Massively Overthinking: The second big five MMOs


So here in the MMORPG genre, we’ve been working under the assumption for the last few years that the “big five” MMOs that dominate our corner of the industry are World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and Black Desert. We might quibble over the fifth one, but I don’t want to do that today. I want to quibble over the second big five.

This is always the challenge we find ourselves up against when crafting top-ten type lists that revolve around big numbers of money, players, or patches. The first five are pretty easy. But the second five are much harder, and that’s usually where all the arguments start.

So for this week’s Overthinking, I’m asking our writers and readers to weigh in – not on their personal favorites but on the position of these games in the genre’s hierarchy. If WoW, ESO, XIV, GW2, and BDO are the top five MMOs, which five MMOs out there are next in line, and why?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): OK, I decided to look beyond my bubble a bit, and honestly? I think one issue is that I often forget about Asian MMOs. For example, MapleStory really would probably need to be on the list, even though I’m not sure where, so I’ll just name a few titles that seem up there.

Speaking of oldies, Lord of the Rings Online, RuneScape, and DC Universe Online are still big hits on social media and with other game sites that don’t specialize in MMOs. Heck, I’ve met kids who played these right before COVID.

I hate to say it, but most likely New World would need to be on there too, at least for now. I do think EVE Online, Elite Dangerous, and SWTOR deserve honorable mentions, but I have a few bias there. Until it was cancelled, TERA should have been on there too, but I’m sticking with games that still have official servers and aren’t endangered species (that we know of, NW).

Andy McAdams: Uff, this one is tough. I have to start with EverQuest II – it’s aging, but still so many things right that the Big 4 can’t be bothered to get off their fannies to implement. SWTOR would have to be next for me because it was just fun. Then Albion, followed by LOTRO – I could never get into LOTRO, but I know its still beloved by many. My heart wants to know Anarchy Online next, but I know that there’s not many still playing. I guess I would put New World here. It has an uphill battle against player perception, but still has a lot of potential umph behind it.

Then I would put BDO. (Hopefully Bree doesn’t smite me for the low-key trolling-quibblin’.)

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’m generally biased towards games that I’ve tried, but it feels like my next five would include LOTRO, STO, SWTOR, New World, and EVE. You might note that my list includes no anime inspired nor isometric top-down games. That’s because I have little experience with those styles.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Here we go, and yes I have reasons for each pick.

  • DC Universe Online
  • Albion Online
  • RuneScape
  • Neverwinter
  • Lost Ark

I’m basing this on data we’ve thankfully gotten from several game companies in the last few years, much of which should’ve changed the perception of the MMO landscape and where some of these games fit in. The entirety of PWE-Cryptic sold for roughly the same as Albion Online’s Sandbox Interactive, with Jagex worth almost three times as much. Albion Online had more concurrent last year than some of these games put together. Neverwinter is roughly twice as big as Star Trek Online and is Cryptic’s biggest property. DC Universe Online is Daybreak’s biggest game by a wide margin (419K MAUs in 2020), with PlanetSide 2 and LOTRO trailing well behind. EVE Online brings in barely a quarter the revenue BDO does and just isn’t a major player anymore. EA doesn’t develop SWTOR half as well as any of the games I just named, suggesting it’s pulling in even less than I’d have thought. New World is down to under 20K concurrent and really isn’t in contention for that last spot compared to some of these others. No need to guess or go to shady clickbait sites for population metrics when the companies publish these data for investors.

Lost Ark gets my 10th spot only provisionally as it’s really hard to gauge the game’s real population given all the bots; a year from now, if it holds on, it should go up in the ranking by a lot, but we’ll see. I’m also deliberately ignoring things like Roblox and World of Tanks that aren’t genuine MMOs (but consistently rank in the top few for revenue). Finally, as the premise of the “Big Five” is western MMOs, I’m excluding games like MapleStory and Lineage that make almost all or all of their money overseas, since otherwise that’d skew the top five too and render this whole exercise moot as Dungeon Fighter Online and Fantasy Westward Journey tromp in and laugh at our puny little list. If we want to do a list of massive Asian MMOs with little influence in the west, we can do that too, but that’s not what this is.

