The 3 Top…

This is based on information I have gleaned from all over the web for MMORPGs and which are the top in terms of population.  It is difficult to truly define what is the top MMO when games like World of Warcraft like to boast their numbers in excess of 10 million are now not so boastful that the number has dropped well below that mark.  That said it is possibly still the most populous virtual world out there, but in terms of actual numbers no company really wants to throw out how many are playing the game unless that are the number 1.

So, I have looked at various web sites, looked at some financial information, especially for companies who are publically listed and I have determined that 3 most popular MMOs are;

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Star Wars: The Old Republic
  3. Lord of the Rings Online

I am sure there would be many people who would claim different.  What about games like Maple Story, or Runscape, but I am not truly including these for a couple of reason.  The numbers ever quoted are difficult to get reliable information from, in that I mean substantiated numbers, found in several different areas or in legally binding information (such as annual reports etc.).   Stating numbers like 8 million accounts in 2011, well I am sure WOW has still 12 million accounts but it is really active accounts or concurrent players and the numbers I have seen are old, 2008, or 2011. 

It is interesting to see however that SWTOR and LOTOR have free to play models and the majority of their populations are the free players.  WOW doesn’t and it is also unknown how many are made up of the massive gold farming community.  I would be curious if you have more information on this I would be happy to amend this.  And certainly Wikipedia though a wonderful source of information is and has been prone to being updated for periods of time by people who do not have impartiality in making things look better for businesses.

So, the reason though I am going through these is not to incite an MMO argument or war as to which is better since I am not saying any of these are better or worse these are purely based on population numbers I can get.  But my purpose is to go over these and look at each of the elements of the games and how well they stack up against each other.  It is like a comparison of such for the various aspects, sounds and graphics, gameplay and lore, depth of game and playability, grind and feel and many different things.

Compare Apples to Custard Apples

Well, in a manner of speaking how can one compare graphics of a game released in 2011 to one released in 2008 or 2004 for that matter, well you look at things beyond the simple look of the game.  How well does the graphics immerse you in the game the artwork, add or detract from it, notable features for the graphics, etc. What can I change, provide the best look for my system.

So one of the things I will kick off with is reception, releasing public and critical, the success and the smoothness of the game.

WoW_Box_Art1World of Warcraft

Released November 2004 and was meet with largely positive reviews by the critics but the system was initially marred by server downtimes and user’s inability to log in.  The was never immediately popular and gathered a slow build up in the population over time, the gaming landscape had changed substantially since 2004 to now.

MMOs had been developed before WOW but without a doubt World of Warcraft became synonymous with what defined an MMO and its popularity grew as more and more people realised how deep things were getting with each release of the game.

The game possibly did hit its full stride until some 12 to 18 months after release.  But this also made things more frustrating as highly populated servers were plagued with things like high latency and the inability to grind out the quests as there were so many players vying for each kill to nearly empty servers were you could not see a single player for days, which also lead to frustration as there was no one to help when trying to do the harder quests.

More servers were added, server transfers started free to help alleviate the load, and the latency started to gather traction until things smoother out.  But a a few more hurdles were hit when Blizzard released their Asia Pacific Servers.  This saw a massive uptake in the Asian population, but the latency of these servers were no better than those of the US servers and in some cases much worse.  It was later found that these actual servers were in the US and there was not benefit to switching to a server that did not make playing the game better. 

They still have these Asia/Pacific servers available for play on and their population is decent but they are a far cry from the servers that are in the US.  The game has also been marred in some controversy in the later years with Blizzard having psychologists on their payroll working on addiction but certainly not in a good way, as they work to make it more addictive.  Other controversy surrounds the game with this addiction coming into prominence as people have been found to have neglected their real lives in order to log on and play World of Warcraft and with serious consequences, where deaths of infants have been involved.

Of course Blizzard has denied any wrong doing in these cases and rightfully so.  But certainly one cannot take away the fact that they might not be directly involved but there is involvement in directly as they work out ways to help players playing.  Their only bonus for logging out is to increase XP gained while killing beasts, but it is accrued at such a slow rate (more if you log out in an Inn).  This is also only a benefit for players who have not reached max level.  Those at this level there is no bonus for logging out.

