The ever-evolving history of MMORPGs is a fascinating one. Sometimes I almost feel like MMOs are more fun to analyze than they are to play. It’s a complex story that could fill volumes, but for today, let’s just take a look at some of the biggest turning points in the history of MMOs.
The true origin of the MMO genre is debatable. You could trace it all the way back to analogue tabletop RPGs, and perhaps even farther back from there. But the birth of online RPGs likely lies with the Multi-User Dungeon, or MUD.
MUDs were text-based games originally running over small, pre-Internet networks such as those at universities.The term was christened by Roy Trubshaw, a student at the University of Essex. Development of his “Multi-User Dungeon” game was later given over to Richard Bartle, and if you’re active in the MMO community, you’re sure to recognize that name.
When the Internet began to spread, MUDs became more accessible, and eventually served as the inspiration for the first generation of MMORPGs.
Early Graphical MMOs:
Again, we can argue about where exactly the story of graphical online games begins. Meridian 59 is credited by some as the first, while Ultima Online was where the concept began to gain significant popularity. It was the first game to be described with the term “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game.”
This was soon followed by many other graphical MMOs. The most famous would probably be 1999’s EverQuest, which served as an inspiration for many of the games the followed.
WoW and Its Clones:
There is an eternally raging debate over whether World of Warcraft is the best or the worst thing (or perhaps both) that ever happened to the MMO genre. The one thing everyone can agree on is that WoW changed everything.
In the early days, MMOs had achieved a respectable level of success, with playerbases measured in the thousands. But WoW blew all that out of the water. It parlayed the brand recognition of Blizzard Entertainment, more accessible mechanics, reduced grind, and the increasing prevalence of high speed Internet connections into a perfect recipe for success, achieving a previously unimaginable level of popularity.
WoW eventually peaked at around twelve million players worldwide, a population greater than that of some nations. While it’s popularity has shrunken significantly since then, even now it remains more successful and more populous than the large majority of its competition.
The success of WoW created ripple effects throughout the genre. Everyone wanted a bite of that pie, and developers spent years churning out MMO after MMO that sought to emulate World of Warcraft. It was the era of the dreaded WoW clone. But these games often lacked personality, and none of them ever rose to rival the success of the game they so desperately sought to imitate.
The Free to Play Revolution:
For a long time, if you wanted to play an MMORPG, you had to pay a monthly subscription. That’s just how it worked. Oh, sure, there were a few exceptions. Anarchy Online began offering a free to play option back in 2004, and the original Guild Wars was buy to play from its launch in 2005. But those were mostly considered oddball outliers.
Things began to change in a big way when Dungeons and Dragons Online relaunched as a free to play title in 2009. Previously struggling, it saw a huge uptick in both players and revenues, and the world began to take notice.
Before long, big name MMOs were dropping their subscriptions left, right, and center, from Star Wars: The Old Republic, to Lord of the Rings Online, to Aion. At first this was seen as an act of desperation made only by dying games, but as the years went by and subscription games became an ever shrinking minority, it started to just be normal.
Nowadays, subscriptions are the exception rather than the norm, and most new games are free to play or buy to play.
Maturity and Diversification:
That brings us to the modern day. The MMO genre has matured and stabilized. New releases are not so common as they once were, but there is more variety, more creativity. Gone are the days of WoW clones. Nowadays MMOs, MMO lite games, online co-ops, MOBAs, and battle royales all simmer together into a diverse melting pot.
Common, pointless banter between gamers who prefer different genres. But really, who is the most casual and most hardcore about their gaming? It’s time for another research post to find out.
Today, I’m asking “out of the active player base, how frequently do the players actually play the game?” This is a PC only test because Steam Spy and Steam Charts makes gathering data easy, but console numbers likely follow suit.
Boring Sciencey Stuff
Skip to the next section if you just want to see the results.
Methodology: For each genre, select 3 popular games, limited to titles at least one month old if possible (to limit newness/hype influencing results). I’ll use Steam Spy to determine active number of players (calculated by those who have played the game in the last 2 weeks). Then I’ll divide the average number of players in the past 30 days on Steam Charts by the active player count to determine the game’s play rate. This ratio will be assessed alongside average and median playtimes on Steam Spy to determine which genre’s playerbases play the most/least frequently.
Flaws: Comparing average player count over 30 days to active players over 2 weeks will produce higher ratios for newer games. Major updates will skew numbers. As a solution to these two flaws, I’ll take the median results for each genre to assess dedication level. Free to play games may also exhibit different behavior compared to paid games. For the most part, each genre trends towards a certain pricing model. However, I will break down analysis further by payment type when appropriate (i.e. paid MMOs vs. free MMOs).
Many multiplayer games also include single player modes. I will only include games for analysis where I believe the vast majority of active players play multiplayer (hence why there are no turn based strategy games listed). Finally, some of the most popular games are not on Steam (Blizzard games, League of Legends, Fortnite, etc.) and thus will not be counted. Nothing I can do about that!
