The MMO genre is healthier than ever thanks to the launches of Lost Ark, New World, Classic WoW and more

ByJose A. York

Feb 21, 2022

If you’ve spent any time in gaming circles over the past year, you’ve probably stumbled upon, if not played, a new MMORPG like New world, lost arkor the recently revitalized Final Fantasy XIV: A Kingdom Reborn.

These titles, in addition to stalwarts of the MMO genre that have yet to dissipate – games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and others, have helped make MMOs more accessible and diverse in countless ways. From varying playstyles, world-building and storytelling techniques, to wildly different subgenres in games, MMO gamers have more options available to them in 2022 than ever before.

The MMO genre hasn’t been as visible, culturally dominant and lucrative as it is today since the early 2000s, when games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and the original guild wars all competed and coexisted with each other. And while the market for releasing new MMOs isn’t as diluted as it was in the early 2000s, it’s just as big in the online zeitgeist.

Surprisingly, the company behind the MMO genre’s recent rise is Amazon, which has spent most of gaming’s “pandemic era” dipping its toes (and ultimately its entire body) into the waters of the MMORPG. In 2021, the company released New worlda long-awaited and endlessly delayed title that was first announced at TwitchCon 2016 and was originally scheduled to launch in May 2020. Five months after the official launch of New worldthe company later released Smilegate’s lost ark for Western consumers, adding another massive online title to its arsenal.

During the first week of lost arkavailable in the West from February 8-15, the game became the fourth most concurrently played game in Steam history, second only to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Dota 2 and CS:GO.

Amazon invests nearly $500 million a year in its game development prospects, according to a 2021 report from Bloomberg. And while it can’t be expected that all of that budget will be poured into its current division of running MMO tiles, games like New world and lost ark have carried the studio’s banner for the past six months in particular, more so since originally planned flagship releases like Break away and Crucible were canceled outright during their respective development processes.

Picture via Amazon Games

Beyond Amazon, gaming giants such as Blizzard Entertainment, ArenaNet, and Zenimax continue to provide support for their branded MMO games, pouring funds into expansions for MMO titles long after their initial releases.

Most prominently, World of Warcraft, which has featured eight expansions (as well as two re-releases of previous versions of the game) in its 18-year run, is still one of Blizzard’s most trusted cash cows. In 2020, the most recent expansion of the game, Shadowlandbecame the best-selling PC game of all time after selling 3.7 million copies in the first 24 hours of release.

Extended support through streaming

Although MMOs thrive on their own internal online culture, especially considering that their model relies heavily on social collaboration, this focus on player interaction can be extended beyond the boundaries of gaming and in a new medium: streaming. On Twitch, YouTube, and other platforms, MMOs have found a home for their naturally social roots to expand and linger.

When a new MMO comes out, potential gamers and interested fans flock to Twitch in their millions to get a glimpse of the game through the eyes of their favorite personalities. And over the past two-plus years, there haven’t been many bigger events in streaming spheres than MMO launches.

Data via SullyGnome | Remixed by Michael Kelly

Last September, more than 900,000 viewers watched the streams of New world the day of its launch, while lost ark streams racked up more than 1.2 million viewers at its peak when it debuted, according to Twitch stats tracking website SullyGnome.

Whether these striking stats are down to popular streamers latching onto these games and bringing their fanbases with them or popular MMOs that have their own status is up for debate. But the fact that over 12,000 streamers have each contributed to lost arkthe popularity of the day of its launch and more than 19,000 people streamed the reissue of World of Warcraft: Classic in 2019, according to SullyGnome, should be indicators that the MMO genre is attracting the Twitch community in droves.

Stick around

No game has as much stamina as MMOs. World of Warcraft, the decades-long leader in the field, for example, has survived solely on its brand recognition and steadfast support system for nearly 20 years. Even relatively niche titles like Eve online, MapleStory, and Dungeons & Dragons Online have been online for over 15 years and continue to receive support from their respective developers.

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

The truly online nature of MMOs keeps communities bubbling and bustling for years after their first releases. So while holdouts from past games still cling to the past, perhaps one day the next generation of MMO enthusiasts will have something to take away from the re-emergence of the genre here in the early 2020s.

Maybe another 15 years will pass and we’ll all be playing games like lost ark and New world again for nostalgia while another wave of titles keeps the MMO genre alive.