Perfect Ten: The healthiest live MMOs at the end of 2019

    
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Set sail, etc.

Everyone is healthy! Good news! Every game is super healthy and absolutely no one has a terminal playerbase disease that may result in the game shuttering within the next year. Wouldn’t that be nice to say? I’d love it if next year we had no titles sunset whatsoever. That’d be great.

Fortunately, this slice of our our annual end-of-year roundups is not where we’re looking into the games that are struggling to stay afloat; that comes later. Instead, we’re looking at the games that feel the healthiest at the end of 2019, based on a combination of social media, financial numbers, overall cultural footprint, preferred Pokémon starter type, and a general vibe check based on spending a good portion of my life reading and talking about these games. We have some returning favorites in here, some ranks shifting, and some general new discussions to have. So let’s get into the list, shall we?

Speculation is over.

1. World of Warcraft

Let’s not mince words: This has been a terrible year for World of Warcraft in every respect except the record-breaking launch of WoW Classic. Even that has had problems, as communities have had to address longstanding and familiar toxicity that too many classic gamers had blinded themselves to. But it did keep WoW in the cultural discussion regularly, which was a really good thing after the whole year was one disappointment after another when it came to Battle for Azeroth.

Fortunately for WoW, cutting off its leg to spite its lower torso has not actually changed the fact that the game is still healthy, simply because the sheer health of the game at one point has allowed it to stay remarkably healthy even as it bleeds itself (and Blizzard itself manages to earn tons of ire). Let’s hope for better next year, hmm?

A bunny must jump.

2. Final Fantasy XIV

One brings shadow, one brings the light…

Despite the title of the expansion portending a year of darkness, this has been a great year for Final Fantasy XIV. The MMO’s third expansion, Shadowbringers, launched to rave reviews, players are happy and excited, and even the missteps don’t stop people from being enthusiastic about the game and its overall direction. It feels like a steady climb upward, the sort of growth that makes you wonder when it’s going to fall apart even as you enjoy the sheer acumen on display.

I certainly didn’t expect how solid everything this year would wind up being for my personal favorite title on the list. But when it’s going well, you don’t need to fake it, and so it goes in Eorzea and other environs. I wonder what this year’s expansion announcement will be?

We keep it real.

3. The Elder Scrolls Online

I feel like The Elder Scrolls Online now is what FFXIV was a few years back: an amazingly solid game that often doesn’t get its full due for putting out excellent, steady content on a reliable schedule. Seriously, if you remember the game’s launch state (and we do!), it’s almost amazing to think that this is one of the most routinely crowd-pleasing MMOs out there, one I myself panned pretty thoroughly when it launched. But the team puts in the work and produces good stuff, and it feels secure in its space and deservedly loved.

Pity about some of that cash shop, though.

Oh, great, neat.

4. Black Desert

Black Desert feels like everything an import title should and could be. (No, FFXIV runs on the same servers in both its native country and here; that’s different from an import.) It brings in a unique aesthetic and approach to fantasy tropes while also still delivering a good experience. This year in particular has seen the game firing on all cylinders and putting out hefty updates and additions, including releases on three (yes three) new platforms.

It’s good, in other words. It deserves the success it has. Although that gender-locked classes thing still bugs the heck out of me.

boi

5. RuneScape

This has been… maybe not the greatest year for RuneScape. It seems like the Old School version is the one that’s drawing in the majority of the game’s money and players these days; one might argue that this one may be closer to WoW than anyone wants to admit, a game that maintains its health even as it slowly bleeds simply by virtue of starting far ahead.

Despite this, RuneScape is still one of those fixtures in the MMO space, something that feels pretty firmly ensconced in its place and like it can bounce back. Of course, that’s the thing about being in fixed places. The lineup can feel as solid as iron… but then, iron doesn’t feel very solid once it melts.

Please love me again.

6. Guild Wars 2

Speaking of melting… if any game on this list spent the year in full-on meltdown mode, it was probably… well, actually WoW. But Guild Wars 2 didn’t do so great either, between layoffs, a lack of an expansion, player discontent, bad cash shop decisions, and a general sense of a playerbase collectively sighing with, “oh, now what?” every time a new decision came down the pike.

