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Back in the day, video games were played mostly either solo in your living room or with a couple of neighborhood kids. It was fun being with four or five other kids, sharing two controllers, taking turns playing. As time went on, and consoles changed and improved, two controllers became four. TVs grew larger. And the games got better. But then, the internet came, and all of a sudden, our neighborhood just got so much more significant. Kids playing on the PC suddenly got access to games that allowed more players than any console at the time could.
We found ourselves playing with up to eight to twelve people at a time, either via local networks or online. We play strategy games, shooting games, and fantasy role-playing games — multiple gamers connected through the internet. The number of players just grew and grew, and the games changed with it. Some games even began focusing solely on encouraging playing with other gamers online.
The gaming world was changing. All of a sudden, playing with neighborhood kids, while fun, sometimes just wasn’t enough anymore. The spirit of competition and cooperation made gamers to want to be online. Meet other like-minded individuals sharing the fondness of their favorite game. Gaming’s different facets, from entertainment to social interaction, was growing at an exponential rate. And with the advent of high-speed internet came the genre of games that would bring countless people together: Massively Multiplayer Online games, commonly known as MMOs. It is a genre of competition that is now an industry of it is own worth billions of dollars, with millions upon millions of gamers playing and supporting it online.
What Is An MMO?
On the surface, an MMO is a straightforward concept. It is an online game that lets large numbers of gamers to play all at the same time. They can interact together within the game in many different ways. They can experience the same portion of the game together, or delve into different elements separately. Gamers can group up in small parties, or be part of large guilds and teams. The possibilities are endless. But one thing is sure: you’re not just playing with tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of other players. When part of the most popular MMOs out there, you’ll be playing with millions of others globally.
At its core, however, it is anything but simple. To make a massive MMO, to begin with, and then to keep it working seamlessly, requires countless staff-hours and sometimes hundreds of people. It’s not as simple as just popping a cartridge in a console and just playing. It’s not even just about installing a game via a Blu-ray disc, getting your PC setup, and then going on an adventure immediately. An MMO requires a massive structure that utilizes the internet to bring people together.
How Does An MMO Work?
An MMO requires two essential components to function: a game client and a game server. A game client is the game program that you, the gamer, will install and run on your computer. A game server is a system or the machines that your client will connect to play. Sounds simple? Well, scale the concept up to be able to handle millions of game clients all at the same time, and you will have some idea of what kind of server system an MMO will need to work correctly.
While your client will hold all of the game files necessary for you to enjoy the game, you will need a game server to tie it all together. The world, the characters, the cool looking weapons and loot, all exist in the game client. It is also the client that logs and then transmits everything you do in the game world, what actions you take, and pretty much anything you do to participate in the game. All done in microseconds. The game server then takes all of these actions, processes it, and confirms it for you, the player. But it also does this to the countless other players that your game client allows you to “see,” depending on where you are in the game world. In turn, with the same process, you also get to see where other players are and what they are doing.
The game server does the following:
- Gets the player’s location, and in turn, tells the player the place of other players.
- Places and tells the player where enemies and other non-player characters are.
- Stores and shows the current status of all the elements in the world. It includes player and enemy health, whether or not it is hostile and attacking, and so on.
- Tallies any damage, healing, or other actions done by the players, and calculates their success and amount.
- Tells the players what kind of loot or reward is dropped from successful kills (if this applies to the type of game.)
Also, in nearly all cases, triple-A MMO games have the game servers store the player’s characters. It prevents the characters from being tampered with offline or locally so that cheating cannot occur.
That’s how an MMO works. These days, things have grown exponentially. One game server isn’t enough. The best MMO games utilize hundreds of servers. And each of them has different tasks and are categorized based on their function. Here are some of the most common:
- World server – this is where the majority of the gaming experience happens. It does the tasks specified earlier regarding player location and status, and other information. In short, this is where the fun stuff happens.
- Login server – this is what handles all the login actions done by the countless players looking to enter the world servers. It is done differently depending on the game.
