MMOs are being announced, and launched, by the dozens, yet World of Warcraft still leads the pack quite comfortably. But with countless MMO games on the horizon, surely that giant’s days are numbered?
In this article I take a look at the status of the MMOG scene by the end of 2010. With dozens of new MMOGs and expansion packs for current MMOGs, the market will surely have changed significantly. Yet Jon Wood over on MMORPG.com seems to think that World of Warcraft will still dominate by 2012. Will it do quite so well here? Read on, and find out…
I’ve actually posted an updated Top 10 MMOGs of 2010 list here.
The following list consists purely of pay-to-play MMOGs relying on box sales or subscription fees, in the Western market. The more common free-to-play and micro-transaction MMOGs are not included, because that burgeoning subgenre is too volatile to predict. Besides, those probably aren’t the kind of games you’re interested in, right?
Keep in mind that the MMOG scene in 2010 will differ a fair bit from the MMOG scene today. A game may drop from 4th place to 7th between these periods, yet gain more subscribers than it has today. The PC MMOG genre is one of the fastest growing genres in the business, so a drop in position does not directly translate to a drop in subscribers!
All current MMOGs and games currently scheduled for a 2010 release have been considered for this list. These placings are based on estimated popularity alone. Disagree with the results? Leave a comment and let me know.
10. Champions Online / DC Universe Online
This one is difficult to call, with Champions Online having the benefit of launching early, but DC Universe Online having the more appealing universe (and gameplay features). Either way a superhero MMORPG is practically guaranteed to make the top 10 of 2010, with two such games launching between now and then.
Cryptic has the experience to make Champions come out on top, but DC Online Universe offers both good and evil characters, action-based combat and a chance to meet classic well-known superhero characters. It’s just too close to call.
9. Lord of the Rings Online
It’s the third most popular MMORPG in today’s market and looks set to offer a myriad of free updates and expansion packs yet. According to Turbine the game has seen even further growth in subscriber figures and there’s no reason to presume that growth will stop in the future. By 2010 it’ll be an even bigger contender than it is now, but I do not expect it to attract enough new subscribers to rank nearly as high as it does in today’s market.
I expect that this will remain the premier PvE MMORPG (after Star Wars: The Old Republic) in 2010, with its extensive lore, excellent role-playing support and well-crafted fantasy world. The subsequent year should even see a significant growth in subscriber figures as The Hobbit airs in cinemas worldwide.
8. Heroes of Telara
A beautiful MMORPG without question, that looks to offer a number of genuinely interesting features for jaded fantasy MMORPG players. With much of the game files resting server-side, it will offer a more dynamic game environment than any MMOG that has come before. Changing classes during gameplay and easy grouping for dynamic world quests promise a much more involved game.
And much of the good stuff is supposedly still under wraps. The game looks incredible and some of its features are certainly fresh, but as a new IP from a young company I do not think it will so better than 8th place by late 2010. Presuming it will be released by then, which is questionable.
7. Star Trek Online
Star Trek Online would be a major contender in any year, what with the enormous Star Trek fanbase and the ridiculous lack of decent Star Trek games (Elite Force, Starfleet Command and Armada are the only ones that come to mind). According to Atari it’s set for a March 2010 release date, which seems more solid after the promise of beta participation for Champions Online lifetime subscribers.
Star Trek Online will offer a large universe to explore, with combat, crafting and exploration as the major pillars of gameplay. Cryptic is on the job, which means the available level of customization for characters and ships is absolutely insane. You’ll even be able to create your own new races. As a player you’re a captain of a ship, filled with (partially at least) customizable NPC characters. Gameplay will take place on planets and in space, against the backdrop of a new war between Starfleet and the Klingons. This offers plenty of potential for both quality PvE and PvP gameplay.
The question is whether Star Trek Online will be one of those rare few good Star Trek games, or the majority of worthless ones. Either way it looks set to do well in 2010, as plenty of Star Trek and sci-fi MMOG fans will want to have their turn to boldly go where no man has gone before.
6. Final Fantasy XIV
A major announcement at this year’s E3 in one of the most popular franchises worldwide, with some – for Final Fantasy – innovative features such as a skill-based, not level-based, character improvement system. And yet I’m ranking it 6th. I must be crazy.
Even so, it is a fact that Final Fantasy is not as popular in the West as it is in the East. The current Final Fantasy MMORPG does not boast exceptional Western subscriber figures either, with the vast majority of subscribers hailing from Asia. I’m expecting that the quality of these other titles and the release of Final Fantasy XII in 2010 will serve to lower FFXIV’s impact on the MMOG scene.
But I could well be wrong, it may even become the first major console MMOG with its PlayStation 3 release. It still seems unlikely with the PS3s inferior multiplayer network and rising unpopularity amongst console gamers and game developers alike.