None of this is enough to knock it out of health, joking aside. Despite the lack of a new expansion, the game still pulled in solid numbers financially and NCsoft is clearly banking on big stuff from ArenaNet and NCwest. But overall player response to things like the current “saga” seems to be less a matter of excitement and more a matter of making the best of what’s being offered. There’s a real sense that things need to get better, and the game behaves as if it’s wounded. Whether that’s from bad management and time will improve it or from a serious wound remains to be seen.

Sure, why not.

7. EVE Online

The past few years have been… less solid for EVE Online, as if the game is stumbling a little bit as the endgame of the sandbox grows a bit stale in spite of CCP’s efforts (and what sort of impact Pearl Abyss is having on CCP, which it bought up last year). Despite that, and despite the fuss over playerbase dips this year, the game still feels solidly healthy simply because, well, there’s nothing quite like it. Its uniqueness and relative size mean that even as it might seem to be in more shaky territory, it persists just fine.

zorp

8. Star Trek Online

Do we just toss a coin when it comes to Cryptic’s core operational MMOs? No. But this year Star Trek Online seems to be coming out a bit ahead, with an active series that people enjoy and the usual steady pace of content, as well as multiple large expansions with tie-ins to the larger franchise. It’s not in a perfect place, but the developers definitely seem to be hitting their targets and taking advantage of having new media. Plus, it’s Snoop Dogg approved.

Let's think about what went wrong.

9. Star Wars The Old Republic

How is this here? Not on this list, but why is Star Wars The Old Republic not able to cap off the year with a triumph? All right, it kind of is, as last year it was actually off this list, but it feels like the game’s big Onslaught expansion didn’t quite make the splash it (and we) wanted. It may be a case where the game just has to keep producing that sort of content instead of what it had been before; as it stands, it’s got a hope, but it’s still got a long way to go.

All of this might not matter if rescuing Anthem just eats up all of BioWare’s resources next year, to boot. We’ll see.

Money dollars.

10. ArcheAge

This one is going to feel wild to some people, I’m sure. And I wouldn’t disagree with anyone who would be quick to point out that Gamigo has some real issues, or that ArcheAge managed to completely botch its whole pass system twice now. That’s entirely true. Yet ArcheAge Unchained launched, got people interested, and seems to have done all right for itself despite that.

Put more simply, while there’s a lot wrong with this game here and there, none of that seems to keep it from having a chance to resurge. If it could clean up its immediate pass issues, it’d probably have nowhere to go but up. So… you know, Gamigo and XLGAMES… do that.

ibeighetrhaje

Honorable mentions

As always, this feature lends itself to a certain amount of debate. Some stuff just can’t fit on here because it’s a numerical list that goes up to 10, which is why games like Neverwinter aren’t on there. Some stuff isn’t on there because other factors obscure their health; DC Universe Online sure does seem to keep making money for Daybreak, but Daybreak’s steady implosion makes its overall health suspicious. Some things aren’t on there because however enthusiastically people greeted its return, City of Heroes is in rogue server territory and thus doesn’t get to feel totally healthy.

And some things aren’t on there because this year I lost the fight with Bree to put online games like Warframe, Path of Exile, and No Man’s Sky on the list instead of pure MMORPGs. Last year, the former two were on the list, but this year we could fill it up differently. Go ahead and guess where those would have gone if I had put them in there, if you’d like. All three of them are solid and doing great and definitely worth your time and faith, but whether they are “true” MMORPGs and should be bumping self-avowed MMOs off a list like this is contentious indeed.

It should also be noted that while the list is in a rough order, it is not the result of elaborate math being used to calculate the exact power ranking of a given game; it’s more a matter of which games feel right in their overall internal rankings. Maybe I should start doing merge sorts on Twitter with codenames.

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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Crowe

Only one of those games sparked any interest (healthy or not) in me. And that was STO which I judged as “unhealthy” due to their decision to shut down the Foundry since they didn’t have the knowledge or resources to keep it working.

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Anthony Davis

I definitely agree with this list, but glob I wish we had something new and interesting.

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rafael12104

I would have argued with Bree too. Lol. PoE and Warframe are three and four on my list.

AA wouldn’t be on the list at all because despite what seems to be a new direction has proven itself to be the same old issues.

SWTOR while improving wouldn’t have made my list either as Onslaught is not enough to bring back the faithful.

