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My 2015 Year To Date MMOG Power Rankings

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
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7. Star Citizen

If you don't regard Star Citizen as enough of an MMOG to be eligible for inclusion in this article, fine. But again, it's my list, and I've decided to use a fairly lenient definition of the category. It's no secret that I think accessible space flight is another concept with the potential to spawn a notable hit. Back in the day, the Wing Commander series was among my favorites, one of only a very few non-RPG IPs. So, when news about Chris Roberts' plan to make Star Citizen came out, I was pretty excited.  Things got even more interesting when the project's efforts to raise money started to bring in amounts that were hard to believe.

This is another game that wouldn't have made the list if the criterion had just been how much it has been in the news this year. Perhaps curiously, a primary reason for its inclusion is that it has been considerably less visible than I think a crowdfunded project should be. I don't need or want an accounting of every paper clip bought and used, but I'd be a whole lot more comfortable had I seen enough information to make me confident the $75 million or so is being well-spent. That question has been niggling at me for a few months now.

6. Final Fantasy XI

Yes, I do mean XI, not XIV. I picked it for rather sentimental reasons. Since Square Enix announced in March that there will be a final main scenario spread across three parts this year, then only bug and balance fixes thereafter, it has been on my mind quite a lot. To be honest, while I certainly didn't dislike it, FFXI never rated among my all-time favorites to play. It did, however, earn a significant place in the annals of MMOG history while also playing a major role in improving my understanding of the category.

I was and still am mainly a PC gamer. So, it had my doubts as to how well MMOGs would work on consoles. FFXI showed me that the issues I was concerned with could be overcome. It also convinced me of the genuine potential to reach sizable audiences on other platforms. Actually, while I don't say so often, it has disappointed me for years that MMOGs have been so slow to penetrate the console market. Last month's news brought this back to the forefront for me.

5. Star Wars Galaxies

Continuing the nostalgia theme, the SOE / LucasArts joint effort has been in my thoughts pretty often over the past while, this despite the fact it shut down near the end of 2011. One the scale of “what might have been”, SWG ranks as quite possibly my biggest disappointment. When it was announced, I immediately thought it could be the MMOG to take the category to a new level of popularity. Obviously, it fell well short of this dream scenario.

The reason SWG appears on this list is that two of the principals behind it, Raph Koster and Gordon Walton, decided it was time to share some of what went on behind the scenes that led to the game being what and how it was. I had some inklings, mostly from reading between the lines in various articles and communications over the years. While it turns out my intuition wasn't bad, I'm pleased to have much more actual knowledge about what happened to the game and why instead of continuing to assume and guess.

4. Crowfall

Walton and Koster are also associated with this project. That alone would be more than enough to capture and hold my attention. They are among the people from whom I learned the most about how to design, develop and operate an MMOG. That being said, ArtCraft Entertainment's crowdfunded endeavor is pretty interesting in its own right. From what we know so far, the concept incorporates a lot of thought and creativity and maybe, just maybe, it's makers are willing to push some boundaries.

At this point, I'm supposed to remind myself of the caveat that having cool ideas is much easier than successfully implementing them. So warned, I'm still excited. I'm also pleased that the company has been more open than most about its funding picture. And I'm very eager to see what Walton, partner Todd Coleman and their team can do with a smallish budget and a concept that doesn't aim to be all things to all people.

3. Skyforge

Within the RPG sector of the industry, Feargus Urquhart is right up there with the developers I most respect. So, one reason I'm tremendously intrigued and keen to see how Skyforge will turn out is the participation of the company he has led since 2003, Obsidian. Another is that the Russian-based primary studio, Allods Team, was responsible for one of the best-known western F2P MMORPGs, Allods Online. I'm very interested to see how visible Obsidian's contribution is, and how much it helps the new project to feel less foreign to North American players.

For reasons that must be subconscious (witness I can't even explain them to myself), the concept of a game wherein I play as a god has always appealed to me (even though it reminds me I'm not one :p). Over the past few months, it has become clear that the design incorporates a number of elements that are potentially quite interesting. I don't have enough hands-on experience to comment on how well the parts actually come together as a whole. As Skyforge gets closer to release, my interest level is definitely ramping up to see.

2. WildStar

Before it launched, I set the over-under at two years for WildStar to change its revenue model. As we near the halfway point, the rumor mill has grown increasingly active with rumblings that it will happen soon, granted none are particularly credible. On the other hand, it's certainly not hard to construct a believable scenario that points toward a switch, especially considering the title's CREDD system already provides a way to buy playing time for in-game currency.

More importantly, WildStar reviewed pretty well but clearly hasn't attracted a large audience. Personally, I thought it didn't get the visibility I expected over the months leading up to release. In any case, we have a good MMOG that no longer has the appeal of being shiny and new. NCsoft has tried a couple of forms of free trials since January. Predictably, they seem to have had only a limited effect. So, the only bullet left in the clip would seem to be changing how the game is monetized. What I've been wondering for a while now is when the company will fire it.

1. The Elder Scrolls Online

Although TESO has a lot of players, it's basically impossible not to regard it as an under-performer. It received mostly mediocre reviews, which was unsurprising given it launched with a number of questionable design elements. This led to foreseeable issues that, while many have been addressed since then, shouldn't have arisen in the first place. The jury is still out on whether and how much the game has damaged its underlying IP.

TESO has been front and center in my awareness for much of the last four months for a couple of main reasons. One is how the team is continuing to change and improve it. The new, subscription-optional business model implemented in March, seemingly in anticipation of the console release this summer, is of particular interest. So is the big question of how it will be received by PS4 and Xbox One players. For what it's worth, I'm guardedly optimistic.

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Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.