The Top 10 Money-Making MMOs of 2008

maplestoryGame industry analyst DFC Intelligence will publish a comprehensive study of massively multiplayer online worlds next month, and was nice enough to give us an advance peek at their list of MMOs and MMORPGs that earned the most revenue in 2008.

The numbers are primarily estimates based on publicly available reports, DFC’s David Cole told me, and are decidedly on the “very conservative” side. The wide revenue spreads reflect the fact that 2008 earnings are still being counted, though more exact numbers are promised in the firm’s Feb. 16 report. “We indicate ranges because these numbers are estimates for 2008 based on where we think these products will end up,” said Cole. However, when the final numbers are reported, the rankings below should remain the same, though “maybe a slot here or there” will change.

While no one will be shocked by World of Warcraft’s heavy earnings, Cole believes the Asian MMOs, which are developed at far lower budgets, have a higher profit margin. “Profit margin on Asian games is incredibly high,” he told me. That’s true even though most of the Asian MMOs charge the equivalent of 5-6 cents an hour with usage cards, Cole noted, a model that has yet to be widely adopted by Western developers.

Speaking of which, it’s notable that the bottom of the top 10 is where the big budget MMORPGs in the World of Warcraft vein — LOTRO, Conan, and Warhammer — reside. (All below the no-frills Runescape, which we wrote about last July.)

1. World of Warcraft, launched 2004
Genre/Platform: Western MMORPG; client install with 3D graphics
Revenue sources: Monthly subscription, retails sales, prepaid cards (in Asia)
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $500 million-plus

2. Fantasy Westward Journey, launched 2004
Genre/Platform: Asian MMORPG, client install with 2.5D graphics
Revenue sources: Prepaid cards
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

3. Maple Story, launched 2003
Genre/Platform: Asian MMORPG for kids, client install with 2D graphics
Revenue sources: Microtransactions, prepaid cards, international licensing
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

4. Shanda (company, includes Legend of Mir and World of Legend series), launched 2003
Genre/Platform: Asian MMORPG, client install with 2.5 graphics
Revenue sources: Prepaid cards, virtual item sales, freemium subscriptions
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

5. Lineage I and Lineage II , launched 1998 and 2003
Genre/Platform: Asian MMORPG, client install with 2.5 graphics (Lineage) and 3D graphics (Lineage II)
Revenue sources: Subscription, prepaid cards
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $150-$500 million

6. Runescape
Genre/Platform: Western MMORPG for kids, web-based with 2.5D graphics
Revenue sources: Premium subscription, prepaid cards, real-world advertising
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

7. Club Penguin, launched 2006
Genre/Platform: Virtual world for kids, web-based 2.5D graphics
Revenue sources: Premium subscriptions, prepaid game cards
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

8. Lord of the Ring Online
Genre/Platform: Western MMORPG, client install with 3D graphics
Revenue sources: Subscription, retail sales
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

9. Warhammer Online
Genre/Platform: Western MMORPG, client install with 3D graphics
Revenue sources: Subscription, retail sales
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

10. Age of Conan
Genre/Platform: Western MMORPG, client install with 3D graphics
Revenue sources: Subscription, retail sales
DFC estimated 2008 revenue: $50-$150 million

The most popular MMO among this 10, in terms of active players? That requires more speculation, but it’s almost certainly not World of Warcraft. Cole points out that Fantasy Westward Journey registered an astounding 2-3 million concurrent players last August. Though Warcraft now boasts some 11 million+ subscribers, “You’re lucky to get 5-10 percent [of them] playing at the same time,” he said. Maple Story developer Minho Kim told me last December that his MMO has 87+ million registrations, but wouldn’t specify how many of them were monthly active users. DFC’s Joost van Dreunen estimates it to be 15-20 percent of that figure — i.e., 13-17.4 million regular Maple Story players.

Conan and Warhammer were released in 2008, but otherwise, Cole says the rest of the list is fairly similar to that of 2007. That will probably remain true this year, though watch for hotly anticipated MMOs like Free Realms and Lego Universe to make a concerted effort to crack the top 10.

Image credit: www.maplestory.com

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