As Counting Crows told us, it’s been a long December, although the fact that it has also only just started being December speaks to something unpleasant in the makeup of this particular month. But it also means that this is a good time to check in on the overall health of various MMORPGs and see which ones look to be in the healthiest state at the end of the year.
This is, I hasten to point out, not a scientific process; last year I pointed to Marvel Heroes as a not-quite-MMORPG title that was still in a very healthy and robust place, and it later turned out that this was entirely not true and had been built upon a foundation of lies. But we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it in 2018. What are the healthiest games running right now?
1. World of Warcraft
Expansion announced, subscribers still subscribed, reasons to be hopeful about that next expansion, and so forth. World of Warcraft continues to be as healthy as ever and shows no sign of slowing down. I mean, really, what else can you say? Whatever issues the game has, being one foot in the grave is not one of them.
2. Final Fantasy XIV
Expansion released, subscribers still subscribed… jeez, am I repeating myself already? The weird thing about Final Fantasy XIV is just being the only person on-staff who plays it regularly when it has such a robust base, but that’s more an idiosyncracy than anything. While these lists are not always ranked as best-to-worst, I feel confident in saying that it’s right behind WoW in terms of overall health. Possibly at parity, even.
3. The Elder Scrolls Online
Boy, the start of this list reads exactly like last year, huh? Except that this is, without a doubt, one of the best years The Elder Scrolls Online has had in terms of releases and public perception. The reason this one is in the same spot is mostly due to the overwhelming health of the higher-ranked titles, not due to it not doing any better. If last year was when TESO came into its own, this year was when the developers proved what they could do with the title.
Now, let’s see if we can get the title ported to every console under the sun like we’ve already seen with Skyrim.
Jagex’s venerable RuneScape is like a cockroach. It’s clean, it’s consistent, it often has a public perception that’s far more negative than it deserves, and most importantly it appears to be functionally immortal. Nothing is going to get rid of RuneScape.
Considering that Jagex winds up in murky waters every time it tries to make something that isn’t RuneScape, this could be seen as a mixed blessing. But unlike certain studios I can think of, that doesn’t seem to translate into hampering its main title.
5. Black Desert Online
There was some controversy last year when I picked this as a remarkably healthy title, but I stood by it then and I stand by it now. At the end of the day, Black Desert has consistently updated and kept moving forward, and its stumbles don’t seem to have slowed it down much if at all. Full marks to Kakao and Pearl Abyss for continuing to keep this game updated close to its Korean version, if not quite on-par.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t attract storms of player critique and occasional angry shouting, of course. But that doesn’t seem to translate into any actual damage, so… here we are.
6. Guild Wars 2
To someone who has long watched this title, Guild Wars 2 spent this year slipping back and forth. There were long gaps of communication, then sudden spikes of activity around things like Path of Fire, then… back to nothing. Path of Fire was undeniably good, but there’s also a lot of weird lulls in communication and general oddity surrounding the game. It feels shakier than it did last year.
Still healthy, though. Just not quite as healthy. We can always call the shakiness the withdrawal effects from Heart of Thorns.
Another “all quiet on the Western front” sort of pick, Neverwinter doesn’t seem to be much healthier or less healthy this year. It seems unscathed by the shakeups from Perfect World Entertainment’s other studio antics (alas, poor Motiga) and keeps updating and so forth. So it’s doing all right.
The weird thing is that Champions Online serves as an odd sort of bellweather for Cryptic’s titles, insofar as keeping the almost wholly untouched CO around doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming burden and that seems to indicate that all is still well.
8. Star Trek Online
And again! Consistency is fun. Star Trek Online also gets a nice boost from the fact that there’s a Star Trek series on the air again, and people seem to rather like it; that certainly helps keep it rolling along. We’ll probably hear about another big update next year to improve it, and it’ll be met with sighs and exasperation by half of the playerbase while the other half gets excited.
The trick is that it’s never the same half.
9. Elite: Dangerous
Yes, this is probably the one that will cause a bit of controversy, but I think this one has legs. Or aft thrusters; it’s the same thing in context. Elite: Dangerous has been running for a while now, it keeps rolling along, gets its players excited, and has run a consistent and neat event for a while centering around mysterious aliens with inscrutable motives. We’ve even gotten a game-specific convention this year. (Well, technically studio-specific, but I would be hard-pressed to believe that Frontier’s other game was the primary draw.)
In a lot of ways, I think Elite: Dangerous is a good sign of what can be done with crowdfunded games. It started small and has kept getting bigger, and in the process it seems to get healthier over time. Fun stuff.
10. Star Wars: The Old Republic
It seems to me, from the outside looking in, that this has been the least healthy year for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I very nearly pulled it from the list, but it squeaked in, largely because it does still appear to be humming right along, and the other major candidates were games that had suffered huge staff layoffs or other calamities. The thing is, this has also been the year of Star Wars monetiztion issues, a controversial server merge, and some odd lulls in updates.
The game is still healthy, but it does appear to be in need of some exercise and perhaps a change in diet. We’ll see what next year brings.
Secondary notes and addenda
Numerous sources, as always, were consulted for this particular column. Discussion and disagreement is welcome, as these remain more an act of perception, opinion, and guesses than an absolute law of the universe. After all, some of what we know regarding the health of these titles might have more to do with blatant lies.
The obvious removal for this year was EVE Online, which got yanked from the ranking after CCP Games gutted itself rather thoroughly. It’s hard to feel like the game is healthy, and as we discussed behind the scenes, even if it is there’s no community team left to tell us that. Other titles were not included because they’re MMOs but not MMORPGs; League of Legends, SMITE, and Overwatch are all quite healthy, but they’re not MMORPGs and thus are not included.
And remember, again, that if your favorite game isn’t here, that doesn’t mean that it’s not healthy, nor does it mean that it’s not a good game. It’s quite possible that many of these titles will falter over the next year; this is just a ranking at the end of 2017. What happens next? You (and your purchasing habits) decide (in concert with a large number of other people)!