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GigaOM Top 10 Most Popular MMOs

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The attention surrounding MMOs (massively multiplayer online worlds) has never been greater. But it’s not just role playing games along for the ride; non-game, avatar-driven virtual communities are just as popular, if not by more, and we’re not just talking Second Life here.

So in an effort to cut through the hype and glean some context, here are the most popular MMOs in terms of active users or subscribers, based on publicly available data. These titles may or may not be games, but the medium has expanded far beyond Tolkienesque fantasy worlds. They all are Mac-friendly/Web-based with exception of Guild Wars. [digg=]

1. World of Warcraft, released 2004 – 8.5 million subscribers.
While Habbo is giving Blizzard a run, the numbers generally support WoW as the biggest MMO in the world. Important qualification, though: only 4 million are based in the West and monthly subscribers, while its 4 million Chinese players only pay roughly 4 cents an hour to play it in Internet cafes.

2. Habbo Hotel, released 2000 – 7.5 million active users.
The Finland-based “social game” MMO popular with teens and growing fast. Look out, Horde!

3. RuneScape, released 2001 – 5 million active users.
A Java-based MMORPG operated by Jagex Ltd. with over nine million active free accounts. Boasts one million paying customers. Fancy that.

4. Club Penguin, released 2006 – 4 million active users.
MMO for the kiddies developed by New Horizon Interactive. The game shares similarities with other social environments like Habbo Hotel.

5. Webkinz, released 2005 – 3.8 million active users.
Here’s a novel idea: create beanie baby like stuffed animals, assign them a unique ID, then create an MMO portal in which kids can spend even more time using your product. When kids graduate from Club Penguin, they go to Webkinz (or so I’m told.)

6. Gaia Online, released 2003 – 2 million active users.
Not quite an MMO, not quite a social site, but founder Derek Liu has openly stated the networks desire to focus on social gaming. Forums make up 30% of the current site activity.

7. Guild Wars, released 2005 – 2 million active users.
Another MMORPG made by the popular NCsoft out of South Korea. No Mac love here, but a lot of active users.

8. Puzzle Pirates, released 2003 – 1.5 million active users**.
Published by Ubisoft and developed by indy king Three Rings, Puzzle Pirates merges casual games with a rising interest in pirate culture. Puffy shirt aside, it’s working like a charm.

9. Lineage I/II, released 1998 – 1 million subscribers.
Published by South Koreas NCsoft, Lineage was once the most popular MMO of its day. At one point total active users peaked at 3 million. A Western release in 2002 mostly fizzled.

10. Second Life, released 2003 – 500,000 active users.
No introduction needed here. Created by Linden Lab, this virtual world features a rabid fan base, inflated numbers, a high influx of corporate doppelgangers, and lots of digital genitals. First life optional.

Other popular MMOs are sure to exist, particularly new-comers and non-localized Asian games that are sure to grow. Also, this list reflects popularity alone, not necessarily revenue models, though World of Warcraft is performing well on both counts.

For all intents and purposes, the most popular MMOs represent an estimated 50-75% of the total MMO market (30-60 million active users.) Is that enough attention to justify MMO’s recent surge of attention? Maybe not all of the hype, but definitely a large portion of it. And who wouldn’t want a piece of Blizzard’s reoccurring pie or another revenue model with a similar install base?

Interestingly, however, it’s apparent that no single business model is winning out. Subscriptions work well for MMORPG games like WoW that are more akin to crack cocaine than mere entertainment. But what about other non-game MMOs? How will companies bank on consumer attention in those areas? One thing’s for certain: with all the popularity surrounding MMOs several new business models are sure to flourish in the coming years, as it’s not just about games anymore.

*Of Western origin or with a localized presence here. “Active users” based on most recent monthly log-in figures when available. Subscriber numbers are not necessarily a reflection of active users. Figures compiled from Wikipedia (excluding, to the best of my knowledge, free trials, beta users, and web visitors without accounts.) Virtual Worlds News also referenced; Habbo figures taken from company spokeswoman, Second Life figures from most recent published stats. Special attention was given to notable MMOs in terms of where they stack up when looking at the numbers in addition to their popularity and/or high profile (i.e. Second Life.) Amendments and additions welcome.

