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The List: Top 10 MMOs of 2012

Jon breaks out his crystal ball and peers three years down the road. Which 10 games will dominate the market then?

This week, I dug deep into the old closet to pull out my trusty crystal ball. Gazing deep into its smoky depths, I asked a simple question: What MMOs will round out the Top 10 three years from now? Being a cantankerous old coot of a crystal ball, it told me that I needed to be more specific. Was it to base the list on subscriber numbers? Overall profitability? Random lottery? In the end we decided to look for a Top 10 list that took many factors into account, with subscribers, profitability, critical acclaim and fan support topping the list.

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When I was putting this list together, there were a number of games that cropped up as possibilities that, for whatever reasons, I decided not to include in my top ten. The next Blizzard MMO, for example is left off because there’s a good chance it won’t yet have launched. It’s tough enough to define the Top 10 Games of 2009, let alone three years from now. Many quality titles didn’t make the list, but were kept firmly in mind. They include: The Secret World, The Agency, Copernicus, Lord of the Rings Online, Global Agenda and Fallen Earth.

#10: Aion

In 2012, Aion will be closing in on its third birthday, so why is it that I think it’ll be rounding out the top ten? I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say that it really could be any number of games from the crop here in 2009 that could fill this spot, but in my opinion, Aion has the best chance.

Aion is a game designed to appeal to number of different player types: PvP, RvR, PvE, RP and others. Then, you’ve got the fact that NCsoft North America needs Aion to be a success on this side of the world. This first major launch since the cancellation of the company’s previous flagship title, Tabula Rasa, has a lot riding on its shoulders and NCsoft didn’t gain a reputation as one of the premiere publishers on this side of the world by letting opportunities pass them by in a pinch.

The real reason that I put Aion on the top of the heap though is probably the fact that it has the advantage of being a rare imported game that was designed with our market in mind. So often, Western games are marred by buggy launches that take at least a few patches to work out, losing at least some players in the process. Then, after some time has gone by we see news that the same game has launched in an Eastern market or two, more polished and more completed than it was for us. With Aion, the roles are reversed and lessons can be learned on players from another market. Maybe that’s just the shot in the arm this game needs to gain the kind of popularity that will see it on the Top 10 charts in 2012.

#9: A Superhero Based Game (DC, Marvel, or Champions)

You know what. I like the view from up here on the fence, thank you very much. With three next generation titles from experienced, successful studios about to ratchet up the men-in-tights wars, there’s just a good chance that one of them is going to take off. Which one really has the winning formula though, remains to be seen.

First, you’ve got Champions Online from Cryptic Studios, the people that pioneered MMOs with tights and capes, making a name for themselves with what might very well be the singular most impressive character creation system in the history of the genre.

Next, you’ve got DC Universe. With the star power of classic heroes like Superman and Batman, the ability to play both good and evil characters and an interesting action-based combat system DC Universe could have some serious staying power.

Then there’s the Marvel-based game from the folks at Gazillion, which we know nothing about. By the time 2012 rolls around, Marvel Online (if it’s launched) could be the new kid on the block, presumably sleeker, faster and certainly newer option of the three.

#8: World of Darkness

When CCP announced that they had merged with pen and paper mainstay White Wolf back in 2006, it was a foregone conclusion that the product of the unholy union between Vikings and Vampires would be a horror based MMORPG making use of White Wolf’s World of Darkness IP.

Since the announcement, the merged company has been tight-lipped about the upcoming project, which has left MMO watchers to speculate over everything from the design decisions surrounding the game to when it might see the light of day.

Documents found back at the beginning of the year place the game’s launch in 2010, but I’m going to go out on a limb and project a date closer to mid to late 2011. CCP had devoted a good deal of its staff to EVE Online and it’s unclear how production is progressing. So, with a late 2011 launch date, the game is perfectly situated to be among the top ten games of 2012.

Still, launch date alone doesn’t guarantee any game a spot at the top, more justification is needed. In that spirit I offer the idea that the popularity of the gothic horror genre is once again on the rise. Combine that with a rich and interesting IP that already has so many gaming fans worldwide and it’s enough to get anyone’s interest going. Add to that the thought that, being an MMO made by a company that got famous on the back of an open world sandbox MMO, World of Darkness Online is a prime candidate to please the old school sandbox crowd, and you’ve got a game not only to watch, but that will certainly be on the rise in 2012.

#7: EVE Online

When I put EVE Online on my list of games with potential, I caught a lot of flack for it. How could a game that was already six years old have any potential in it? Now that I’m granting the space-based “sci-fi simulation” MMO a spot on my top ten games of 2012, I expect more of the same, but I stand by my decision.

Over its six year life span, EVE Online has been impressive in its growth, not only in subscriber numbers (it’s one of the very few MMOs to show an upward subscriber trend over time), but also in the scope of the game and what it has added over time: new tech, factional warfare, a complete and impressive graphical overhaul, wormholes, just as recent examples.

The developers of EVE have said that their original intent was, as stated above, to create a live and interactive sci-fi simulator. Ships, combat and trading were just the building blocks for a much larger concept whose next step is the long promised Walking in Stations project that will, assuming it’s been completed by 2012 (and that’s no guarantee based on how long fans have already been waiting), dramatically expand the game. By 2012, it’s even possible that the developers will have expanded into planetary exploration and / or other necessities of a full-blown sci-fi game and if they do that, they may very well have created an MMO that actually has something for everyone. Why wouldn’t it be a contender in another three years?

#6: All Points Bulletin

I know that some of you out there are going to say that we’ve been giving too much attention to the upcoming game from the folks at Realtime Worlds that promises to be the, at least, spiritual MMO successor to the phenomenally popular Grand Theft Auto franchise, but I think we’ve been spot on in seeing this game’s potential.

This time though, APB has made my list not because of the possibilities that exist in an open world GTA-esque MMORPG, though those possibilities are impressive. Instead, it’s the possibilities of medium that could see this game enjoy real success into 2012. Specifically, I’m referring to the game’s potential to launch successfully not only for the PC, but also for the Xbox 360.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The first MMO that really performs at a high level on a console will ensure its success for years to come. There’s a whole new world out there kid, and if you think MMO companies aren’t salivating looking at the numbers associated with Xbox and its XBL program the you’ve been drinking the PC Kool-Aid.

The style of game is already familiar to Xbox fans who are used to jumping into GTA multiplayer and has been designed to rely on VOIP, not keyboards. Traditional MMOs require a bit too much input to be translated effectively. Action games are much more suited to that big white controller.

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