- Communications server – this is what handles all the in-game communication that happens in the game. Usually, this is in the form of text chats, in-game mail, and different kinds of chat rooms. Some games have built-in systems for voice communications, as well.
- Web server – this is what allows players to access their different account details. Some games have browsers within the game itself that will allow this to happen without opening a different web browser. It is also what allows for transactions in online stores to occur within our outside the game.
What Are The Different Kinds of MMO?
Before we get to the list of the best MMO games, let’s first try to understand what the different kinds of MMO games there are today. Because there aren’t just one or two kinds, Mmo games classify into several different categories, each one with their specialty and focus.
Free to Play vs. Subscription
The first distinction is whether or not the game is free-to-play. Put it, free-to-play games either don’t need to be bought to play, or you only need to buy the base game, and there are no monthly fees after. Subscription-based games can either have a free base game, but you need to pay monthly to play, or you have to buy the game and pay a monthly fee to play.
At first glance, the best MMO games should be the free-to-play ones, yes? I mean, you can’t go wrong with getting a free game and with no more need to pay anything moving forward, right? Well, the truth is, most free-to-play games aren’t open at all. Sure they are free for the end-user, aka you the player. But these companies still need to make their money back, or they won’t be able to provide the game servers or create new content.
Often, free-to-play MMOs make their money either by having advertisements pop up on the game-client every so often or through microtransactions. Microtransactions are a system where players can buy everything from different appearance skins, to in-game toys and pets, or in some cases, access to content that free-to-play players cannot. And this is what makes free-to-play games often not free. Because in many cases, those who opt to go beyond free-to-play and pay a subscription fee, or are willing to shell out money for in-game advantages, will have a leg up on those who play for free. Whether it is by having a character that can progress faster, or have access to different areas not accessible to free players, or in rare cases, by actually being stronger than free-to-play characters.
Subscription-based games, on the other hand, provide all the available content to all paying players. And there are no players who play for free, save for sample trial accounts for newcomers interested in the game. Usually, these trial accounts won’t progress past a certain point in the game, and will always be limited to what they can do. If they subscribe, however, they will get access to all the game has to offer. They need to progress through it. Subscription-based games can also have microtransaction options, but these are usually cosmetic items that have no impact on the game whatsoever. And these options do not provide any in-game advantage over other paying players.
Choosing the best MMO games will depend on whether or not you’re willing to spend money regularly.
MMO Platforms: PC, Consoles, Mobile
Most people would immediately equate MMOs to PC games. And for a good reason. It is because most of the first MMO games started on PCs. Even now, a lot of the best MMO games are on the PC or Mac OSX platforms. However, there are also MMOs on next-generation consoles. And with the rise of the mobile gaming industry, MMOs have also started appearing on Android phones, with iPhones looking to follow suit over time.
When playing MMOs on the PC or Mac OSX, you have the added benefit of being able to multitask efficiently with other applications. You can alt-tab and browse the internet while waiting for your team to form. You can use other applications like VoIP to communicate in a much better way. You can run music apps to change the music you experience while gaming. Playing MMOs on consoles can do these things to an extent as well, but not with the same flexibility and versatility as in PCs. The same is with mobile MMOs with mileage varying depending on the android device used.
So when choosing the best MMO games for you, you also need to consider the platform you will be playing on.
Genres of MMOs
Nearly every gamer is familiar with the term MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. It is where the time MMO came from in the first place because the very first great MMO games were RPGs. However, these days, MMOs come in many genres and types. And it’s not just the high-fantasy gamers who can enjoy playing with other people on a massive scale around the world.
Here are some of the more popular genres of MMOs today:
- RPGs – as mentioned earlier, these are role-playing games where you create a custom character of a specific race/species, a class/role, and faction. Some games allow you to customize the physical appearances of these characters to match your own or whatever you see fit. Within the RPG genre, there are sub-genres, like medieval fantasy, sci-fi/space drama, contemporary, and so on. Most, if not all of them require you to go on different quests, engage in combat, and interact with other players under an overarching story narrative.