Now, onto the results.
Top 10 Most Dedicated Genre Fans by Play Rate
Play rate percentage in parentheses next to genre, determined by median play rate from the 3 games representing the genre.
Paid MMORPG (8.22%)
Open World Survival (7.71%)
Paid Team FPS (3.62%)
Free MMORPG (3.57%)
Free Vehicle Combat Shooters (2.66%)
Card Games (2.64%)
Fighting Games (2.18%)
Free Team FPS (1.74%)
Top 10 Most Dedicated Genre Fans by Average Playtime
Average playtime in parentheses next to genre, determined by median average playtime from the 3 games representing the genre.
Paid MMORPG (24:17)
Open World Survival (16:42)
Free MMORPG (13:17)
Paid Team FPS (12:02)
Free Vehicle Combat Shooters (9:37)
Card Games (9:14)
Fighting Games (6:54)
Free Team FPS (5:58)
Fun Numbers Stuff
Bolded games represent the median play rate within the genre (and usually the average and median playtime as well).
Paid Team FPS
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege – 83,035 average players / 2,080,536 active players = 3.99% play rate. 13:38 average playtime. 6:17 median playtime.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – 353,874 average players / 9,768,034 active players = 3.62% play rate. 12:02 average playtime. 4:24 median playtime.
Call of Duty: WWII – 5,113 average players / 172,488 active players = 2.96% play rate. 8:35 average playtime. 2:06 median playtime.
Free Team FPS
Team Fortress 2 – 35,949 average players / 1,317,755 active players = 2.72% play rate. 10:12 average playtime. 2:57 median playtime.
Paladins – 15,128 average players / 868,464 active players = 1.74% play rate. 5:58 average playtime. 1:35 median playtime.
Warface – 3,700 average players / 229,437 active players = 1.61% play rate. 5:17 average playtime. 1:06 median playtime.
Free Vehicle Combat Shooters
Crossout – 3,674 average players / 145,657 active players = 2.52% play rate. 7:36 average playtime. 1:12 median playtime.
War Thunder – 12,966 average players / 487,348 active players = 2.66% play rate. 9:37 average playtime. 2:35 median playtime.
World of Tanks – 8,612 average players / 251,340 active players = 3.42% play rate. 11:34 average playtime. 2:55 median playtime.
Open World Survival
ARK: Survival Evolved – 39,088 average players / 507,608 active players = 7.7% play rate. 20:59 average playtime. 5:38 median playtime.
Dark and Light – 676 average players / 8,761 active players = 7.71% play rate. 16:13 average playtime. 2:41 median playtime.
Rust – 29,188 average players / 534,166 active players = 5.46% play rate. 16:42 average playtime. 4:14 median playtime.
Elder Scrolls Online – 9,434 average players / 202,331 active players = 4.66% play rate. 14:50 average playtime. 3:21 median playtime.
Project: Gorgon – 199 average players / 2,418 active players = 8.22% play rate. 24:17 average playtime. 36:17 median playtime.
Final Fantasy XIV – 7,437 average players / 59,686 active players = 12.46% play rate. 42:01 average playtime. 20:14 median playtime.
Warframe – 47,354 average players / 1,017,133 active players = 4.65% play rate. 17:14 average playtime. 4:18 median playtime.
Neverwinter – 2,724 average players / 76,114 active players = 3.57% play rate. 12:33 average playtime. 2:47 median playtime.
TERA – 1,742 average players / 56,401 active players = 3.08% play rate. 13:17 average playtime. 2:10 median playtime.
DOTA 2 – 435,488 average players / 8,281,350 active players = 5.25% play rate. 17:55 average playtime. 8:59 median playtime.
Smite – 8,703 average players / 272,696 active players = 3.19% play rate. 13:40 average playtime. 3:24 median playtime.
Battlerite – 6,320 average players / 548,951 active players = 1.15% play rate. 4:45 average playtime. 1:35 median playtime.
Dragon Ball FighterZ- 2,752 average players / 119,920 active players = 2.29% play rate. 6:08 average playtime. 2:31 median playtime.
Street Fighter V – 1,251 average players / 57,222 active players = 2.18% play rate. 7:44 average playtime. 2:18 median playtime.
Tekken 7 – 1,994 average players / 102,398 active players = 1.94% play rate. 6:54 average playtime. 2:20 median playtime.
Company of Heroes 2 – 4,569 average players / 151,680 active players = 3.01% play rate. 7:57 average playtime. 2:38 median playtime.
Age of Empires II: HD Edition – 9,692 average players / 357,571 active players = 2.71% play rate. 7:35 average playtime. 2:30 median playtime.
Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War – Soulstorm – 563 average players / 30,665 active players = 1.8% play rate. 5:21 average playtime. 1:42 median playtime.
Card Games (CCGs)
Duelyst – 163 average players / 10,404 active players = 1.56% play rate. 3:09 average playtime. 1:57 median playtime.