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Utakata

You won’t get any argument over me with that list and the honorables. Sounds just about right. :)

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Does not check email

….same aging fleet of last year’s list. Nothing really new on the market.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

With the exception of FFXIV, this seems like it’s just a list of MMOs that haven’t hit rock bottom quite yet. Which, I guess, could be functionally synonymous with “healthy” in the overall context of this market.

FFXIV is legitimately, without a doubt, knocking it out of the park, and seems to be the only game on this list with a strong upward trend for the foreseeable future. If they make good on the promise of adding Xbox to their full cross play system across all platforms, along with everything else they’re doing right, this is going to be the game to beat for the foreseeable future. And it’s not even gonna be close.

WoW (and Blizzard overall) are completely propped up at the moment by rollout of the remastered version of a 15 year old version of the game. Which, yeah. Classic has done well, but the fact that it has had such a huge relative impact only puts in a harsher light just how far retail and Blizzard as a whole have fallen from their glory days. They may still be the 800 pound gorilla. But if you saw this gorilla in the zoo you’d be shooing the kids away and calling the ASPCA.

ESO has stumbled badly and gone as far as canceling in-game events and just this week deferring them for months because of persistent inability to make basic features like the group finder work. At all. The game is admittedly far ahead of its darkest days, but it’s got a long way to go to fix some very serious bugs and quality of life problems that have lingered for years without proper attention.

As much as I love STO because it’s the only Trek game we have, the change of management and increasingly obnoxious cash milking have hit the game hard and the sentiment (and population) of players feels like it has become much grimmer than it was a year ago when it seemed to have a cozy little niche and a slow but steady output of all good things.

SWTOR is another of my personal faves, but calling a patch with something like six hours of new content an “expansion” is stretching that term beyond any sensible meaning. Not to mention that it took them like what, two years to release this since the last equally anemic “major” content drop? I wish the game well, but I don’t see it doing well at all if this is what we have to look forward to. And like STO it feels like the pop has been steadily waning all year despite people liking what little dregs of new things we got and the inexcusably long overdue overhaul to gearing.

BDO and Archeage I don’t know much about. But dumping a three years old port on consoles as your big news for the year doesn’t seem to me like cause for a whole lot of celebration. Better than doing nothing I guess and I’m sure they’re making back the cost of it, but still. If that’s the best you’ve got going for you, I don’t see you as being in a super healthy place.

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Bruno Brito

About ESO, i wonder. The game is in a better spot than when it launched sure, but the optimization issues and the terrible servers took a toll on the playerbase lately.

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Strykr619

I dunno how FFIV is ahead of ESO when ESO has a large player base and better replayability. Sorry but FFIV’s poor itemization alone IMO puts it below ESO. ESO runs circles around them when it comes to that.

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Lily Cheng

You don’t know how? Have you ever stopped to consider that MMO players are just sick and tired of the loot grind and carrot on a stick mentality that most MMO’s go with as their end-game content? Maybe people just want to really be a part of an expansive world with lore and a story that isn’t a hot mess and they want to be able to experience all the content the game has to offer without being on a loot treadmill that just gets hard reset everytime the next expac comes out.

The fact that itemization is FFXIV’s weakest point also makes it one of it’s strengths. Players that only care about grinding loot in the same raid and dungeon for the rest of their life have plenty of much better options already.

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Koshelkin

SWTOR’s “big” Onslaught expansion hasn’t made a splash because it really isn’t that big of an update. I’ve gone over to level a new alt and test how fast I’d be 75 when I use all the quest exp boosts and do all quests, class story, planet quests and sidequests. I’m about to embark to the third planet and I’m already 41. <.<

I still like SWTOR but the content draught isn't quite over.

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Sray

I’m not disagreeing with you in terms of a content drought, but I’m not sure how the accelerated leveling process has anything to do with the lack of content. The fact that you can hit level 75 probably midway through chapter 2 if you’re doing everything seems completely unconnected to a lack of things to do post leveling portion.

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Koshelkin

True. I guess what I was trying to say was that Onslaught kept me so busy that I’m already went on to do something completely different.

Alyn
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Alyn

Once again I tip my hat to Square Enix and the team that bring us Final Fantasy XIV. In a year where it seemed greed and avarice rules our entertainment world of gaming, Square manages to hold the line and continue improving their fantasy world.

I truly enjoy playing and it seems to me that FF14 community is a bit less toxic than you might experience in other mmo’s.