World of Warcraft is the top MMO now and it is difficult to see if any future MMO (including any successor of WOW) will ever beat the numbers it had in its heyday.  This will be possibly in many top 10 best MMOs of all time, if not their number 1, but is it the quality that makes it that, or a deep seeded love that only comes from spending so long with something that it is difficult to any to see the quality beyond the obsession.

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar250px-Lotro_box

The Tolkien lore holds a great deal of love in my heart, has done since reading the Lord of the Rings a long time ago and most fantasy writers have ever tried to aspire to achieve such a literary work but alas to no avail.  Like Star Wars I have deep understanding of the stories and lore of the work and like Star Wars is ripe for a quality game.

LOTRO was possibly one of the better ones written about the text but it is not without its flaws.  The game was received positively from the critics though there were dissenters from the masses, those who felt everything in competition to WOW was trying to be WOW and not good enough, the members who felt the developers failed to capture the essence of Tolkien (which has been said about a great many games based on his works).

But the positive reviews gave people a reason for having a look.  There was a lot there to like but with most pay to play models, unless it has the same amount of content as World of Warcraft, why do you want me to pay for this as well.  Releases were not coming out fast enough and despite having an offer for a lifetime subscription model for $200 (I know it isn’t available now, but unsure that if you bought it when available if you still no longer need to pay subscription fees).

This massive down turn saw the game looking shaky and there was rumblings that it would soon shut up shop.  Then September 2010, the game become free to play and it was announced with their very first TV add and it was a relatively cheesy affair as well but it served the purpose and the game saw a new lease on life and a massive uptake in players and it started to show the MMO world that the days of the pay to play only model was heading the way of the dinosaurs.

So now the game is a nice earner with a combination of free to play and pay to play options and still one of the top MMOs currently and would be considered in many top 10 best MMOs. 

The Free to Play TV ad for LOTRO.

220px-Star_Wars-_The_Old_Republic_coverStar Wars: The Old Republic

Billed as the potential WOW killer, video game heavyweights BioWare had the pedigree in making great games and great Star Wars games and great RPGs, could they cross into the realm of MMO and unseat the king, many thought so. Even Blizzard who seemed undaunted by any MMO release possibly stood up and took notice of this one so much notice that before the release of SWTOR, Blizzard announced a new Expansion, Mists of Pandaria which to many was the start of the decline1 of the once great MMO.

Star Wars, like Lord of the Rings is ripe for a quality MMO the amount of lore available, all from the mind of one person is astounding.  But to date we haven’t seen it.  Star Wars Galaxies was a mildly successful MMO but was more of a cult following more than anything but they became vocal when the writing was on the wall that LucasArts was going to shut down SWG and with that it happened.

December 2011 the game was release and was the largest MMO game release in history with about 2 million users logging in day 1.  With the critics praising the game but marking down for the lack of content (this is an odd thing as the amount of content released day one surpassed that of WOW day one).  The servers remain stable, some queuing issues for many people as it would with this many people logging in day one but everything seemed to be good for SWTOR.

But like LOTRO, the amount of content available to the game started to become a hindrance, paying to play for a small amount of content started to make people log off, interestingly they numbers at initial release would return but certainly it took a 180 degree flip of constant negation of a free to play model that when it was announced the decline was about 2/3 to 3/4 of the initial launch number.  More problems came from one of the things that made the game a successful launch, high capacity servers a quite a few of them.  Soon as the numbers dropped people found it difficult to find groups for the new content being added, this forced BioWare’s hand to merge servers into newer higher capacity servers which was not without issues, especially latency and the complaints about LAG spiked.

SWTOR went going to go free to play and many scorned BioWare for the restrictions placed onto free to play players, but these are any more or less restricted than other free to play v subscription models2, like LOTRO.  The game saw a resurgence and the popularity of the game grew.  BioWare was now making more money, though about $7.2 million a month is nothing to be sneezed at and it seems also like LOTRO that this game for the near future is hear to stay. 

SWTOR–Free to Play Launch

The Skinny

Release Success – Out of the 3 the most successful was SWTOR.  2 million day one user logging in and relative stability across all servers.   One might say that the gaming landscape has changed so much in the time since WOW and LOTRO was released, but even for the times it was released the numbers didn’t reflect the sheer popularity that SWTOR did when it was released.