Shadowverse – 3,011 average players / 113,897 active players = 2.64% play rate. 9:14 average playtime. 2:02 median playtime.
Eternal Card Game – 1,083 average players / 30,391 active players = 3.56% play rate. 11:26 average playtime. 7:05 median playtime.
You might notice popular genres like Battle Royale and ARPGs excluded. Research showed that a lot of ARPG players play solo, and I can’t separate out the numbers. Battle Royale is basically PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS and Fortnite, and I have no data on the latter.
Dealing with paid MMORPGs is a pain. There aren’t that many of them anymore, especially when limited to Steam. Final Fantasy XIV’s higher play rate isn’t surprising since it’s a subscription service, not just buy to play. But even then, Black Desert Online actually had a higher play rate (around 13%) due to all of the AFK players. The AFK nature of that game rendered any analysis pointless. Thus I included Project: Gorgon instead even though it released just 3 weeks ago and on Early Access at that.
Analysis & Conclusion
MMORPGs reign supreme among the most dedicated, hardcore gamers. That’s not too surprising given how many genres have taken from what originated first in MMORPGs in order to hook players’ attentions for longer. Open world survival games and MOBAs join both paid and free MMOs as boasting the longest average playtimes. Open world survival games are essentially MMOs with a bunch of private servers so it’s understandable that their numbers are very similar. The progression in MOBAs is MMORPG-like so their ranking also feels logical.
Perhaps the most interesting note for MOBAs is that longer matches equates to longer average playtimes equates to higher play rates. While match times are fairly similar for other genres, there is a big disparity in MOBAs. Battlerite is a fast game, but it appears more people would rather play a longer DOTA 2 match than 3-4 short Battlerite matches. Additionally, Project: Gorgon and Final Fantasy XIV are more old school – requiring more time to get anything done. Their play rates and playtimes are both fairly healthy. Perhaps being able to login for a quick 10 minute activity isn’t best for a game’s optimal health?
On that note, the correlation between average playtime and play rate is fairly high. Designing gameplay around longer play sessions apparently pulls active players in more frequently. However, it could easily be counter-argued that casual length playtimes will draw in more active players total. So while a game like DOTA 2 may keep the active players around more successfully than Battlerite, Battlerite’s player count is probably boosted because it can more easily be played as a “side game”.
Games that are typically played 1v1 such as CCGs, RTS, and Fighters rank lower on the dedicated scale. The question is whether these genres attract players who seek one-and-done play sessions or that longer play sessions result from friends also playing (“Hey dude, just one more game/quest/etc?”) Perhaps the competitive nature of these genres brings people in as much as it repels them? Without teammates to blame, average playtime could certainly falter.
Card games are the key genre to look for in analyzing how 1v1 games affects player activity. This is the only genre that combines MMO-style progression (new cards, booster packs, p2w microtransactions) with duel-centric gameplay. I think it’s fair to surmise that due to card games ranking below RTS in player dedication that the 1v1 gameplay is a bigger factor than progression.
This leads me to my final conclusion – the number of simultaneous interactions and depth of those interactions are the biggest indicator of a genre’s ability to maintain active players. MMORPGs and survival MMOs dominate the charts and offer players the ability to interact freely and with dozens or hundreds of players at once. Meanwhile, CCGs and Fighters practically cut off communication between players. While developers fear toxic players and gamers certainly dislike them, maybe the potentially good interactions are worth the risk after all?
“I myself merely play female characters sometimes, and many times when I’m on those characters, people assume that I am a woman in real life,” he wrote. I blinked. It was a casual comment in an article that was about something else entirely, but it sparked a thought. You see, Larry Everett’s experience is very different from my own.
“That’s awesome!” I found myself thinking. “Seriously, you are playing a female character and you’re actually addressed as a woman?! People should realize how special this is.” I also thought (because I’m an imperfect human being, like everyone else): “Ha! Now you know what it feels like!”
All my characters are female. However, when typing to strangers in MMOs, 9 out of 10 times they (incorrectly) assume I am male. Now I’m not having sleepless nights over this (which is a good thing, or I’d have developed insomnia), but it does get old pretty fast. I asked other female gamers I know and they reported the same phenomenon.
Player avatars hanging out in the central hub in Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR)
It is striking that Everett’s experience and mine are so different – especially considering we play the same MMO, Star Wars: the Old Republic (SWTOR). It could be that this is partly due to our perception: we are more likely to remember instances in which other players guessed it wrong than in which they guessed it right. But perhaps there’s more to this.
Game scientists have conducted research on the perception of gender in virtual environments. Although there is no data on how often we address others with a certain gender, there is evidence that certain factors affect how we perceive others.
What we do affects who we appear to be
It is possible that gender perception varies depending on our choice of activities in-game. A study from 2010 shows that game genre influences our perception of other players’ gender (Eden et al. 2010). We are more likely to perceive players as male when they’re playing games that are competitive and aggressive (such as shooters) – traditionally masculine associated traits. On the other hand, players are more likely assumed to be female when playing games that are social in nature. It is interesting to note that no relationship between skill level and perceived gender was found.
