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The Top 10 Money-Making MMOs of 2008

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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. [digg=]

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.

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50 Responses to “The Top 10 Money-Making MMOs of 2008”

  1. I never thought that the game can bring so much money! .. Revenue received from sales of CDs with games or something else? Many earn from selling toys is not possible In Russia .. There is a lot of pirated copies game-CDs.

  2. LoL, who really cares about shitty Asian F2P grind mmos. Only reason those games make money is because people are stupid. The vast majority of the people that play and pay for those games are from Asian countries, which is why they are all targeted their to begin with. Those games are just downright awful and are nothing but terribly designed grinds with no real interesting mechanics/gameplay/progression wrapped around a gambling system intended to slowly milk the hell out of stupid people that get addicted to the gambling nature of those games. Their is a reason that shit doesnt fly anywhere outside Asia.

    The only real good F2P game out right now is RoM, and thats only because they copied the hell outta WoW, and to a lesser degree some others. Its to bad they didnt also copy all the good things WoW has done since release and it still has the typical retarded Asian grind and cash shop system. Not to mention the people coding it are obviously idiots, server and client issues galore. And people thought AoC and WAR were bad at release, they cant touch how awful RoM is.

    F2P games will never be anywhere near as good as games made by real gaming companies, because they dont give a shit about gaming. F2P games are nothing but gambling disguise as gaming.

  3. “Not sure why they have RuneScape listed as a kids game, 99% of the people I play it with are 15+. The article makes out that its similar to Club Penguin in its audience, which is like saying the TeleTubbies and Die Hard are aiming at the same demographic.”

    15+? Those are kids.

  4. Derek

    you people are stupid -.-.. even if you look at thge low times for runescape there are atleast 50 thousand players on, half of which now pay 6 dollars a month. lets do some math ok? 25,000 x $6 = $150,000 a day. $150,000 x 7 = $1,050,000 a week, 1,050,000 x 4 = 4,200,000 a month, and $1,050,000 x 12 = $50,400,000 a year at low times, but besides that let up to a high time for runescape ive seen 200,000+ at peek hours. so lets do the math on that. using the same princible, 100,000 x $6 = $600,000 a day, $600,000 x 7 = $4,200,000 a week, 4,200,000 x 4 = $16,800,000 a month, 16,800,000 x 12 = $201,600,000 a year. so anywhere between 50.4 – 201.6 million a year for runescape which is actually 50 million more then what is stated. so before you go running your mouths off about runescape shouldnt be there, and that there is no way that they can make that much do some ****ing research.

  5. Emperus

    there’s an error in there… RuneScape is NOT a game for kids if you read some news, you can see they direct the game not for just kids.. and in game, you can find 20+ people, reallly much

  6. number 6 on the list is a joke i can not see how they list runescape in the company of wow , warhammer and conan or fantasy westward . Runescape is free to play and u only have to be a memeber for like 5 bucks a month u do not have to buy the game or game cards so how in the hell do they gross that much ? eve didnt even make the list

  7. the author of this article has not obtained any legitimate sources of internal revenue of any of these online titles. These numbers are mostlikely representations of what the author “feels” is correct.

    read but do not believe.

  8. New hot concepts around new themes will come up big in 2009 – 2010. I believe that the market of MMOs will reach out to new publics. Online worlds like Empire of Sports ( could create big surprises by drawing a new public to online games (in this case, the hundred o fmillions of sport fans!)

  9. #6 is wrong, one way or another- Runescape is a fully 3d (via a java-based engine), fantasy-based MMO. I’m wondering if it is really at #6 (meaning that the description was incorrect) or if it isn’t, what MMO is actually being referred to

  10. Not sure why they have RuneScape listed as a kids game, 99% of the people I play it with are 15+. The article makes out that its similar to Club Penguin in its audience, which is like saying the TeleTubbies and Die Hard are aiming at the same demographic.

    Is it me or these does “for kids” mmo mean ‘doesn’t cost $15 a month and/or doesn’t have tits in it’?

  11. Thachsanh

    Shadowlayer: WoW is using pay for what player use in China. The9 issues a game card that contain a certain number of game time for a fix price (600 hours for 30 RMB which is approximately 4.384 USD).

    The way DFC doing this is kinda funky. WoW China is operating by The9 and the revenue stream does not go directly to Blizzard. They are 2 separate companies. The9 has to pay Blizzard royalty fee which is HUGE but it’s not their total WoW revenue stream. So are they counting Blizzard revenue stream from WoW or total of both companies revenue steam from WoW?

    They compare Fantasy Westward Journey from NetEase as a game with Shanda as a whole company? NetEase has more games than just Fantasy Westward Journey. Compare like this is apple vs orange. And they didn’t even put in ZT Online from Giant Interactive. ZT Online make 200 million plus in revenue for Giant Interactive in FY2007 and more in FY2008, yet completely ignored.

    There are so many problems with this list. The final report must be much more complete than this list to have any credibility at all.

  12. The ranges on these profits are so insanely huge that it is very hard to take any of these numbers seriously what so ever. I mean if we are going to have a margin of error of 300% then why bother releasing these stats at all? 150-500 million? Come on, can’t we narrow this down at all ?

  13. Two Worlds

    It’s difficult for Second Life to make a large enough profit margin to compete with the likes of WoW, Habbo Hotel, Gaia Online, or even Maple Story when you’ve got a business model like Linden Labs’. Let’s just assume for the moment that Second Life’s objective shouldn’t be to compete at the top 10 level, because the way that the Lindens run things, they aren’t doing themselves any favors at this point.

    Also, Hamlet, why do you write better here in GigaOM than in your own blog? Is it because they actually pay you for writing? (Hey, $30 an article is TECHNICALLY pay…)

  14. mikeisle

    I have heard from multiple sources that online early teenagers virtual world Habbo would do at least $70M annual revenue. If that is true, then it should be on this list.

  15. Interesting, but those numbers represent gaps of 300% and more, so I’ll wait for the final ones.

    On the prepaid subscription model, it could help to increase the number of users here in the west, but most companies refuse to implement it because it’s just not as good business-wise as the monthly subscription.

    Think for a moment that as a WoW player you’re paying the equivalent to 300 hours a month, much more than what you’re actually using (unless of course you’re “that which has no life”)

    If WoW users payed for what they use that would translate into a major blow to blizzard’s revenue stream.