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. Lizzy

    According to maplestory’s latest advert, there are over 92 million accounts worldwide… 50 million global members and a couple million more eMS members… I’d guess there are at least 3-5 million active members. No way is there less than 500,000 members active.

  2. GAME_freak1

    Runescape should be the most played multiplayer game.Runescape has 135million accounts created so that is alot of users it’s evenn more than warcraft or any other game runescape is played by heaps of people and i reckon i should be ranked firest to the best of my abilities that i know that one eighth of the world addicted to runescape and millions of schools and students in high school play it .

  3. this info is incorrect … runescape has 130 million accounts on 127.5million different people. i think the most played game.
    i agree with kring age of conan is amazing

  4. Michael

    Well, this info is uncorrect. Maplestory is the most popular in the world with over 70 million in korea alone. plus it has about 5-10 million in the US…

  5. Brother will kill brother, Spilling blood across the land, Killing for religion, Something I dont understand

    Fools like me, who cross the sea, And come to foreign lands, Ask the sheep, for their beliefs, Do you kill on gods command?

  6. how do safe sites like work into this? using subscriptions to keep the ad/sponsors at bay isn’t easy.

    why do people always say they would support this type of endeavour, but then don’t?

    any advice on turning the tide towards a nice safe website where the parents can park the kids for awhile?


  7. This list is way from being completed. You have forgot many importent games like Eve Online, Final Fantasy 11, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes/City of Villains, Maple Story, Star wars galaxies…

  8. dude runescape shold be number 1 because there is actully more players 5 millon active 9 million free accounts add that to gether and you got 14 millon players plus it has features such as f2p or p2p so it pwns all these other games

  9. hoteurostartups

    I’ve heard about quite some interesting activities in Europe, PC and mobile convergent MMOs. There are some pretty good concepts implemented within the next 6-9 month. How will the console player react to:
    a) mobile activities
    b) trend if MMOs will have their majority of users on PC?

  10. your momma called me daddy

    This list is SOOOO wrong,log into FFXI, and go to Jueno,or Aht Urhgan, you cant see the AH past the people playing…and for a game thats been out for years now, they keep adding features, zones, jobs, etc. and I KNOW theres ALOT of people playing this, my god theres like 22 different servers because of to many people, if you are going to post info, shouldnt it at least be somewhat accurate?

  11. this only reflect in north america, if you go to the real world you will actually see MMOs hitting up to 50 million subscribers. As of now WoW only probably has 9 million subscribers worldwide.

    Perfect World = 30 million and growing

    These are only some MMOs that kills WoW. Fact is that if you go to Japan and say “do you play world of warcraft” they will most likely say no, but they have heard of it.

    And also Guild Wars at 2 million??? youve got to be kidding me. And what do you mean that that there are only about 50-60 million players? You may find that much players in China alone. If you go to Korea, their entire youth culture socializes in the internet/MMOs basically.

    WoW’s a joke to other MMOs, MU had 50 million subscribers alone in the Asian countries.

  12. Well that list is right for atleast wow.. but Guildwars has WAAAAAY more the 2.5mill subs i am a player of the game if you check there main website the game has over 4mill subs so that needs to be updated. As for runescape i seriosuly doubt its that many now… i used to play it an many quit due to the changes so i think that number is alot lower.

  13. I think RUNESCAPE Rulez Espisily when you are a member like me or a high combat level.As i am one of around one millon members it is my duty to help lower level players espisily levels under 20 i can help alot cause i am a level 56!

  14. This chart isn’t of any value, sorry to say that.

    No Neopets, Kartrider, Gunbound, Maplestory, Lineage, Dofus, Audition, Runescape, …

    Subs are being mixed up with active users.

    I would also never compare Habbo, Gaia and WoW in one list. They are totally different products.