- Social Games – this is similar to RPGs, except the emphasis is more on the social aspects of the MMO’s world. There aren’t many paths that will have the players engage in combat or any action-packed activities. And even if there is, conflict is usually initiated by themselves, with no consequences if they don’t. Often, these social games place players in a sandbox setting where the players can do nearly anything in the world they are put in, and the social interactions are almost limitless.
- Action Games – MMO action games take the other end of the spectrum of social games in that the emphasis is generally on action elements and combat. Many of these games also feature RPG elements. But what makes an MMO more an action game is the proportion of the action and fighting over other aspects of the game. For example, more balanced MMORPGs have several other activities that you can do to progress or enjoy the game. While MMO Action games funnel the player mostly to combat and action to advance, just like other MMOs, these are fantasy, sci-fi, or contemporary settings.
So when deciding on what the best MMO games are, it is essential to know what genre of games you wish to play.
Pros and Cons of Playing MMOs
Before you try and figure out what the best MMO games are for you, you should know what the pros and cons are for playing MMO games. It is inevitable that for a game that’s large with thousands upon thousands of players that there will be both good and bad things to experience. Here is a list of what you need to consider before stepping into an MMO game.
- Pro: Social interaction – if you are a timid person in real life, an MMO is a great way to meet and interact with other people. Behind each avatar of a player is another person with who you can communicate. And the player doesn’t know anything about you more than what you’re willing to share. It is an excellent way to face social anxiety, gain new friends, and get to bond over shared activities like questing or just hanging out online.
- Con: Griefing and trolling – the protection and anonymity that MMOs give to people who play also enable them to be jerks online. Beginners are particularly prone to this as more experienced griefers, and trolls can deliberately ruin the experience. They can try to mislead you in quests or a PVP game, keep killing you even if they are a higher level, and get no rewards. Fortunately, most triple-A games have systems in place where you can report and get griefers and trolls possibly penalized or banned. But the experience might still happen before being able to communicate.
- Pro: Exciting and fun – being able to play with friends from around the world is a great prospect to have. It can play with strangers, even more so. It means that each experience online could be different from the previous one. Not only that, you get to experience constant updates in content, depending on the game you’re playing and the story it is trying to tell.
- Con: Repetitiveness – an MMO may be massive, but sooner or later, the tasks and things to do within the game can feel very repetitive. Over time you’ll run out of dungeons to run. You’ll collect all the loot and upgrades to your character or ships. You’ll be able to see and play each class and character available. Or, you’ll eventually see that the countless quests you have done and will keep doing are just the same thing with different packaging. Fortunately, most triple-A MMO games have a solution to this in the form of constant patch updates, community events, and expansion packs.
- Pro: Always available – if you travel a lot and want to play the game with your character, you can hop into your laptop or even another friend’s computer and enjoy it. That is if the friend’s computer has the game client for your MMO. So also if you’re on a business trip to a different country, or are crashing at a friend’s place, you’re not too far away from your game.
- Con: Inevitable shutdown – even triple-A MMOs eventually reach a point where the game has reached its lifespan, the stories have all ended, or there aren’t enough subscribers to support the game anymore. When this happens, you will have to go with the flow. And accept that the game is shutting down. And when it does, you won’t be able to enjoy it anymore, even if you have the game client or already paid for the game.
- Pro: It’s an excellent way to spend gaming time – after a long, hard day’s work, a unique way to escape from the drudgery of everyday life is to hop on an MMO. Unwind while with a few quests, chat with friends, or make your character just a tad bit stronger or wealthier. Even if you refrain from playing for a while, when you come back, your character will only be there and can still progress the way the game has intended.
- Con: It requires a lot of time – in many cases, a triple-A MMO will best be enjoyed when you reach the end game. Or if you have some of the best gear. Or reach the max level at least. But doing so most of the time requires a lot of time. Especially in a competitive MMO, if all you have are just a couple of hours per night due to real-life getting in the way. You’ll end up finding yourself lagging behind the rest of the more dedicated players.
