#4 – Club Penguin (link)
Launched on October 25th, 2005 by New Horizon, Club Penguin may have completely changed the way a lot of people look at MMOs in much the same way WoW did. They had to have been doing something right. Disney bought New Horizon for $350 million in 2007.
Club Penguin is a browser based supported by microtransactions, advertising and subscription options that also promotes itself as free to play.
The game was developed to provide young children, from ages 6 to 14, a social online world that is truly safe for them to enjoy. The original team and later Disney have paid close attention to this and worked diligently to ensure that they protect their core audience from inappropriate content.
The result has been a smash hit that, for a time, was one of the “it” toys out there. It went beyond regular MMO circles and captured a very wide audience. Even some grown-ups confess to playing.
Its browser based client, aim at children, cute play style and focus on mini-games became a template that a whole sea of MMOs followed in the years to come. Nonetheless, Club Penguin remains one of the best.
#3 – Wizard 101 (link)
No one thought much of it when Kingsisle Entertainment put out Wizard 101 on September 2nd, 2008. This is the highest ranked “kids game” on the list, and generally picks up where games like Club Penguin leave off.
Players find themselves in a fictional Wizardry school – sound familiar? – and sets players off in quests to foil the plots of the evil Malistaire Drake.
The setting is – with all apologies to Kingsisle – a shamless Harry Potter rip off, but while that no doubt helped generate some interest among fans who have yet to get their Harry Potter MMO, the game’s depth, attention to detail and sheer fun factor have kept gamers young and old enthralled.
Wizard101 has become the new “it” game of indy circles. It was developed by a small independent company, didn’t have a larger budget, or a huge marketing campaign. Nonetheless, they succeeded and put together one of the most solid games on the market. Now, their success speaks for itself.
Wizard 101 is the top ranked kids game on our list.
#2 – Guild Wars (link)
On April 26th, 2005 NCsoft put out Guild Wars. To this day, some argue whether or not we should even consider it an MMORPG, but setting that aside, it is likely the most commercially successful MMO since WoW.
Unlike virtually all AAA North American MMOs at the time, Guild Wars has no microtransactions or subscription fees. Instead, at a time when many were yelling that brick and mortar box sales were dying, NCsoft relied on the sales of the initial game and its follow-up stand-alone expansion packs to fuel profits.
The game has had millions of players, strong sales, three updates and a sequel on the way. And despite all that, curiously, no one has tried another title that mimicked its business approach.
Guild Wars is a highly instanced game, which features cooperative quests, PvP battles and many of the hallmarks of an MMO. It does, however, lack some others. Regardless, this hard to categorize game has definitely made a strong mark on the MMO landscape.
#1 – Lord of the Rings Online (link)
Turbine had a can’t miss intellectual property in their back pocket when they launched Lord of the Rings Online on April 24th, 2007. Despite this, not even the mother of all fantasy IPs could match the success of World of Warcraft. That doesn’t, however, mean that they didn’t make a really fun game.
LotRO is an MMO player’s MMO. It’s got classes, levels, areas to explore and lots, and lots of Elves. Turbine did a fantastic job of honoring the source material. Their world may not match everyone’s mind’s eye vision of Middle-earth, but it’s definitely a great attempt.
They also developed a very story driven game and did a masterful job of navigating around the fact that the players cannot themselves be Gandalf or Frodo. It’s a game that makes the player feel like they contributed to the larger, more famous goals of the books and movies without disrespecting those stories.
It’s well paced, well thought out, has fun quests, good innovations, an inviting world, and enough new wrinkles to make it interesting. It may not be the biggest MMO ever, but no matter how big the IP, MMO fans wouldn’t have stuck with it this long had it not done a few things right.
Lord of the Rings Online already has one expansion under its belt (Mines of Moria) and has another on the way this winter (Siege of Mirkwood).