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Five Under the Radar MMOs

Jon Wood Posted:
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In the world of video game journalism, it's all about the next big thing. When you're trying to bring your readers the freshest and most up-to-date information on what's going on in the world of MMORPGs, not to mention drive traffic to the site, the bulk of your focus has to be on what's coming up. Such is the way of MMORPG sites and of the MMO consuming public as well.

In the rush for the next thing, it's inevitable that some games fall through the cracks and don't get talked about as much in the public eye, not because they've been canceled or because no one is playing them, or even because they're bad games, they just, for whatever reason, fell off the radar.

In this week's list, we take a look at five games that have slipped off of the collective radars of media and community alike:

#5 Runescape

Last week, I had the privilege of being invited to a local middle school to speak with some of the students about what exactly it is that I do for a living. While I was there, I was surprised to learn just how many of the students that I had spoken to have played or currently do play Runescape. I mean, it's not on the level of, say, World of Warraft, which remains the most visible emissary of MMOs to pretty much every age group, but it was the second most recognized game in the room. It's perfect fodder for this week's list.

Launched in 2001, the game has gone through numerous updates and changes, but still looks notably dated when compared to the games available today. So, if it doesn't look stunning, what is it about this game that makes it stand out and command the attention of so many ninth graders, and presumably many others as well.

My first thought was to look to the fact that the game doesn't require a subscription fee in order to play it, but there are plenty of games out there with flashier graphics and glitzier marketing campaigns, so that can't be it entirely.

What it really comes down to is the experience that is offered to players, paying or not. Runescape is a game that carries an impressive list of features that many of today's MMOers are desperate for, including a skill system, the option for full loot PvP, random events, and more.

It might also surprise readers who would dismiss this game as irrelevant to learn that it is actually available in German, French and Brazilian Portuguese.

#4 Ryzom

Ryzom is a great example of a game that broke many barriers in the world of MMORPGs, and really never seemed to get the credit or attention that it deserved. The game, launched in 2004, took the traditional fantasy MMORPG and really turned it on its ear by not representing any of the races and other conventions that make fantasy games so recognizable. More importantly than that though, the French developed game also stood out in terms of gameplay.

Ryzom was designed to use the classless skill system that seems to resonate with players as a desirable feature in an MMO instead favoring a skill system and level combo that allowed more flexibility with characters.

On top of that, while City of Heroes caused a great deal of stir around the industry by releasing their Mission Architect system, they were by far not the first company to put mission or scenario design in the hands of a game's players. Ryzom actually beat them to it by a few years with the game's expansion, The Ryzom Ring.

Ryzom Ring provided players with a number of easy to use development tools that let them shape events, create scenarios and upload them for others to play.

Unfortunately, the game itself has always seemed to slip past the attention of both players and journalists except where it highlights failures along the way. In November of 2006, Nevrax (the development company) announced that it would be entering receivership. From there, ownership of the game bounced around until the game was closed down in 2008, only to defy the odds and be resurrected once again.

#3 MapleStory

It's easy to look at a company like Nexon and dismiss it out of hand as a non-factor in the western MMORPG landscape. After all, they are producing free to play games, a genre which, at least until recently, has been ignored or ridiculed by most of the mainstream press and vocal community.

The thing is though, that Maplestory has been a huge draw both in terms of revenue for the company and for players overall. In the North American market since 2005 the game has served as a cornerstone for Nexon's Western strategy and has been joined by Combat Arms and Mabinogi.

During the current economic crisis, when reports of layoffs and poor game performance have at times dominated the MMORPG news headlines, Nexon has managed to see their overall revenues jump 36 % in Q3 2009. Not too shabby.

Yet, MapleStory, as a 2D, side-scrolling MMORPG, has managed to slip through the cracks and doesn't always get the attention and possible praise that its position and success would indicate that it should.

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Jon Wood