Although this research focused on gamers playing different game genres, you could extrapolate that the same goes for in-game activities. Perhaps players are more likely to expect male players when taking part in competitive and more aggressive environments such as PvP MMOs and raiding endgames, while they are more likely to expect female players when taking part in social activities, such as role-play. If this is true, it would explain why I’m often assumed to be male – I spend the majority of my time in-game playing endgame.
What we look like affects who we appear to be
Another study found that the degree of masculinity or femininity of an avatar significantly influences perceptions of avatars (Nowak & Rauh 2005). While this study deals with web avatars rather than avatars within multiplayer games, I don’t think it’s unlikely that the same goes for the latter. Judging by his article, Larry Everett spends a lot of time role-playing on his characters (some of which are female) on the fleet, the central player hub in SWTOR. This could explain why he does get addressed as female from time to time. After all, when role-playing, people will be more attentive to character appearances than when you are rushing through hordes of mobs with a pug. In instances where little to no attention to character looks is given, we might be inclined to go with the male default instead.
The nature of gameplay may affect assumed player gender. Screenshot from Star Trek Online (STO)
What we expect affects who we appear to be
Historically, gaming has been the realm of men. Indeed, gaming as a pastime is still associated with boys, violence and masculinity (Bryce & Rutter 2002). You could argue that the tendency to address all players as male is a relic of past times, wherein the vast majority of gamers were male. However, speaking from personal experience, most players seem aware that the MMO populace is more varied nowadays. (A heads up: recent research by Quantic Foundry (2017) found that 16-36% of MMO players are female – varying on the MMO’s setting.) When ten years ago I logged into an MMO and strangers found out I was a woman playing endgame, they were flabbergasted. Now it’s more like “Oh, okay.”
So if most MMO players are aware that both genders play, why do we tend to address strangers with “he”? My guess is that it has to do with the persisting perception of the male gender as the default in modern western culture. Let me explain with an example outside of the realm of gaming.
A couple of years ago, I took part in a university course. At one point, a classmate of mine took the stage and gave a fifteen minute presentation about a paper we had read. During, she constantly referred to the author as “he”. This was awkward, because I knew the author was, in fact, female. She had an foreign first name that I did not recognize, so I had googled her the evening before to check. When the student was done, our teacher asked how she would feel if she had published an article in a well known magazine and a reviewer wouldn’t even have looked up who she was.
The incident showed me how disrespectful it is to regard everyone as male, because it radiates disinterest. I realized it could just as well have been me making that mistake if I would not have taken the extra time to research the evening before. For me, this moment was an eye opener and I decided to never assume a gender when addressing someone I don’t know.
Character appearances may influence the assumed gender of players. Screenshot from Guild Wars 2 (GW2).
Referring to strangers in MMOs
What about MMOs, though, where you can’t simply google a player’s gender? The only way to find out (apart from voice chat) would be asking. And asking can be intrusive because not everyone likes sharing their gender for various reasons (Fortim & De Moura Grando 2013).
Ever since the awkward class room experience, I’ve been more aware of prejudices regarding gender perception. Sometimes I notice I assume someone to have a certain gender because of the way they talk or behave in game. But then I remember my decision. When I write a blog post in reaction to somebody else’s and their blog doesn’t state their gender, I refer to them as “they”. And the same goes for MMOs, really. Chances are that when I use “they” when talking about someone else, somebody will correct me and then I know how to address them. And if they don’t and want to keep their gender private, that’s fine, too.
Some dislike the use of “they”. For them (har har), going by the character’s gender is a great alternative. It will mean that they’ll get it wrong from time to time, but hey, it might prompt gamers think about gender perception in MMOs for a bit.
Do other players generally assume you’re male or female in MMOs? How do you address strangers online yourself?
Bryce, J. and J. Rutter, 2002: Killing Like a Girl: Gendered Gaming and Girl Gamers’ Visibility, in F. Mäyrä (ed.): Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, 243-255.
Eden, A., E. Malony and N. D. Bowman, 2010: Gender Attribution in Online Video Games, in: Journal of Media Psychology 22, 114-1124.
Fortim, I. and C. de Moura Grando, 2013: Attention whore! Perception of female players who identify themselves as women in the communities of MMOs. Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference publication.
Williams, D., M. Consalvo, S. Caplan and N. Yee, 2009: Looking for Gender: Gender Roles and Behaviors Among Online Gamers, in: Journal of Communication 59, 700–725.
Yee, N., 2017: Beyond 50/50: Breaking Down The Percentage of Female Gamers by Genre, on Quantic Foundry website (https://quanticfoundry.com/2017/01/19/female-gamers-by-genre on 3 November 2017).