** Update, June 15th: Puzzle Pirates active users are actually 200,000, according to company CEO Daniel James. With no single tracking authority or qualitative filtering, this list was bound to be controversial. Other MMO candidates named in Comments include Bots, Neopets, Final Fantasy XI, City of Heroes, Virtual Magic Kingdom, Lord of The Rings Online, along with others, many of them considered and rejected, others not. All will be considered in an update to this list.

173 Responses to “GigaOM Top 10 Most Popular MMOs”

  1. Cpgeek

    I’m surpprised that entropia universe wasn’t listed somewhere in this article (or even in the comments).

    Entropia Universe is another immensely popular MMORPG that has a real-world currency system (you can make real money in the game by selling virtual stuff, and in turn, you can put real money on your virtual account to buy virtual goods).

  2. thranx

    I’d always watched for this kind of data, but they havn’t been updated in many moons.

    It wouldn’t supprise me if the Guild Wars numbers are based on box sales, as there’s no true subscription.

    I also have a hard time viewing something like Gaia Online as an MMO. It’s more like a web community with flash games. shrug

  3. @”Isn’t referencing to Wikipedia a cop out?”

    Not trying to be sloppy, I just scoured as many sources as I could when compiling the list, a majority of which came from the not-always-perfect Wikipedia.

    “It’s interesting how very few of these are actual role playing games.”

    Hence the use of “MMO” which is more encompassing. That’s part of the point, MMOs transcends gaming, though Blizzard still leads the pack.

    @”It’s more like a couple of hundred thousand for Puzzle Pirates.”

    Thanks, Daniel. We’ll update our figures.

  4. b0rderline

    someone stated that city of heros and FFXI should be on there, but in fact their populations are much lower than 1 million each, im sure that lineage I/II together have nearly 4 million subs together however
    i had no idea about all those social games though if those numbers are accurate

  5. dominik

    “Guild Wars, released 2005 – 2 million active users Another MMORPG made by the popular NCsoft out of South Korea.”

    MADE by ArenaNet (North America)
    PUBLISHED by NCSoft (South Korea)
    thats a bit difference!!!

    the 2 million active users is also misleading, since ArenaNet (nor NCSoft) never released the number of active users in gw. only the number of purchased accounts.

  6. Jonathan

    One key point left out of this interesting article is that none of these really are games – even WoW is the most bare-bones of game design following the carrot/stick model and that’s it. Why waste time on these lame entertainment venues when you can be playing far more rewarding games out there? Not to mention that the time and cash you’re dumping into these money pits (for little return, I might add), is time and money that’s being shuttled away from fantastic single-player or non-MMO style multi-player games that you’re missing out on. This has the negative effect of shrinking OUR industry (you’re not just affecting yourself by your actions) which sucks for everyone. So think seriously before you blindly support one of these non-game money pits. Nuff said.

  7. I’m the father of 3 kids (ages 5, 7, 9) and I have to say that the Webkinz phenomenom has taken my household by storm. And it’s viral, it has spread to our school and community. Kids talk. Kids don’t just buy one, they want to have multiple webkinz animals (that’s the genius of the real world beanie baby with ID twist). My kids enjoy the off-line and on-line experience of webkinz and sharing it with their friends. It is a powerful model, hat’s off to the Webkinz team.

  8. Matt’s correct; these numbers are well off our active player count, depending of course on how you define ‘active’. It’s more like a couple of hundred thousand for Puzzle Pirates.

    Some of the other numbers I think may be a bit off. I don’t think Habbo has 7.5M active players, but more like 7.5M registered users. We have 3M of those!

  9. “games rather than flash-based websites”

    That’s an odd distinction, but a fairly typical industry assumption.

    It’s a great initial list, Blake. As any writer knows, top tens will inevitably provoke a slew of “Hey what about…” responses, some fair, though a lot that were already considered and discarded for one reason or another. I suspect an updated version will reflect both.

  10. Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    The numbers are, to the best of my knowledge, accurate, though public data can be fudgy at times. Hopefully the italicized methodology and sources clear the air a bit, but we’ll keep digging for better accuracy and likely revise the list with time.

