Fat Loot: The 10 Most Revenuetastic MMOs

By Alec Meer on March 24th, 2009 at 4:43 pm.

Being the arrogant know-it-alls that we all are, it’s rather too easy to make knee-jerk suppositions about the state of the MMO market, but recent research by Screen Digest (via the BBC, via RPS-chum Dan Gril) suggests it’s in ruder health than is sometimes supposed. Currently, the industry is growing, despite last year looking, from afar, a wee bit disastrous for anything that wasn’t Warcraft. In the US and Europe, there was a jump of some 22%. At a guess, that’s got something to do with growing broadband adoption and the increasing take-up of MMOs by formerly non-habitual gamers. Also that not enough people are bored of elves yet.

Coming out of this is also a top 10 of MMOs, and it’s a slightly surprising one.

What’s interesting is that it isn’t ordered by subscriber/user numbers, but by player spending. It is, in hindsight, a sensible and obvious way to look at the market, but it changes what we thought we knew quite a bit. Games that we often consider to be dwindinling (e.g. Conan, City of Heroes, Everquest II…) are, when squinted at like this, actually doing pretty well by dint of their fairly highly monthly subscription fees. £9/$9 times a couple of hundred thousand is, after all, pretty good money, so long as the server and staffing costs don’t eat it it all. Here’s the run-down, pop-pickers:

1) World of Warcraft
2) Club Penguin
3) RuneScape
4) Eve Online
5) Final Fantasy XI
6) The Lord of the Rings Online
7) Dofus
8) Age of Conan
9) City of Heroes
10) EverQuest II

The bottom three are the surprises, but number 2, Club Penguin, is a bit of a puzzler too. Or, at least, it is in terms of most of the RPS Hivemind having never previously heard of it. Granted, as Kieron noted earlier we receive chummy-aggressive emails like “why no love for [random reader's cause celebre]?” about something or other we’ve missed on a daily basis, but it’s especially odd that something so big can pass under our sporadic mutual radar. Or maybe it’s just that the promise that we can “waddle around and meet new friends” sounds a little too much games industry press events for comfort.

It’s a kid-orientated Disney effort, and like many rugrat-pleasers offers the choice of a limited free account or a bells’n'whistles-endowed monthly subscription. RuneScape, which you probably have heard of, is a similar deal, but for a slightly older audience.

Warhammer Online isn’t, apparently, in there because its Winter 2008 launch means it was too late into this survey to make the chart, but Screendigest predict it making the number 3 spot next year. This is presuming its already-reduced userbase doesn’t dwindle too much by then, anyway. And will Conan make it to another year? Before today, the smart money would have said no, but going on this it still seems profitable enough to keep going a while longer.

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57 Comments »

  1. teo says:

    Age of Conan? Really?

    Glad to see EVE doing so well though

  2. unclelou says:

    The bottom three are the surprises, but number 2, Club Penguin, is a bit of a puzzler too. Or, at least, it is in terms of most of the RPS Hivemind having never previously heard of it.

    I think I’ve heard of it once in a similarly surprising article, but immediately forgot about it afterwards. I shall now investigate what it actually is.

    /waddles away

  3. CakeAddict says:

    I’ve never heard of club penguin either.. I’m also surprised that age of conan is in there.
    It couldn’t hold my attention with the mountains of bugs and flaws it had..

  4. Bob says:

    No Warhammer? Thought it was meant to be doing ok

  5. Azhrarn says:

    @Bob: read the last few lines of the article. ;)

    Warhammer isn’t on the list because it came out to late in the year to be taken into account for the data. They simply didn’t have enough data for it.

  6. the Dude says:

    it is apparently: “Warhammer Online isn’t, apparently, in there because its Winter 2008 launch means it was too late into this survey to make the chart, but Screendigest predict it making the number 3 spot next year.”

  7. Deadpan says:

    I thought Warhammer was dying a slow death, at least according to ‘these are indicators of a dying MMO’ layed out be a producer of said MMO before said MMO came out.