Longevity is a funny thing. It’s feels great to dive into a game and really get your money’s worth. MMORPGs are certainly at the top of the heap when it comes to replayability and longevity. Not only is there a wealth of content for one character, but unique classes/races/factions can play quite differently. Is it a good thing though?
In an absolute sense, sure. Value is great. Who hates value? Not me. But there is a point of diminishing returns, and MMO games typically hit them faster than other genres. The loop of “level up, get new items, see new place” gets old quick, especially for genre vets. Now that’s not exclusive to MMOs. Other multiplayer genres like FPS, MOBAs, and RTS also offer a high quantity of repetitious gameplay for one price (excluding loot boxes I suppose). I’d argue only MOBAs really break that mold because different combinations of characters really throw each game on their head.
Clockwork City, new content from Elder Scrolls Online
Of course, unlike these other games, MMORPGs are in a situation where they can provide a lot of different types of content to alleviate potential boredom. One day you raid, the next you quest, then you craft, and finally you wander into some worldwide PvP. There’s still the benefit of familiarity but with less repetition. This adds longevity and provides players with a warm, comfy feeling to dive into after a long day.
The flip side of longevity is radically unique content that’s one and done. A good example is Pony Island. I promise it’s not what you think, and it’s a wholly interesting experience for 2 hours. The game is fantastic, but I can’t imagine playing it much longer than I did. There’s no longevity, and now I’m back seeking another unique experience. Unless I’m in the specific mood to compete, cooperate, or socialize, unique single player games provide pound for pound more fun than their multiplayer counterparts. The problem is that after beating Pony Island, now I have to spend valuable time determining what to play next. My backlog scrolls down pretty far, but a lot of those titles turn out to be poor matches. And that’s where the worth lies in a familiar game.
If I decide to boot up Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter, or League of Legends I know more or less what I’m getting into. When I boot up a new single player game, I’m just not sure. I might know that I’m playing an FPS like Dishonored or a tactical RPG like XCOM, but I don’t know the intricacies. I have to learn – which can be a lot of fun. But it can also be tiring, frustrating, and ultimately not worth my time if I don’t enjoy it.
I think longevity in games comes down to risk vs. reward. MMOs, other multiplayer games, and some single player games (like Civilization) carry with them a certain sense of contentment. I won’t expect anything too crazy, but I’m also not going to be let down. The risk is low and the reward is moderate. When I load up a brand new game, I might find something that will blow my mind for 5 to 40+ hours (Witcher 3 comes to mind). Then I’m done. Sure, I might replay The Witcher 3 but then I’m just falling into that comfortable routine. Repeating anything will never match your first experience. Games are no different.
So how do you balance the allure of comfortable longevity vs. the desire to experience something new and fresh?
I’ve slowly come to an important realization. The time in my life where I could truly dedicate myself to a single MMORPG has past. It sounds like a bummer for someone bearing MMO Bro as a moniker, but it’s not so bad. My only complaint is the difficulty it presents when it comes to socialization. Spending time to build up friendships in a game I might not play in a few months is tough. Fortunately, many a gaming friendship has persisted throughout the years (both of the online and offline variety). For that reason I’ve been looking more into good MMORPGs to play with friends. These are either games I can start off soloing and bring friends in later or join an existing friend who’s really enjoying themselves.
Just like players who prefer solo vs. group content, what makes an MMORPG good to play with friends is highly subjective. The key aspects to me are some form of level scaling or horizontal progression, a focus on group content, alt encouragement, and bonuses to playing with a consistent group. The below list is roughly ranked from 8th to 1st, but I’ve avoided a true “top 8” this time around because of the inherent subjectivity.
Neverwinter is a Dungeons and Dragons inspired MMORPG. Thus, it unsurprisingly includes dungeons and dungeon offshoots called skirmishes as a primary method of advancement. These can be tackled by groups of five players and make for a fairly balanced challenge. Players can also create their own dungeons using the Foundry system so tabletop players may also enjoy making and sharing their scenarios with friends.
There’s also some form of downleveling for friends who want to play Neverwinter with their lower level pals. Unfortunately it’s only available for dungeons and not the shorter skirmishes, with the exception of a Call to Arms event. The Calls to Arms skirmishes allow players of practically any level to play together in a special event. They just don’t tend to run for very long. The level scaling isn’t super well balanced either as higher level players maintain their improved skill ranks. This can lead to the lower level player feeling somewhat useless. Nonetheless, the wealth of group oriented content in Neverwinter with some option for players of disparate levels earns Neverwinter a spot on this list.
The vast majority of city builders revolve around killing other players. These leads to two issues – paying to actually win and elimination of friends from the world. Elimination doesn’t really make for a very good MMORPG to play with friends. Elvenar solves these issues for players who want something casual to play from their browser but still enjoy the interaction with others. Elvenar is a purely PvE city builder with a multitude of options to assist other players.