Likewise, it’s really tempting to misjudge some of these larger mid-tier MMOs because the playerbases aren’t on PC or aren’t solidly in the “core MMORPG” generation and don’t attract the same sort of clicks or attention. Albion and RuneScape, for example, simply do not excite MOP’s core readership demographic, and DCUO is widely regarded as the weakest of the three big superhero MMOs – but that isn’t what we’re scoring right now.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’ll have to give nods in the directions of EVE, MapleStory, Lost Ark, Warframe, and RuneScape in terms of the bottom half of MMO gaming’s top ten (in no particular order).

Admittedly, I don’t have a whole lot of concrete metrics available to me at-hand to back up these selections, so these are more anecdotal and perceptual than data-driven, but all of these games seem to be hanging on to a solid and secured playerbase, cranking out a good stream of updates, and generally have hit their stride overall for the most part. Sometimes, the general glow of confidence is all that I feel like I need to feel in order to appreciate that a title has earned a top spot, even if they’re not games I particularly care about or play personally.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): As others have noted, it’s easy, when thinking about this kind of question, to fall into the trap of making a list of “other MMOs I play/pay attention to.” Trying to be as objective as I can, my second big five right now would be: Albion, EVE, RuneScape, Star Wars The Old Republic, and Lost Ark.

I debated a long time about the last two. SWTOR and The Lord of the Rings Online are kind of tied in my mind: Both are aging, IP-based MMOs that are holding on to loyal playerbases but aren’t likely to see much new growth. A few months ago I would have put Lost Ark’s labelmate New World in that last spot, and I still think there’s a chance they will trade off at some point, but right this minute, I just don’t think New World belongs in the top 10.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I’m assuming that this list is for active and officially published MMORPGs that have fully launched? In that case, my list would be:

  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • Neverwinter
  • EVE Online
  • Star Trek Online

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): This question is harder than I thought it would be at first glance. You would think it would be easy for me, since I play so many underdogs. EVE is definitely at the top of the bottom. SWTOR. Star Trek Online. Lost Ark. After that? Both EverQuest games still have some devotees. I guess it depends also on where you draw your online multiplayer vs. massively multiplayer line, too, and that line is fuzzier than ever. No Man’s Sky? Elite Dangerous? Destiny 2? Warframe? Maybe that’s a can of worms I should put back on the shelf.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I think this is a pretty tough question because outside of those named everything else feels like they are a similar level of popularity/infamy/fanbase fervor. If I’m pressed to answer though I’d probably start with Albion. It’s such a weird one though, because for all its popularity, I feel like players of it aren’t all people who think of themselves as MMO players. Or perhaps they just aren’t mostly US players. Mostly because any time I’ve written about it or asked about it I’ve been met largely with crickets. That’s the way I feel at least.

Then I’d go SWTOR. It made a bunch of unforced errors but it still made a splash and has regular updates, I think.

Next is New World although I feel it’s influence is vanishing quickly. We can’t deny it made big waves when it arrived last year.

Last two positions I’m very wimpy on. I’ll throw out Star Citizen and EVE Online. Star Citizen might not even really exist but the amount of people that apparently still get to typing over it is real. Eve might be old but it still hits major news from time to time.

Tyler Edwards (blog): It’s hard to judge exactly because we often don’t have hard metrics on how popular or successful a game is, and because it’s hard to separate from your own personal bias. I think Andrew is quite right to point out that there are probably a number of Eastern MMOs that are very popular and deserving of a spot on the list, but which we Western gamers tend not to think about. With that said, I’d probably put the bottom half of the top ten as something like:

  • Lost Ark – honestly, I think it probably deserves to replace BDO in the top five.
  • Lineage
  • Maplestory
  • Runescape
  • EVE Online

Again, this is based on how popular, stable, and/or influential I think these games are. If you ask me what I think the best MMOs are, the list would be quite different.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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