  8. Markoff Chaney says:

    Wow. This was surprising, even with your explanations listed in the game. I bet WAR pops up in there next year (unless it dies outright, I mean, Conan is on there from last year and, by all accounts, she’s done) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Runes of Magic take off too.

    Club Penguin I’ve heard of once, somewhere. I don’t think it was a dream, at least. I think the god sons tried it once and then it was gone, and they were back to RuneScape.

  9. one eve player says:

    the only thing that can kill eve is the continuos cheating by CCP in behalf of the BoB alliance, there have been some things in the past, and now, they have been given a change of name, for free, the rules of the game are to disband their former alliance (KenZoku) – lose all their current sovereignity and PAY the billion isk needed to make the new alliance, CCP has given them a name change bypassing all those steps, damn they even gave them a name that surpases the character limit on alliance names lol, new name? Band of Brothers Reloaded

  10. Rook says:

    I’d love to know how GuildWars stacks up against these numbers, I still see boxed copies for it in every store so new people must still be putting down their £10 or so.

  11. James says:

    WoW at No.1? Didn’t see that coming!

  12. schizoslayer says:

    I’m guessing this list isn’t actually including alot of Korean/Chinese MMO’s which makes me doubt how big WoW’s lead is on this chart as over 2/3 of it’s subscribers are in China.

    Oh it’ll still be top discounting those as they make up less than 2/3 of it’s revenue but y’know. Not quite as top.

  13. catska says:

    This should be called ‘The 10 Profitable PC games’.

  14. Cooper says:

    @ one eve player
    That seems little problem to me. There’s no harm in developers helping long standing players stay in the game. IF there was clear indication that they weren’t being even handed with it, fine. But helping things along – is that not the point of a GM?

  15. Ginger Yellow says:

    John Davison has talked quite a lot about Club Penguin on the 1Up podcasts (and presumably the What They Play podcast, but I don’t listen to it).

  16. Sithinious says:

    I’m not suprised to see CoH on the list. I actually thought it’d be a bit higher up.

  17. one eve player says:

    @cooper
    please don’t be silly man, you don’t know what are you talking about, now there is CSM petition to disband that alliance with the most support any petition has had ever, now, GMs are there to help players, GMs are not there to bend the rules so some players can get a huge profit out of that while the rest have to strictly abide by them
    BoB lost his name and their whole region by having been beaten in the game using legal game mechanics in all accounts. CCP has made a dire mistake by allowing someone in their staff to bypass game rules in such a stupid way

  18. Adrian says:

    oh man i remember playing ultima online back in the days n all i can say about the “new” MMO’s is:

    I don’t understand why people fall for them.
    everything you can do in world of warcraft you were able to do in ultima online years ago. i mean these games have not brought one single innovation in the past years except that the graphics increased slightly (i just can’t imagine how much it must suck to spend your day starring at those fugly wow graphics)
    I don’T get it, the graphics suck, the combat animations suck (why can’T they ever make an mmo with sweet combat animations?) so all there is left is this small slowly increasing number that shows how much of you life and your money you wasted on this game.
    uh yeah i forgot about the huuge social part of this game at least the people playing mmo’s find “freal” friends

  19. PaulMorel says:

    It’s funny how older, NES-generation gamers forget that little kids play videogames too.

    Lets be honest, if Club Penguin existed when we were 6 – 10 ish, we probably would have played it.

    And remember how much you played Contra/Final Fantasy/Street Fighter 2? Apparently, that’s how much kids play Club Penguin.

    Oy. I feel old.

  20. MacBeth says:

    Club Penguin’s barely an MMO at all (subject to your definition of MMO of course). It’s the major player in kids-oriented online ‘communities’ – the company I work for has a small-but-rapidly-growing competing community.

    There’s no RPG element to it all, certainly. Sure you have an avatar but it’s only barely customiseable, and there’s no levelling, progress, quests, ranking or anything like that. Lots of minigames, but mostly it’s for chatting to other users. You can call that an MMO if you want, but to me it doesn’t count, and it clearly sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other 9 listed….