Neighborly Help is one such concept that will reward you with gold for donating resources to another player. Of course that means others are also encouraged to donate to you. Moving outside of the city building and into combat, Elvenar recently added Fellowship Adventures. Players can assist each other in an asynchronous adventure where each player conquers challenges individually. The game’s turn based combat strikes a good balance between browser simplicity and tactical challenge. It is sadly missing any sort of real time cooperative element. Hopefully one day the developers will tack that on too. While Elvenar is far from perfect, it’s a good option for friends seeking a lower time commitment browser MMO.
There’s no doubt that Final Fantasy XIV is a great game. However, most of that is geared towards story or playing with a consistent group of equally dedicated players. There is downscaling for dungeons, but I don’t find this as rewarding as other MMOs. The real reason that I think Final Fantasy XIV is a good MMORPG to play with friends is because of the game’s job system.
This is one MMO game that has basically eliminated the need for alts because players can change jobs (i.e. classes) at the drop of a hat. There are base job level requirements for many advanced jobs, which encourages players to “start over” with a lower level job. There’s a little more to it than that, but the system is easy to explain. More experienced players can dedicate a lower level job to playing with particular people. Eventually those jobs levels will manifest in usage either through subclassing or flexibility for higher level content.
Rift has always struck an interesting balance between group and solo play. A lot of content revolves around the game’s titular rifts that require players to work together to close. They’re fun but can deliver a samey experience after a while. That community system has evolved over the years into instant adventures which provides level scaled quests for up to twenty players. It’s a very appealing feature when typical MMORPG group caps of 4 to 5 just don’t cut it.
In addition, Rift offers a mentoring and sidekick system. When enabled, this will scale grouped players up or down based on the zone’s content and the party members’ levels. Some will really appreciate that Rift allows for level scaling for those who want it without necessarily forcing it upon everyone. The ability to play with a large group of friends without relying on endgame raids is also fairly unique among MMORPGs.
What makes Warframe so good to play with friends is very similar to Final Fantasy XIV’s appeal. There is no level scaling in this game, but there is a plethora of warframes which play differently in a manner similar to MOBA characters like in League of Legends. Each warframe has it’s own level, but there are a number of factors that separate this approach from simple alt characters.
The biggest of these factors is the existence of mastery ranks. These are metalevels gained from ranking up companions, weapons, and warframes. Higher mastery ranks grant access to more tools, increases starting mod capacity, and raises many daily limits. It’s also a bit easier to increase mastery ranks with fresh warframes and weapons as they level up faster. Speaking of weapons, those also level up in this game, which increases mod capacity. If all of that isn’t enough, players can also reset a warframe’s rank to change polarities (which alters which types of mods can be slotted). These features can make Warframe feel like a grindy MMO at times, but on the bright side there’s a lot of flexibility for friends seeking an MMORPG to play with one another.
Guild Wars 2 launched with a mission not to waste people’s time with grinding for items and levels. Though that’s arguably a core concept of the genre, Guild Wars 2 has largely succeeded in eschewing the common progression treadmill. Levels come fast and, thanks to zone downscaling, allows players to explore low level areas without sacrificing some semblance of challenge. But leveling up together in zones is just part of what Guild Wars 2 offers friend circles.
World vs World (WvW) is an ongoing massive struggle between three servers that resets weekly. Servers of players will rank up or down according to the results. Upon entering WvW all players are bolstered to max level. Small groups can often be effective in contributing to the war, but there’s plenty of reason for your small group to join a larger one. Now, GW2 is not only a very good MMORPG to play with friends who like PvE or PvP combat but is also great for those who like exploration. The lands of Tyria are littered with jumping puzzles that can be fun to solve together. There’s a little something for everyone to experience, and it can all be done as part of a team.
For the group of friends that would rather kill another group than kill AI controlled critters, I present Eve Online. This an MMO that’s great for friends because of the skill system and combat structure. It takes almost no time for a player to effectively pilot a baseline frigate. While these light ships can’t compare to cruisers or capital ships in terms of sheer firepower, they have their own roles in battle. They’re also speedy and make for great pirate ships or guerilla tactical strikes. A band of friends can easily have a blast as a group of frigates roaming the vastness of space.
Another core feature of Eve Online is that the skills train in real time. More casual players won’t fear the sensation of getting lapped by their more hardcore companions. For groups that can’t always play on the same schedule, it alleviates a lot of anxiety that can come with getting into a new MMO. Eve Online is all about an endgame that starts immediately and everyone is welcome to join in. The PvE features aren’t really the most exciting though so be prepared to fight against others sooner or later.
Late last year, Elder Scrolls Online made a huge change that’s completely altered the accessibility of the game. One Tamriel went all in on level scaling by adjusting lower level players up to the game’s soft level cap. This level scaling was in effect all the time and meant that with the exception of a few higher level dungeons, anyone could go anywhere at any time. In my opinion, the game shifted into a much stronger Elder Scrolls feel that rewarded exploration. At the same time, it opened the doors for friends with different interests and different time commitments to play with one another.
