Perfect Ten: The healthiest live MMORPGs at the end of 2018

    
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The Grand Magistrix has power over time.

Another year is coming to a close! That means we’re doing all of our usual end-of-year recaps, and that also means that we’re once again taking a look at the healthiest games at a glance for the end of 2018, which is always a fun ride because there are always people who assume that we must be insane for having game X on the list, why isn’t game Y on there, and so forth.

As is stated every year, this is a list compiled and put together using a variety of sources, including a glance at obvious metrics of the game’s community, population estimates, overall news, and so forth. It is not an objective or infallible measurement of health, but rather an evaluation of which games look like they’re in the best state based on several factors; it is eminently possible for us to be proven wrong as 2019 rolls on, but here’s the list for 2018.

This is fine, everything's fine.

1. World of Warcraft

It’s hard to find new things to say about World of Warcraft at this point because it’s always on here. Is it less healthy than prior years? Well… probably, although it’s hard to be certain. There are reasons to suspect that. But it’s still doing fine just the same, which is more than can be said of the company’s other franchises after this past year.

No, I’m not making a joke at this point about who does or does not have phones. Y’all can make a joke for yourselves.

Oh, Thancred, you wild trash fire.

2. Final Fantasy XIV

Hold on, let me double-check to see if I was in a jam-packed Final Fantasy XIV convention filling up a Las Vegas convention center for three days just a couple of weeks back. I was? And people were howling with excitement at an expansion trailer we all knew was coming? Cool. I think we’re good.

Would someone like to point out in the comments that Square-Enix canned its further plans for Final Fantasy XV and thus wrote off projected losses while trying to extrapolate that the company must be in dire straits? Please don’t.

We're looking good, but like we're not trying too hard? Like, we are trying, but it's almost just accidental.

3. The Elder Scrolls Online

And again, there’s not much more to be said about The Elder Scrolls Online. It might not have had as much of a banner year this year as last, but it’s still doing well after some launch rockiness. I suspect there may be a hope to replicate that pattern elsewhere, although actual success in that field may be a bit more reliant on time and a degree of luck.

SO many things.

4. RuneScape

Oh, RuneScape. You are a strange, blocky enigma to me, a game that I know is popular with no one whom I know as a player. It had some side projects shutter this year and some others start up, as usual. Standard operating procedures.

This isn't always perfectly welcome, but meh.

5. Black Desert Online

You know, I remember when Black Desert Online was a controversial pick. It seems less so now; the game keeps humming along, its community is active, and while there’s rumblings of discontent in the playerbase for varied and sundry business decisions, it never seems to manifest in an actual upheaval. So it may not be perfect, but it seems to be maintaining a decent health all the same. Especially when you consider some of its large-scale updates this year.

Someone thinks this part was neat, probably.

6. Neverwinter

It has not been a great year for Neverwinter, but it hasn’t been a bad year either. It’s just been a year. In many ways it feels like a year in which the game has managed to keep on keeping on, not making any community missteps big enough to merit incoherent screaming while not really expanding beyond its base or its usual pace of updates.

Of course, sometimes that in and of itself is indicative of health, when you can just roll out a reasonable stream of content and avoid faltering in the process. It hasn’t been a good enough year for the game to bump it up at all, but it hasn’t fallen off the list. We’ll count that as “doing all right.”

OUCH

7. Guild Wars 2

By contrast, this has been a year of… extremes for Guild Wars 2. Let’s put it that way instead of recounting the many things that happened in the news for the title this year, all right? Anything more would probably get into a whole lot of bad decisions that make us wonder about how the game manages to continue being as healthy as it does… a question best answered by pointing at the game and just accepting that it does.

Come to think of it, this one was similarly swinging between wild extremes last year, wasn’t it? Let’s get some new blood in here, maybe a title that doesn’t feel like it’s about to explode from controversy or enthusiasm every other week.

Shimmy-shimmy-shimmy to the left.

8. Warframe

All right, with its second big open-world update, we’re putting Warframe on here, and gosh does it ever deserve it. This is one of those games where it seemed impressive looking in from the outside until I actually tried it, and then I tried it… and now I’m even more impressed, this game really does its job well. There’s so much to like in here that it’s a small wonder the game keeps attracting more players, getting more praise, and offering bigger updates.

Launching big new open-world systems and providing players with wholly new ways to play seems to be a casual exercise for this game, and the community is at once enthusiastic, welcoming, and fun. I look forward to seeing where else the game can go from here.

screeeeeoooooowwww

9. EVE Online

Speaking of the days when Black Desert was controversial, EVE Online managed to dig itself a big enough hole that it got knocked off of this list last year. But this year it’s been bought by Pearl Abyss, and… look. On the one level, that was shocking and unsettling and weird. On another and far more relevant level, that means that CCP Games is no longer desperately floundering for a buyer, and that means the game feels more stable now.

And let’s not ignore the fact that the EVE community isn’t going anywhere either year, which means that in terms of overall strength of playerbase, this one still has a lock on its position. Welcome back to the list, spreadsheets. We missed you.

DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG

10. Path of Exile

Aw, yeah, here’s one I’ve been arguing should be on here for years. Remember how I mentioned that there are internal debates over this one? Path of Exile has come up every year for these, because the main argument against it being on the list is the same as the argument against Warframe, that it’s just not “MMO-y” enough. This year, the sheer health of the title won out against that argument.

This title is actually a lot like Warframe, in fact; small studio with a growing community that manages itself well and keeps growing player hype. It’s a good show of what can be accomplished in the space, and perhaps most importantly, it has never asked if its players have cell phones. I cannot stress that enough.

Saw it coming, indeed.