Post Release Success – Hands down to World of Warcraft.  With both SWTOR and LOTRO having large declines in population until their free to play models came out and then LOTRO had little impact on WOW and SWTOR possibly responsible for the largest decline in its population still didn’t get up to the same numbers. 

One of the reasons and in my opinion the main reason for the large population of players on WOW is due to the massive gold selling market.  These are very prevalent in LOTRO and WOW and less so in SWTOR.  WOW and LOTRO have an auto attack mechanism that when being attacked the player will respond with their simple attack.  This is never enough to defeat on level or higher NPCs but lower levels in areas that are often use for gold farming helps.  This hasn’t prevented Gold Farming from existing in SWTOR since there has been other methods to get credits in SWTOR that help.  Since LOTRO and SWTOR have free to play accounts they include restrictions on the amount of gold you can transfer, hold in an account, transfer from escrow and so on.  You can PAY to unlock these but since the gold farming market rely on the free accounts this will eat into their margins which means they will not be as common.  With WOW, since it is the number 1 in population and will remain that way in the near future this will always be a reason why possibly a million maybe more accounts are that of the gold farmers.

Expansion Success – This one is more difficult to assess, World of Warcraft has had 3 quality expansions, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm.  LOTRO has had 4 quality expansions Mines of Moria, Siege of Mirkwood, Rise of Isenguard and Riders of Rohan with a 5th coming in end 2013 Helms Deep which is making this game just massive.  SWTOR, has 1 physical expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, which was a well received a decent expansion, with a new one coming but isn’t expanding the ground world much.  This one goes to in my opinion Lord of the Rings Online, and this is down purely to Mists and Pandaria otherwise I might have called it a tie.  Mists was such a let down in comparison to the other 3 expansions released for WOW.

So, in the releasing of the games, each has a point in this battle, and these are my opinions.  Get a WOW addict and it will all go to WOW, get a Cosplaying LOTRO fan who can speak Elvish and I am sure it will go to LOTRO, change the prior to be Star Wars geek who knows the lines of each movie and book by heart and they will say SWTOR.

Lord of the Rings Online 1
Star Wars: The Old Republic 1
World of Warcraft 1

More to come.

1 When announced some thought this to be an extension of an April fools joke, but the 1 April was long gone when this came out.  What made matters worse was the success of the Dreamworks film Kung Fu Panda and the new to be release sequel certainly added more fuel to the fire that Blizzard had lost their way.  Some might have thought so too, with this release another butt of many WOW jokes was released, pet battles and another form of revenue for Blizzard (like they needed any more) was people could spend more money on buying pets and special pets and things for their pets to take into their fights, vis-à-vis Pokémon.  Many believed it was the first nail in the coffin for the hugely successful game but execs from Blizzard tried to defend the moves with previous announcement back in the Warcraft 3 days of the Panda race (though this was a April fools joke when it first came out).

2 SWTOR and LOTRO both impose restrictions on free to play, premium/preferred and subscript/VIP players.  Being a subscriber certainly in my opinion provides many more benefits than simply unrestricted access to the content.  Experience, in SWTOR there is reduced XP in levelling and though this can be mitigated a great deal by getting the experience buff and legacy unlocks for experience (in fact using both the XP buffs and all of the Legacy perks you can bring yourself up to the same amount of XP as an un-buffed non perked subscriber, which helps.  But then a subscriber can also get these legacy perks and buffs which accelerates your growth.  (Keep and eye out for Double XP promotions for both).

Points/Cartel Coins, most of the unlocks to bring your character from the meagre existence of free to play player to that of a preferred/premium and then some is buying these virtual items and buying them from their virtual stores.  As subscribers both give you free coins/points per month, 500 for each (SWTOR offers 100 more if you have a security key on the account which I recommend).  This is about an average 5 dollars free per month which brings down the effective subscription cost in total spend a month. 

The real restriction I have found is with SWTOR and their UI restrictions, you can buy unlocks for them, they even have a pack that includes these unlocks which brings you up to a decent level within the free to play community.  But to lock the available quick bars to 2, when some classes have MORE abilities that what 2 bars can handle, my Jedi Sentinel uses more than 2 for standard and I use all 6 if I look into Legacy.

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Posted on October 22, 2013, in Article, Games and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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