There is a ton of content to discover in Elder Scrolls Online: solo dungeons called delves, public dungeons, skyshard hunting, questing, instanced dungeons, three faction PvP, and more. And all of it can be played alongside one’s buddies and/or significant other. I’ve been able to attract a lot of people to ESO, and that’s largely due to One Tamriel. In my mind, Elder Scrolls Online is not only good, but is the best MMORPG to play with friends right now. But like I said before, it’s all subjective.
Some of the above titles also offer refer a friend programs. If you find a new MMORPG that strikes your fancy, do a little research. You might find that inviting friends can bring rewards for both the inviter and invitee. And of course if you feel like there’s a game missing from the list, add it in the comments. We are talking about MMORPGs that are best played with friends after all. The more the merrier!
Being in front of a computer all day at work can really suck when you like relaxing in front of a computer at home. There is one advantage of such an office job though (depending on your company’s restrictions). Computers connect to the internet via browsers which have games accessible from anywhere. So that means you don’t have to fear “all work and no play” turning you into a dull boy who kills people. Basically, playing games at work prevents murder so tell that to you’re boss if you get caught.
Also, by reading this article and/or playing games at work, you may not hold MMOBro liable for any jobs that you are fired from. While we may think games at work are great, more conventional (i.e. lame) bosses may feel differently.
When writing up blurbs I highlighted what I felt were the most important aspects of a good browser MMO. For one, it needs to be easy to pick up and put back down. Requiring more than 5 minutes to get anything done just doesn’t work for work. Automated progression (either through an included bot or a real time component) is almost essential to fulfilling the sense of advancement. Bonus points if it looks like work in some manner. Finally, some browser MMOs tend to overly sexualize their females. That’s not good for work so I’ll make note of that for any games where I’m aware of it being an issue. But remember – no blaming MMOBro for anything bad. If you’re worried, play it at home first!
Throne: Kingdoms at War
Throne is a new strategy MMO that doesn’t add a lot of new features to the genre, but really improves on what’s already out there. It’s perfect for work because all of the activities in the game resolve automatically but not instantly. That means that while there are strategic considerations like troop composition (look at the variety in the screenshot), players never get bogged down by the minutiae. Additionally, Throne really emphasizes friendly play much more than Plarium’s past titles. While it’s possible to pillage others, there’s a big penalty for attacking someone much weaker. It’s actually more lucrative to raid neutral towns. This creates a cycle where everyone, not just paid players, get to gradually to improve their empire.
There is, of course, a big PvP element but it is completely optional. Players can join orders to take part in guild combat. This lets those who are interested, engage in and coordinate massive assaults on other players. There are still occasional griefers outside of guild play but it just makes more sense not to piss off the neighbors, you know? I will say that players interested in guild wars will probably want to shell out at least some cash to rebuild faster after a war.
Like other strategy MMOs, the core gameplay of “build structures to build units to get resources to build bigger structures” is here in full force. The differences in Throne are the customization options, the fantastic visuals/UI, and bigger rewards for neutral towns.
What stuck out to me about Forge of Empires is just how much of a Browser Civilization game this felt like. It’s certainly not as deep as Sid Meier’s PC offerings, but there’s war, technology, diplomacy, and city growth. Since buildings take a long time to construct and technology research can expand well past an 8-hour workday, it’s a breeze to “set it and forget it”. However, there are also enemies who will want to take your land. It’s worth logging back on occasionally to see what’s happening. Interacting with friends also gives bonuses, but that’s a quick few minutes in between real work.
There’s two main downsides to Forge of Empires. One, it’s pretty much a necessity to pay money to progress past a certain point. Two, it looks pretty good for a browser game so it would be obvious that you’re not working. You might be able to get away with saying you’re just looking at screenshots though. It’s worth a try, right? Either way, Forge of Empires is as close to a Civ game at work as one will find.
There are a lot of unofficial anime MMOs. I’m not sure about their legality, but they stick around. They’re also generally poor quality. So when Naruto, an anime I actually care about, went MMO I was skeptical. However, Naruto Online is actually an officially licensed game with a fairly good combat system and tons of Naruto cast members. Combat takes place on a tactical grid reminiscent of Heroes of Might and Magic. Like many other browser MMORPGs, auto combat can tackle the heavy grinding. This leaves only the real interesting combat for you to tend to.
The game is easily accessible for gamers of all skill level. It also includes a fairly long story to read through via questing. While that’s not great for work, it does add more to the game while remaining unnecessary if it’s an issue. Anime fans, Naruto ones especially, should really give this a whirl.
SAO’s Legend is a skinning of Sword Art Online brought to life in MMO browser form. It’s unofficial so it may not last very long. It’s also not super original, but it does provide an unintentionally great feature – “Engrish”. You see, the translations in this game are bad enough that I’d watch Patton Oswalt run a Mystery Science Theater 3K on it. The game is easy to advance in as well because it can be played completely AFK.