Addendum

If your favorite title isn’t on this list and you take it as a personal slight? Don’t. There are a lot of games that were easily jockeying for slots 11-20, including TERABlade & Soul, and Star Trek Online. Bree even suggested just doing a big list of games for the last slot, but that generally doesn’t sit well with me. Just know there are a bunch of candidates not far below the ones here.

Worth noting here is that the lack of Trion games isn’t due to the idea that none of them is healthy; in another year, ArcheAge would have gotten a slot. This year, however, Trion’s unexpected acquisition and unsteady future have made those options feel much less stable. Which is a real shame.

And the most notable fall from the list this year? Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has held on unsteadily for a long while but finally just doesn’t deserve a top 10 spot. We’ll have to see how December shakes out, huh?

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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Maggie May

Played 7 out of the 10, all good games, all have wonderful things to reccomend and big flaws. Some had gameplay that I loved/ or gameplay I got burnt out on. MMO’s by their very persistance are problematic. I really can’t fathom why they’ re my favorite online game … but they are.

Veldan
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Veldan

It makes me sad that these are the healthiest MMORPGs. It feels like it’s the same every year, with the exception of BDO because it’s the only relatively new game on the list. The list once again proves the lack of good new MMOs.

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tiltowait

I’m not saying Albion Online has a player base like the above games, but I’m playing it now and when I go to the central city, it is CROWDED with active players. I’m talking mob scene. And everywhere you go, you see players.

So while some games may have more servers, I think a better rating of a games liveliness might be the ratio of players/server and how spread out they are. How to rate that, I have no idea (Avg players-seen/hour?)

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Geoffrey Smith

Hard to argue with the list, really. I mean there are some I never play (Neverwinter, BDO, Runescape) but am surely aware of. And I am not sure anything on the horizon is ever gonna knock over the top 3 except themselves.

As for the “big debate” about Warframe and Path of Exile…. honestly, I think it is time. The reality of multiplayer online games has shifted towards that type of game. Whats more is that these are also games that have storytelling aspects (some pretty deep) and social tools designed to have you interact with many players.

I have just never been wedded to the idea that an MMO HAS to have a “shared world” or anything. That doesn’t seem to be implied by the genre designation. And when you have games like Warframe, where I interact with substantially more players in a 2 hour play session than I do in a 2 hour leveling grind in a quest based game, I don’t see how the “massively multiplayer” aspect applies better to later simply because it is a “shared world”.

And man, I can’t wait to see where Warframe goes either. Both with Railjack and “The New War”.

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tiltowait

Warframe & Path of Exile are in no way Massively-Multiplayer. They are lobby games, where your interaction is with a small handful of players at most. I think the term gear-progression applies to all of them though.

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Stormwaltz

I’m surprised to see Neverwinter on this list instead of STO – but I haven’t paid close attention to NW.

STO had big positives this year with the spring DS9/Gamma Quadrant expansion and 3D printed player ships, but the fall Discovery expansion seemed to get a tepid response (largely, I think, because the show is still being judged), and killing off Red Alerts all but ended my own casual daily play.

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Geoffrey Smith

Well, to be fair, Neverwinter is constantly listed as the top weekly game, on Arc’s platform. So that may be it. Though i would totally agree that STO seemed to have the better year.

And yes, the Discovery expansion felt…. I dunno…..meh. For me it was cause it came so FAST on the heels of the DS9 expansion. I couldn’t understand why. Even as a cynical “money” thing I didn’t feel like it made a whole lot of sense.

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Robert Mann

The healthiest MMOs are… disappointing for the most part. It’s almost like the amount of effort put into the genre in the last 12 years can be summarized as “We didn’t really try to do anything very creative that didn’t involve major turn offs like giving people the freedom to crap all over your play.”

Actually, that’s exactly what this list looks like. Yikes.

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Ken from Chicago

That which tends to make an mmo “healthy” tends to make it avoid news headlines and controversy. When everything is mostly okay, there isn’t as much to report and/or as much to debate. People tend not to debate the Sun rising in the East or setting in the West.

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Robert Mann

That’s actually something that is ironic here, because the very fact that our current state of genre is so… stagnant IS a huge source of headlines, discussion, and controversy.

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Utakata

Coming late here, I can least agree with the 11 – 20 list. o.O

PhantomRogue
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PhantomRogue

Have to play devils advocate on this. While I agree with the list, I think games like Warframe, Path of Exile, etc are good games, pitting them against “mmos” is a disservice. And here is why:

They cloud the expectation of a MMO. A MMO shouldn’t need to compete against a mission focused game, or ARPGs. This leads to mmo games trying to be things they are not. People seem to want ARPG inside an mmo, but that is not what the genre is! The genre is about the giant story arc that the players live through.

Games such as EverQuest, WoW, LOTRO all allow the player to live in the world and experience the world as a whole. They are what MMOs should be. But people have tried to make MMOs become this “catchall” online game. And this, in my opinion, is why everyone complains that there are no good MMOs out there. Because those players have killed the genre, not the developers.

It’s a take on the old addage, “if you start listening to the armchair developers, you will soon become one”.

Stop trying to put an ARPG inside an mmo, let them stand on their own, and both genres will thrive and survive.

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Ken from Chicago

The irony is how many mmo devs flee from the term “mmo” when their game legit is one.

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Jadefox

These are the healthiest MMOs…..
What a sad state MMO development is in when the healthiest game on the list is 14 years old.

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Ken from Chicago

How old should the healthiest game on the list be?

Theryl
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Theryl

I don’t see much here to disagree with. I’m interested to see how WoW’s classic servers do and if EA/BW can come up with a decent expansion for SWTOR that breathes a little life into that game.