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
4) Eve Online
5) Final Fantasy XI
6) The Lord of the Rings Online
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.