For a game that’s easy to play, provides a good laugh, and involves some ties to Sword Art Online, SAO’s Legend is worth a go. There’s not a crazy amount of provocative images but it is anime so just be sure to pay attention. Let the silly times roll!
Elvenar differentiates itself from the slew of other city builders and strategy games on this list because of it’s focus on PvE. Cooperative elements are baked into the very essence of Elvenar and it makes for quite a different experience. Other players’ cities can be discovered which may lead to opening up trade possibilities. Players can also provide ‘neighborly help’ in the form of resources towards a building which also earns the helper some free coins.
The game is fairly easy to get into with only a handful of basic structures. These will form the backbone of your economy. This in turn leads to growing your city bit by bit as you acquire advanced resources like culture and knowledge points. Knowledge unlocks new technologies to build better units or buildings. These units are then used to explore locations, which creates decision based events. These decisions may lead to a turn based, tactical combat between your units and whatever monsters or opposing forces you discover. The tactical combat is especially impressive for a browser based MMO focused primarily on city building. However, an auto combat option exists when real life gets too busy. For a relatively stress free city builder, Elvenar is a great choice.
For the gamer that has 20-30 minutes/day to play an MMO at work, Dragon Blood checks a lot of boxes. Now, it’s not fully automated like some other browser MMORPGs. Players actually need to put in some effort to advance. However, battles are about setup rather than tactical decision making. This makes it easy to put the brunt of the effort into one longer sitting and then play a minute here and there throughout the day. The developers make money by limiting how many dungeons/quests you can do for free in a day. This is actually great for work though as you could play for free without playing enough to get into real trouble.
The core element of Dragon Blood’s advancement is the NPC system. There are a ton of different characters to recruit, but they level up with berries instead of being used in battle like a typical RPG. That means that newer, more desirable characters can be leveled up quickly by holding onto these magical leveling berries. The translation is also pretty good, especially for a full fledged browser MMORPG. Don’t let the generic looks fool you. Dragon Blood is a solid casual MMO to play directly from your browser.
In this strategy minded war game, Players take control of a clan of vikings to grow their fiefdom by taking resources from other players. Orders like building and recruiting (or even attacks) are not instantaneous. This gives players at work the chance to input moves throughout the day and do most of their progressing “offline”.
The world map is divided into six zones, which players can freely move between (though moving does have a cooldown). Inner zones hold more resources but are more greatly contested. Hence, It’s pretty easy for free and casual players to stay away from top dogs by just avoiding these highly contested zones.
Players can recruit and train heroes, which is another activity to occupy time. The only NSFW imagery encountered is with certain female heroes in the game, who can be avoided. Alliance discussions can also be pretty time consuming. That’s more of an inner zone activity too though, so if you are happy slowly growing but maybe never reaching elite status then Vikings: War of Clans is a great game to play at work.
The most appealing aspect of League of Angels is building a party of Heroes and Angels to take on more difficult challenges. In order to build the type of party you want, there’s a lot of mindless killing. Luckily, all of this can be handled via automated combat. Unfortunately, combat isn’t super deep for when you want to play manually. However, gradually building a party with powerful abilities is really satisfying. One thing to watch out for: League of Angels has a lot of scantily clad women. If you know what you’re doing you can stay safe, but play this at home first. It’s important to learn how to avoid the NSFW imagery.
Mars Tomorrow is a pretty safe MMO to play at work. There’s no violence or scantily clad women to risk getting in trouble. People who like Railroad Tycoon will find Mars Tomorrow most appealing. This is a transportation simulator on a massive scale. Based on how the players optimize their routes, this will affect the growth of surrounding cities.
Actions rarely take more than 10 minutes at a time and then a several hour counter starts for those actions to resolve. This fits in perfect with work breaks without damaging overall performance. That said, true logistics fans will want to optimize future plans when not playing. Since there’s a good dose of math in that, players can pretend to be working by opening Excel. Are you working on a financial statement or Mars Tomorrow? No one will know but you! There’s also iOS and Android version so public transporters will really like it.
The best part about playing Torn at work is that there’s no graphics. I mean it looks pretty boring from the screenshots so it’s doubtful to cause an issue. While there’s no aesthetics to speak of, don’t mistake this for a shallow game. Torn is a deep crime/real-life simulator. Players can level up in all sorts of physical, criminal, professional, and intellectual stats. The game limits play based on remaining energy and completing tasks can take as short as a few seconds. It’s a very easy game to jump in and out as energy allows.There’s not much strategy per say, but it’s great for actually developing and roleplaying a character.
There is a big social element too that can be important to join in on to reach higher standings. While that’s pretty cool, it’s a detriment to playing at work. At least if productivity really matters. If it doesn’t, you can probably just pretend you’re writing an email.
I’ll try to keep this list updated so check back every once in a while. Hopefully you’ll find a game to play for many months before growing bored though. I know it’s not always easy to find a worthwhile MMO, especially one that can be played at work. When compared against AAA titles like World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online, these games can seem pretty underwhelming. They definitely have their place in the world though.