- Pro: It can be an engaging hobby – due to the nearly limitless possibilities and numerous MMOs out there, you’ll have a lot of ways to satisfy your MMO needs. Whether it’s the fantasy or sci-fi aspects of it, the social interaction, or the adrenaline rush of the action-packed combat, and getting to experience it with numerous other players is the icing on the cake.
- Con: It can be very addicting – video game addiction is now considered to be an actual disorder. And in the worst cases possible, people lose not just their money, but also their jobs, their relationships, and in even rarer cases, their lives. All because they ended up being addicted to the games that they love so much. Everything in moderation, as they say, but due to the nature of the game, providing some sense of escapism from the world, the risk of addiction is real.
These are just some of the pros and cons of the best MMO games out there. And if you’ve read them all and decided the pros outweigh the cons, then it’s time to take a look at the best MMO games for 2019.
Best Overall MMO game – World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
Genre: Fantasy RPG
Subscription: Pay for game, monthly fee
Platform: PC, Mac OS
Arguably the MMO game that revolutionized the genre back in 2004, World of Warcraft is still the most popular and most well-known MMORPG in the world today. Made by Blizzard Entertainment on the back of their “Warcraft” real-time strategy game franchise, WoW, as it is commonly known, is still going strong. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the game, which has produced seven expansions to date, along with many other content patches and features.
While the genre didn’t begin with WoW, it certainly was revolutionized by it. Gone were the super-serious days of fantasy RPG gaming, to be replaced with a more welcoming one for other gamers. A vibrant world, lore-rich and established characters, compelling storytelling coupled with more comfortable to learn classes and game systems made WoW very easy to pick up and play. It became a household name, was parodied numerous times by popular shows like South Park and is always keeping up with the times with easter eggs and in-game references. While some will dislike this less severe approach to the fantasy genre, the subscriber numbers tell a different story. And despite it being a fifteen-year-old game, its expansions and constant evolution ensure it has many more years of life left in its tank.
- Classes – numbering twelve overall, the classes provide varying gameplays that suit the personalities and gaming preferences of all gamers.
- Races – There are two primary races (seven for each faction) and with the latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, an additional eight allied races (four for each faction.)
- Zones – There are dozens of environmental zones to play through, each with its storyline of quests and subquests. They are located all over a total of two worlds, one alternate timeline world, a subplot planet, and multiple landmasses and continents. Each zone features its unique aesthetic, music, and creatures.
- Multiple items, weapons, armor, mounts, and toys – a collector’s dream come true, there are hundreds of item sets, gadgets, pets, and doodads to collect and enjoy.
- Expansive storyline – building on the lore of their previous real-time strategy games, supported by many other books, manga, and short stories, WoW has a vibrant world to delve into.
- Dozens of dungeons, raids, and battlegrounds – whether for PvE or PvP, WoW delivers in spades for the aggressive adventurer looking for treasure, or the combatant who wants to fight other people.
- Efficient customer support and account security – Customer support for complaints and tickets of all kinds are dealt with quickly at best, or delayed reasonably at worst. There are also many options to secure your account from theft and hacking.
Best MMO Sci-Fi Game – EVE Online
Genre: Massive Spaceship Sci-Fi MMO
Subscription: free-to-play and subscription-based
Platform: PC, Mac OS
Unlike most MMOs that focus on just the player’s character, in a fantasy or modern setting, EVE Online takes things to the stars in significant ways. EVE Online focuses on the macro elements of a fictional world: massive spaceships and even more significant spaceship battles, politics, economics, and exploration. The game boasts an unfathomable 7,000 star systems to explore, all ripe for the picking for hundreds of thousands of other players.
Arguably the biggest draw for EVE Online is the different spaceships you can choose from. There are 350+ overall, each with its unique look, statistics, pros, and cons. Amass your fleet of ships to explore the stars, carve your piece of space territory for free, or for a subscription fee.