  11. This study is completely and utterly flawed. ACTIVE SUBSCRIPTIONS means people that actively play. WoW is still on top, sure. However, you are counting INACTIVE user accounts that still exist. FYI: Guild Wars accounts stay FOREVER. There is NO FEE, so the account never goes inactive. Habbo is the same way. You might as well forget about EVERY SINGLE FREE MMO OUT THERE, with the exception of ones that cost a fee to download or obtain the disks. The only mmo right now that is “free” and “good” is Guild wars.

    Here’s another thing. Final Fantasy XI is the most widely STUCK WITH mmorpg on the market. Their user base has dropped a bit in the last year, HOWEVER, people who play ffxi almost NEVER STOP PLAYING FFXI. I don’t know the actual numbers of all new subscribers to other mmorpgs that quit in like the FIRST WEEK… but it’s a HUGE percentage. FFXI escapes that somehow, and people who start playing it generally REALLY REALLY enjoy it and continue to play it for YEARS. The people that quit immediately are casual gamers who find it “too hard”. FFXI is truly the only hardcore mmo on the market short of EQ and EQII, which has much less players.

    Lord of the rings online has been out for a VERY VERY VERY Short time, however, it’s user base and people who stick with it is STAGGERING for a game that has been out for 3 months.

    Once again, your article is completely flawed. NOBODY has the whole truth on mmorpg subscriptions numbers because the companies keep those things secret to a) coax new subscribers because of popularity and b) appease their shareholders with huge numbers.

  12. Carahan

    Actually, Guild Wars is published in NCSoft from Korea. However, the development studio is ArenaNet in the United States. Also, one cannot determine the number of active users from Guild Wars because of the lack of monthly fees. There have been around 3 million accounts sold. The author pulled that 2 million out of his hat, not even ArenaNet keeps track of the numbers of active users within the past month.

  13. Sean Brennan

    What about Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom? I know they have at least 2 million players that are active.

    Acclaim’s Bots has over a million active users as well.

    This list doesn’t seem very complete.

  14. Jenny F.

    And isn’t referencing to Wikipedia a cop out? Either the WP data has a reference, or it doesn’t. It’s not a primary source either way. I hate to say it, but it’s sloppiness like this that gets blogs their poor reputation in journalism.

  15. Where did you get these numbers? Thin air? Lineage I/II has way more subscribers. Final Fantasy and City of Heroes is way up there on the list of subscribers as well. Try spending some time researching what you post instead of where to lay the ads out on this site.

  16. David Riedmiller

    I may be wrong but isn’t Final Fantasy 11 a MMO?

    Im surprised that it isn’t listed. Maybe it’s not as big as I thought.

    Oops… I re-read the article again.

    “They all are Mac-friendly/Web-based with exception of Guild Wars.”


    “Other popular MMOs are sure to exist, particularly new-comers and non-localized Asian games that are sure to grow.”

    I am pretty sure FF11 is not a Mac game.

  17. You also left out some like Maple Story, for instance, which has crossed 50 million registered users and has about 3 million active users. (I seriously doubt that Guild Wars has 2 million -active- players incidentally but that’s a gut-level reaction on my part rather than hard info).


  18. The numbers for at least one of those are WAY WAY off: Puzzle Pirates isn’t even close to 1.5 million active users. The real numbers are less than 10% of that.

    Email me for clarification if you want. Dan (Three Rings’ CEO) and I ran roundtables together at GDC the last couple of years and I’ve heard it from his mouth.


  19. Ryan Kiskis

    Xfire actually puts together a monthly collection of stats on the actual user-minutes for the top games on their service. That shows the relative engagement of these “top MMOs” – and a lot you haven’t really hear of. It’s not the whole subscriber base of MMOs, but with a couple million registered users, Xfire’s a pretty good sample.

    You can see their MMO stats here – good stuff. Stats going back for a long time.

  20. If you’re interested in hearing more about how these companies are making alternative business models work, I’d encourage you to come to the Virtual Goods Summit at Stanford ( We’ll have a number of the companies mentioned in this article talk about how they’ve grown their businesses and successfully deployed new models.

  21. Any idea if all of these track user hours? Subscriptions are fine, but as you point out, their value also varies. In addition to the different pricing structures, someone might have a sub and not log in for months. Or people might share account. In both cases it doesn’t give us a sense of how engaged people are with the application.