  21. bobphile says:

    Surprised you haven’t heard of Club Penguin.

    You don’t remember when Disney shelled out $800 MILLION for what is essentially a flash chat room with penguins?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_Penguin

  22. Xercies says:

    Runescape is quite good for a free game, it even has a better crafting system then most real MMOs which is kind of weird. Though it is full of teens and I think they borked their system with one update now.

    @Adrian

    I guess because a lot of these people have never played Ultima Online, and actually its worse then Ultima Online since theres never any threat of losing your possessions. Its basically a theme park ride which you keep going on every month. And some people really love theme park rides.

    @one eve player

    That thread has most of the posts missing.

  23. Persus-9 says:

    Seems like it’s not so much most profitable as most revenue generating.

    So just because AoC is the 8th most revenue generating doesn’t mean it’s profitable if the running costs are too high. I’d have thought it would still be making a profit but I’d bet good money it wouldn’t come in at 8th on the most profitable list after all it’s an attempted triple A title so it’s running costs must surely be a lot higher than average.

  24. Some Guy says:

    club penguine doesn’t supprise me as it has the whole mini clip market and the young girls (10-12) playing it. its not realy an MMO.

    same with runescape, it mostly gets children, but its addictive and has free to paly for those that cant play other MMos

  25. Andrew says:

    Profit isn’t revenue. The analysis that they did was for player-sourced revenue…

    Hugely important distinction (and one that makes Club Penguin and RuneScape look even better…)

  26. Nezz says:

    I’m surprised Habbo Hotel isn’t on the list. It used to be Raph Koster’s favourite example of a greatly successful MMO nobody has heard of.

  27. Shamanic Miner says:

    I was hoping ” Club Penguin ” would be a biscuit game, Mcvities Vs Jacobs in an industry tycoon type thing.

    Not to be confused with “the biscuit game” which is when a load of soldiers stand round in a a circle and battle it out to see who can….

  28. Rocktart says:

    I know some school kids and Club Penguin is huge with them, bigger than Star Wars stickers were when I was young.

  29. Ian says:

    “I was hoping ” Club Penguin ” would be a biscuit game, Mcvities Vs Jacobs in an industry tycoon type thing.”

    ……………………………………..

    Make that game, please.

  30. Bob says:

    Note to self, read the whole thing before posting numb nuts!

  31. Trespasser says:

    What about Lineage 2 or Guild Wars?
    Two of the most popular titles from NCSOFT.

    It’s surprising to see Dofus or Club Penguin doing better.

  32. one eve player says:

    @Xercies
    ppl in that thread does vote for support, that is the meaning of the thumbs up icon next to their picture, no need to write anything

  33. M.P. says:

    How is “player spending” defined? I’ve read the BBC source and it’s equally nebulous, not specifying whether “spending” just means “subscription spending” and in-game microtransactions with real currency, or if it also includes the outlay for the initial box purchase. Screen Digest don’t say and the wording on the report’s contents is equivocal: one chart is entitled “consumer spending on subscription MMOGs”, which implies box purchase is included, but another is entitled “consumer spending ON SUBSCRIPTIONS excluding WoW” [emphasis mine].

    So which one is it? Anyone got some inside knowledge? I suspect that it might be just subs and in-game spending, because, by my very rough maths, if you counted income from box sales as well then Conan would’ve been on par if not ahead of Eve: they sold 750,000 copies – even if you counted 300,000 subs for the first 3 months and 100,000 for the last 3 that would still push it ahead of Eve’s 300,000 subs (and, presumably, very low income from boxed sales) for the whole year!

    Regarding Club Penguin, I’m proud to say I’ve had not one, but TWO accounts to this fabulous MMO, although I’ve had to close them for personal reasons.*

    And on a final note, the title is misspelt: any of my Club Penguin guildies would be able to tell you it’s supposed to be “ph4t l3wt”, naturally!

