, but I can’t help but feel that an innovative and engrossing superhero MMO wins out pretty decisively next to a game that wants to be an open PvP game and then sort of backs off after the fact. Not to mention that the game’s lore always struck me as kind of overwrought and complex for its own sake, and…
All right, all right, that’s enough bitterness. Also, the game did claim to remove its level cap altogether with the last patch, so that’s pretty cool.
10. Dark Age of Camelot
I sometimes feel as if Dark Age of Camelot gets overlooked for what it did. Sure, it’s getting on in years, but this is the game that really put the idea of factional conflicts on the map. Its use of three factions has basically gone unmirrored by the majority of games that offer some kind of factional PvP, and a lot of the central mechanics just sort of get… lost. Which is a real shame. What’s not a shame is that the game has passed the decade mark, and while the first attempt at a spiritual sequel with Warhammer Online didn’t pan out, Camelot Unchained seems to be doing all right for itself.
It’s not quite my cup of tea. But just like everything else on this list, it’s had a good run, and I hope it continues to have one.