No MMO can be in the spotlight eternally. Even some of the biggest names out there — your World of Warcrafts, your Guild Wars 2s, your Star Stables — wax and wane in the amount of press and attention they get depending on what they’re doing and how well their PR department is functioning.
It doesn’t take much for a title to fall off of practically everyone’s radar. In some cases it’s merely a matter of passing time and slipping popularity, but in others it’s just that the game or its marketing team hasn’t done anything of note in a long, long time. So that’s when you get MMOs that, when mentioned, cause the listener to cock an eyebrow and say, “Huh. That’s still around?”
Today we’re going to look at 10 such titles — not to demean them or laugh at some misfortune but to call attention to MMOs that are still humming along even though they’re not headlining news or ripping up Steam charts.
1. Fallen Earth
This one actually pains me to put on this list because I had such a gamer crush on Fallen Earth for a couple of glorious years. It wasn’t quite the Fallout Online I always wanted, but it was close, with a wide-open wasteland perfect for exploring and scavenging. While it did manage to stay alive by going free-to-play with GamersFirst, it hasn’t thrived. Probably not the best sign that the latest dev post on the official website is from March 2015 (they apparently do most of their communication on Facebook).
Some days I think I’m the only one on this planet who got excited about Turbine bringing Asheron’s Call 2 back, and that includes the studio itself. Granted, AC2 was never going to rake in the bucks, but it was cool to see a revival of sorts.
But when you factor in Turbine’s less-than-stellar year, the fact that AC2 is less popular than the already tiny Asheron’s Call, and two recent months when players weren’t able to create new accounts, I’m going to say that it’s a miracle that AC2 is running period and we should be grateful for its continued existence.
One of the very first graphical (albeit 2-D) MMOs, The Realm Online has been trucking along in under various companies since its debut in the mid-1990s. That’s an amazingly long run for a title that most don’t even know about, and those who used to play it have since moved on to more modern games.
It’s really hard to get a read on what’s happening with this game. The official website mentions an end-of-summer 2014 event and its Twitter account is perhaps the saddest thing ever. However, one Redditor mentioned a month ago that there were still around 65 people playing concurrently, so I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s still in operation (even if in stealth mode).
I think most MMO players are at least aware that this game existed at some point, although that awareness doesn’t extend to what the game is, personal experience with it, or knowledge of its current status. Well, in 2010 Cyan Worlds brought it back as a free title and allowed players to monkey around with an open sourced version of it as well. It’s definitely still running, as it had server maintenance as recently as October 8th.
Runes of Magic is probably one of the bigger and more successful titles on this list, but for myriad reasons, it’s really dropped out of sight over the past few years. It initially had a strong start as a free-to-play alternative to World of Warcraft and even gathered a nice following. Heck, Massively-that-was used to have a game column on it.
Now? Well, the game is still developing new content and has a some stuff for 2016 planned, but I cannot remember the last time I saw anyone talk about this game, so I assume that it’s well within the parameters of this article’s subject.
Here’s a fun game to play: Ask yourself, “Is PlanetSide still running?” and then try to answer it. It’s surprisingly difficult to do because while Daybreak didn’t kill the first game when PlanetSide 2 came out, it’s all but erased the first title from existence on the web. Daybreak’s website doesn’t acknowledge it, it’s not part of All Access, and the old PlanetSide site shoves the sequel in your face so hard you’re going to need chap stick. Even the subreddit has merged the two titles together.
So is it dead or alive? The answer is “alive” — at least for now. I was able to find a few comments here and there from people who play it here in 2015, and the PlanetSide Universe fansite has a forum that has people chatting about the game today (although they comment that the servers are pretty quiet).
Speaking of Daybreak, Pirates of the Burning Sea used to part of SOE’s mighty MMO umbrella but was dropped from the studio in 2012 and subsequently taken over by Portalus Games. Maybe that move kept the game alive, but it sure didn’t propel this piratey sandbox to piles of money and players. Pirates of the Burning Sea continues to run today and even added a new ship back in June. So that’s something, right?
Nobody was ever going to accuse A Tale in the Desert of stealing the limelight — it was always a very niche (if fascinating) title — but for a while there the game went deathly quiet as the developer was working on other projects. It had been coasting along in its sixth telling since December 2011 before finally rebooting into Tale 7 this past September. So if you forgot this game was out there, it wasn’t entirely your fault.
9. DUST 514
DUST 514 was a gamble that didn’t quite work for CCP. And by “didn’t quite work,” I mean it cratered so hard that it probably killed off the dinosaurs. Ever since it came out, I got the feeling that CCP really wishes that it had never created the game but is now stuck with the inenviable task of keeping it running for whatever money it can get from it.
I mean, DUST 514 is obviously still around and even putting out the occasional event, but when your developer starts publicly talking about rebooting the whole idea of a tie-in shooter game, then your days as a potential star are officially over.
10. Guild Wars
Before I get pitchforked or whatever angry fan crowds do to smartmouthed journalists, I want to reemphasize that games on this list aren’t here because they’re terrible. Guild Wars had a great run, it really did, and grew a great community for well over a half-decade of operation.
But now the title is suffering from the same superstar sibling effect that PlanetSide is. It’s still running, to be sure, but it’s firmly in maintenance mode while Guild Wars 2 is getting all of the new content, attention, and expansions.