5. EVE Online
The recent re-release of a retail edition and the major free expansion of Apocrypha have seen subscriber figures soar to new heights. In fact, EVE Online ranks in at 2nd place in today’s market, with more than 300.000 subscribers. But whether this unstoppable and unchallenged growth will continue remains to be seen…
Several more action-based space-MMOGs will be released soon, such as Black Prophecy (Reakktor) and Jumpgate Evolution (NetDevil). EVE Online may be a different kind of space-MMOG, but I know plenty of EVE Online players (myself included) who will be all to happy to try out something more hands-on. This new wave of more accessible and more immediately engaging space-MMOGs could easily herald an end to EVE’s incredible growth rate in this genre, or will certainly slow it – and that is why it is ranked at a mere 5th place for 2010.
Note: with equal or higher subscriber figures than it has today.
4. Jumpgate Evolution
The first new hands-on space-MMOG looks to be Jumpgate Evolution, with its 150.000 applicants for beta and highly experienced development team. As a remake of an old MMOG, this game will offer three opposing factions in an open universe that is filled with both fantasy-MMOG-styled PvE content and more EVE-Online-esque PvP content.
It also offers direct control over your spaceship via mouse, keyboard, gamepad or joystick, which promises to be the main draw. Space-sims have been as good as dead for years now and many fans of games such as Freelancer, Elite, Tie Fighter and FreeSpace are like to give this a go. As are a great number of EVE Online players, who admittedly probably won’t give up their EVE sub for this.
The real question mark for Jumpgate right now is whether it will have the staying power to keep subscribers long-term. We know it will offer PvE content and it has some impressive PvP arena’s and PvP conquest gameplay lined up, but how will that play out long-term in terms of rewards, competition and inter-squadron/factional political intrigue?
I’m betting that it can hold on to its subscribers and become a major player in the MMOG game.
NCSoft’s Aion offers a unique fantasy world that is placed in a broken, hollowed out world. One side is dark, one side is light and the humans and Daeva (ascended humans) have grown to adapt to their environments, splitting in two factions. In Aion these two factions now find each other and their most hated enemy, the NPC Balaur, once more and plenty of sweet PvP, PvE and PvPvE battles ensue…
It’s also the talk of the day, with it’s beautifully crafted world, stylized graphics, accessible gameplay, tons of content and generally positive beta tester comments. It also has a very successful Asian launch – and associated patches – going for it, which puts Aion in the unique position of being the first MMORPG since World of Warcraft that looks guaranteed to do well.
Okay, it offers nothing genuinely new, but then neither did World of Warcraft (or most popular games for that matter). Innovation has never mattered for game sales figures and I’m betting it will not matter for Aion either; it’s too complete, well-crafted and accessible for it to fail like Age of Conan or Warhammer Online did in the past. Many World of Warcraft players will make the jump, as has happened before, but this time many more will stick around.
And its launch a few weeks from now puts it in the unique position of having no direct MMOG competition other than much older games. This will propel game sales and with its solid gameplay and swaths of content (it launches on version 1.5 people, not 1.0) it is like to retain most of these players for a long time to come. Which will help it weather through 2010 as one of the top MMOGs in the West and East.
2. Star Wars: The Old Republic
A new Star Wars MMORPG by BioWare. Do I need to say more?
Okay, so it’s going to be a fully-voiced MMORPG that focuses on storytelling and apparently more on solo than group gameplay, with a very BioWare singleplayer-RPG style approach to gameplay. This makes a lot of current MMOG players say it will gain loads of subscribers and lose them just as fast. I don’t think so.
Thus far it sounds little different in intent from Lord of the Rings Online: heavy PvE and lore focus, very accessible and solo-friendly. Lord of the Rings Online ranks 3rd in the current market, 2 years after launch, this shows PvE MMORPGs can and do work for a lot of players. A Star Wars MMORPG by BioWare even more-so, for it’ll be an instant purchase for countless Star Wars and BioWare fans.
Not to mention the new Star Wars Live Action series, which (as far as I know) is still scheduled to air in 2010. This will bring countless thousands of people straight into BioWare’s new digital lap as Star Wars returns to being a popular and current franchise.
Of course we know next to nothing about how it will actually play, in terms of space travel, PvP implementation, half the classes, etc. But none of that really matters. We all know this game will do well in 2010, if it is released by then, regardless of how good the game actually is.
1. World of WarCraft
Yup, it still ranks in at the top.
One year does not seem enough to reduce WoW’s multi-million lead to nothingness. With rumours of a new expansion pack on the way and subscriber figures certainly not dwindling by the millions, there is no reason to expect WoW to claim any spot but 1st place by late 2010.
The Old Republic will certainly not rival it in a few months time, even if it turns out to be the greatest MMORPG ever. Nor will Aion overcome it, when it offers nothing genuinely new, in spite of the level of polish. Right now the only game that might have a shot, unless World of Warcraft magically dissolves, looks to be Guild Wars 2. That or perhaps the new Blizzard MMORPG, but neither will launch in 2010.
Sorry haters, I certainly don’t like WoW any more than you do… but it’s going to be dominant for the next few years, no matter what.