    *Some American woman with the same surname and initial as mine has been handing around MY email address (initial.surname@gmail.com) as her own for a couple of years now, and her two daughters each opened an account to Club Penguin a couple of months ago. I got a confirmation email from Disney, as apparently you have to list a parent/guardian to open an account. Naturally I refused to confirm. I felt a bit shitty, as I imagine those little girls running up to their mommy in tears screaming “WHY DID YOU DELETE OUR PENGUINS????” :)

  34. Arathain says:

    I’m certainly not surprised to see City of Heroes there. I’ve seen comments about it’s dwindling on RPS before, but I assume that must be the European servers. US servers range pleasantly from busy to peaceful. The development staff has been expanding and there’s been a ton of good stuff added over the past while.

  35. Dolphan says:

    I know of Club Penguin! My girlfriend used to babysit on occasion for an eight year-old boy/creature of pure evil. Apparently the aforementioned game was one of the only ways of getting him to stop screaming abuse for any reasonable period of time.

  36. malkav11 says:

    Well. You are correct that I have never played Ultima Online, in part -because- of the rather high possibility of lost time and effort, which I have never, ever seen as a draw. I am more ashamed to admit that I’ve never even played the offline Ultimas. But MMO design has -certainly- advanced since those days, becoming vastly more player friendly and offering much more carefully crafted experiences to explore. The theme park analogy isn’t entirely unfair, but people like them for a reason – it’s a lot easier to have fun.

    And personally, I like the old class/level system a lot better than (if not necessarily exclusive of) a skill-based setup.

  37. Hyoscine says:

    My seven year old cousin is well into Club Penguin. Under tens are all over it. Not quite so sure how they manage to fund anything though.

  38. Clovis says:

    I’ve totally never heard of Dofus before. Even after looking at their website and the wiki, I’m still confused. Looks like a game for furries. I have heard of Club Penguin though. I was surprised to see Runescape on there.

  39. Jambe says:

    That’s pretty neat, actually. I’m glad EVE is up there a ways.

    @the BoB stuff: I wonder how many “yes” votes in that thread are from members of the Something Awful forum?

  40. Dizet Sma says:

    My eldest daughter was obsessed by Club Penguin and even had a 6 month subscription. Once she got into double figures and into ‘big school’ other social networks took over.

  41. Colin Hansen says:

    I’m surprised FFXI is up there. I played that way back in the day, thought it had long failed since then.

  42. Anthony Damiani says:

    Trespasser– Re: Guild Wars: This is a list of top revenue-earners in 2008. GW’s model front-loads their payoff, with spikes from periodic expansions– none of which were released in 2008.

  43. egg says:

    Go EVE go!

  44. Psychopomp says:

    Dofus is a MMO Strategy RPG.

    that is all.

  45. M.P. (the Penguinslayer) says:

    Actually, even though the last GW expansion was released in Q4 07, they’ve been pushing the games pretty aggressively since then and I’ve often seen them in the top-20 lists in lots of offline and online retailers. That’s another reason why I suspect this only counts subscription revenue, not box sales.

  46. Muppet-slayer says:

    The only reason why EVE (played that for four years myself, thank you very much) is up there is the outrageously inflated monthly subscription fee – for a game that you basically need to create yourself once you’ve paid for the privilege.

    And concerning BOBR: I’d rather suggest CCP start renaming loads of corps and chars to something halfway sensible while they’re at it. Maybe just copy the names from the Club Penguin puffle name database. Please tell me you can name your puffles…

  47. Zombie Konky Dong says:

    Glad to see LotRO up there. That game deserves more success than it has gotten.

  48. Bremze says:

    Hmm, why is Maplestory missing from that list? I dont believe its making less than Age of Conan.

  49. C&C / RS / BF fan says:

    Why in the world did Club Penguin get in 2nd???
    ( it must be all of the kids who beg their parents to pay for them lol.)