Blog Post

GigaOM Top 10 Most Popular MMOs

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. First of all I would seperate “Pay to Play” and “Free to Play” MMOs to their own list.

    Even if “Free to play” MMO gets high numbers, theres no telling how many “users” is under 1 person.
    Habbo Hotel has 7.5 million active users but nobody barely knows it. But almoust everyone knows WoW.

    Off topic: Im from Finland.

  2. Wendi & Wagner, it seems that it’s not clear what “active users” means on that tab of the official statistics report. I’m assuming that the figure of “500k active users” is the number of different users that log in to Second Life every day for more than an hour. As not everybody logs in to SL every day (or any other platform in fact), the number of “active users” is usually taken to mean who logged in on the past 60 days for more than an hour — which would be 1.8 million users out of a database with 7.7 million ‘active’ accounts (in the sense that this database still has users that might not logged in for over a couple of years, but these were not deleted ever, since the user might return at some point in the future; in fact, just like on eBay, PayPal, YouTube, MySpace, or any other social website where not everybody logs in every day to make a purchase/send money/watch a video/upload a picture).

    1. MMORPGs. Some of those listed are not. To qualify something has to be massively multiplayer, and a role-playing game. SL isn’t really a game so much as a place to make games, some of the others arn’t games at all, and while GW is certinly a role-playing game its questionable how massive its multiplayer is due to the very heavy use of instancing.

    2. The old MUCKs and MUDs are still going! Oh, they struggle to attract new players these days – people are too ruined by fancy graphics to spend enough time in a text-based environment to start enjoying it. But the users they have are extremally loyal, and I find it very rewarding.

  3. Temp Muse

    Sloppy article with some wrong references and some unverifiable claims. Also remarks like “games like WoW that are more akin to crack cocaine than mere entertainment” do not contribute to the author’s credentials without an explanation that supports such a claim.

  4. Bender

    Gaia is that fine, fine line between a game and a profile/chat room and I tell you the line is very fine. when it comes to whats an MMO and whats a game that can be played online should there be many others on this list like the person wondering about Diablo 2 or is this list for MMOs thats for the internet only, no single player?

  5. WoW is at the top in terms of monthly subscriptions but not in terms of registered users due to there being other games that charge for play time but not monthly fees.

  6. there is a game called TRAVIAN that has more active users than the bottom ones mentions on the list.

    Just log in and look at the server stats on active users. Not fancy graphics, but broswer based game that any machine can play.

  7. i like cheese

    i note you made no mention of the interview that blizz did about 3 months or so ago, after a bit of pressing let slip that over 80% (using there numbers) are addicts, that is they play for 3 or more hours a day, every day.

    i play wow, i also raid.(high end stuff kara, BT, Gruul etc etc.)

    My main toon has well over 100hrs played. (thats time ingame not real life time which means it would be way more.)

    on top of him i have 2 other high lvl toons that i play, they would have 80+ hours on them as well.

    My point is when you say wow was like crack, i can say its not like crack, i use it more like facebook or bebo, i spend the same time if not more standing around chatting to my friends than i do questing, raiding, etc etc.

    LFM Kara Need healer PST

  8. MMORPG are very addictive! I played Dark Age of Camelot (from Mythic Entertainment) for about 2 years straight in college, until I finally realized that it was effecting my health! Sitting in class all day and playing games games all night it BAD! You get captivated in an online world with other real people playing these characters that you create. You develop them to be the warriors they need to be to defeat the villains to obtain items.

    It came to a point in DAOC where I was setting my schedule around the game so I could met up with my guildmates to go on 3-7 hour dungeons raids. Things you have to schedule ahead of time because you need tons of people to defeat bosses.

  9. POGO would not usually come under this heading ( no 3d environment etc) however, it does share some of the same characteristics as many of the environments here.

    Players compete, co-operate and chat. They work to complete tasks, gaining “badges” rather than gold or in-game items. And, importantly, many of them subscribe, paying real cash to avoid ads and to gain other benefits.

    So the question is: what is the important bit of an MMO? Is it the “massively multiplayer” bit? The “online” bit? Or is it the “worlds” bit? and what makes a “world” anyway?

  10. Robert Fitzjohn

    I wonder where the thrice-accursed Disney ToonTown ranks in this list? I say “thrice-accursed” because my wife’s “crack cocaine” addiction to everything Dismal is making my life hell.

  11. “Subscriptions work well for MMORPG games like WoW that are more akin to crack cocaine than mere entertainment”. People who make ridiculous comments like this without any actual medical or scientific evidence are an embarassment to the Tech community in general. Will you please stop wasting our time and fueling the fires of reactionist ignoramus luddites with your ridiculous blogs and build an argument based on some REAL FACTS for a change.

    Web2.0 – Opening the floodgates to failure and conjecture. What a wonderful age we will in.


  12. Olivia

    Yes, how can you forget Neopets? On their site, they boast 141,094,836 “owners” but this is really the number of accounts created. And since each person can create a maximum of five accounts, per email address, that means that there are approximately 28,000,000 users online from around the world!

  13. Habbo has publicly given out monthly uniques in the millions.

    Using monthly uniques is probably the best way to compare here… I agree that this list is mixing some numbers a bit… I don’t think GW has that many monthly uniques, for example.

    LOTRO’s stickiness after three months is a meaningless figure… average subscriber duration is measured in multiples of that :)

    The overall point, however, is one that I have made several times — the top MMOs do not at all look like the game industry’s notable MMO titles.

  14. “Second Life, in particular, is notorious for inflating its user stats, as Clay Shirky”

    No, that wasn’t exactly Clay’s objection, and it’s about six months out of date. The 500K SL figures are taken from last month’s stats. An inflated SL figure would be to report that there are now 7.2 million Residents. Which there are, but most of those aren’t active unique users.

  15. Assessing MMOG player numbers is a dark art, and this inaccurate list doesn’t help. Many figures on this list look grossly inflated. Second Life, in particular, is notorious for inflating its user stats, as Clay Shirky and others have documented. This list also omits many hugely popular Asian MMOs, though that’s justifiable in this context. But it also overlooks some “boutique” MMOs larger than Second Life, such as Hattrick. And if you’re talking about Club Penguin and Webkinz, how can you omit Neopets?

    Those looking for data somewhat more reliable than Wikipedia (for heaven’s sake!) may want to try ( ). And my article “Boutique MMOGs” appeared in issue #75 of the online gaming magazine The Escapist ( ).

  16. Jordan

    Guild Wars would be hard to judge by box sales. Many people bought all 3 games and connected them to the same account. So really out of the 3 games bought only 1 account is registered. I guess they could go by accounts registered, but many people have multiple accounts to…