Cheers to Yoshi!

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Khrome

From what i heard, none of the games on that list, except FF14, are *really* doing all that well. Just relaying general feelings from the communities i follow:

1) WoW still suffers from the BfA fallout. Classic seems to be slowly tapering down as people realized how much time it takes, and don’t actually have that time to spend on it. There’s a sense of worry at the next expansion, which seems to repeat the earlier pattern instead of coming with something truly new. Ion’s statement that HvA is never going away also raised some doubts: I get the sense that people are getting really tired of the increasingly forced narrative, and the lack of PvE crossplay is becoming more and more of an issue.

2) Nothing to say here. Not very familiar with it.

3) Over the past year or so, the game seems to have gotten incredibly massive changes in meta every 1-3 months, invalidating entire classes one patch and making them OP the next. There’s huge uncertainty about the game’s balance, and a recent patch seems to have actually made *all* classes nearly irrelevant when they put a huge emphasis on weapons skills – Some classes actually use *none* of their class skills in the meta builds. PvP is a mess, PvE feels completely random from patch to patch. In addition to the increasingly bad latency/server issues, especially in Cyrodiil (though random disconnects in PvE instances are sadly common), it makes the game feel like it has a very uncertain future. Not to mention the direction the cash shop is taking.

4) The game has massive potential, but it’s ruined by the stupendously greedy monetization. Pretty much all character customization is locked behind a huge paywall, and the “subscription” item (in addition to pets) is almost mandatory to have a relatively painless experience. The pet and horse breeding systems alone are examples of how not to do monetization: The intent is to line PA’s pockets, and not offer value to the customer. I especially *feel* for the artists, who churn out industry leading work, only for it to be whored out as it were.

5) Same as FF14: Not very familiar with it. I did pick up some hints of people being rather unhappy with the direction the game is going in though.

6) There’s a lot of worries here. People just don’t know where the game is going, communication from the devs seems to be slowing down. There’s an increasing sense that progression “doesn’t matter” as well, as if the game has become very hollow. Time will tell what ANet is going to do to develop the game further, if at all. Path of Fire has some incredible moments though.

7) Going “F2P”, putting pretty much all of the game *and* progression on sale in a direct or indirect manner, continuously selling cosmetic items for a part of the game literally no one can even see anymore and a direction of the ingame mechanics which has completely paralyzed the ingame player interactions. CCP has *no* idea what they are doing and aren’t giving any indication that they will have one for the forseeable future. One only has to look at the public player counts to see what direction the game is going: https://eve-offline.net/?server=tranquility – Down, down, down. CCP desperately needs to go back and watch their own trailers, and fulfill their own promises. This game hurts me the most: I’ve been a part of it since the late beta in 2002 and ever since 2009 it’s been on a downwards spiral.

8) From what i hear the playerbase is absolutely tiny, and RNG/lootbox mechanics rule the roost. I haven’t played this one in years.

9) Some worries here too. I have not yet tried out Onslaught, but it seems like Bioware still has not recognized where the strength of the game lies. Hint: It’s not one storyline for all characters. The extreme monetization is also an issue, where even *action bars* are locked behind a paywall for F2P or returning players, it’s ridiculous – Let alone the lootboxes. The game needs a new, unifying direction, it feels like there’s 15 different people all on their own islands deciding where their part of the game should go.

10) They released a basically unpatched version of the game from 6 years ago as “a new experience”. Do i really need to say more? AA seems like it’s more interested in yet another quick cash injection with Unchained, like its fresh start servers were, than anything else. I just don’t see the game having a very long life unless the devs actually start putting in the effort to fix the game, rather than coming up with new monetization schemes.

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Oleg Chebeneev

“WoW still suffers from the BfA fallout”

Blizzard just recently announced the biggest quarterly subscription increase in WoW history

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Gary Scott

Yes, that was due to Classic.

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Strykr619

ESO has massive changes in meta every 1-3 months LOL whut now your acting like CNN, of course the meta is going to change ever DLC or do u want the game to stay stagnant?

I’m gonna be blunt, the loud crying from the PvP community (who are the minority player base btw). in Cyrodil is quite annoying since the meta changes ARE BECAUSE OF THEM. PvP issues directly effect PvE players and its just stupid.

Game is having MEM issues because they are changing the whole memory management system in the game engine. So yea the server issues are annoying.