EVE Online survived the MMO competition and is now thriving in its niche by adapting to have both a free-to-play and subscription-based system. The game itself is free to download, as well. The difference between the free-to-play, or Alpha, and the subscription, or Omega, is nothing more than just restrictions on available content. Alpha is the base state of each account. Adding game time turns it into an Omega account, and unlocks the full features of the game. If the game time expires, the account merely temporarily disables any Omega level skills and features, until more game time comes. But you can still login and play.
While it is an exciting MMO to play, it can get quite daunting for new players to get into. Fortunately, the game has taken steps to guide new players properly to prepare them for the cold, brutal, but engaging space of EVE Online.
- Hundreds of ships – whether you want to be a lone explorer in a small, personal vessel, or the admiral of hundreds of battleships, the choice is yours to make.
- Massive space battles – live your fantasy of seeing hundreds of ships duke it out with an awe-inspiring backdrop of stars and nebulae, just like in classic sci-fi moves you love.
- Thousands of star systems – nearly endless possibilities for exploration. Whether it’s finding new routes, or merely looking for resources to get wealthier, set out for the stars and conquer space.
- Adaptable account levels – switch from free-to-play to subscription-based and back to free-to-play with no downtime, just restrictions.
- Thriving economy – one of the key features people love about the game is the economy that the community has built over the years. It is an excellent approximation of what a thriving space economy would look like, and you can participate in it.
- Very active politics – no, we’re not talking about simple discussions of real-world politics. EVE Online has its political structures, found in “Corporations” that coincidentally, functions very similarly to their real-world counterparts. These corporations can then band together into “Alliances,” which hold their portion of space.
Best Social MMO – Second Life
Genre: Social/Alternate Life MMO
Subscription: Free-to-play, varying levels of subscription
Platform: PC, Mac OS
Part-social network, part-MMO, Second Life is the oldest entry in our list. The MMO is free to download. And users can play for free with limited features and capabilities. Having made its debut in 2003, its creator, Linden Lab, has carefully stated that Second Life is not a game. It is merely a world where people can interact with one another in whatever way they choose. And in a way, the users, or residents, themselves also shape the world the way they see fit.
With no manufactured wars, quest objectives, or overarching storyline, Second Life thrives on only one thing: interactivity. Users design their avatars to be visual representations of their real selves. They can make different types of content, from objects and items to sell to actual virtual property like houses and buildings. It uses an in-game 3d modeling tool that allows users to create their geometric shapes with different textures. They can even program “behaviors” to those objects to add and enhance an object’s interactivity. For example, you can create a ball that will bounce and change colors when it has thrown along. You can try to sell them as a product, and with the money, you’ll receive, buy a house. It is like a second real-life.
Due to this, the game looks outdated. However, the draw of Second Life isn’t the fancy graphics or the fantastic special effects. It is the freedom it gives to people to do nearly literally whatever they want to do. Want to be a restaurant owner with your menu but can’t afford it in real life? Do it in Second Life. Want to see what it’s like to own your own clothing business with your apparel worn by everyone? Try it in Second Life. The list goes on and on.
Be warned, however, that this unparalleled freedom also means that there are users who will do some not safe for work content. Linden Lab makes sure that things don’t go overboard, however, and they are careful to make sure you can choose what kind of content you wish to see and experience.
Second Life continues to be a unique creation that nothing can parallel what it can do just yet. However, many elements we see today in VR games and applications are present in Second Life many, many years ago. It has set the standard in MMO interactivity and continues to do so to this day.
- Unparalleled freedom – unlike most MMOs, Second Life gives you the freedom to do and create nearly whatever your imagination can think of.
- Create your world – with the in-game 3d modeling tool; you can create your unique objects to boast or sell or your buildings to host parties or other services.
- Flexible subscription options – you can play for free, pay a small fee for limited capabilities, or a more substantial cost for even more skills and choices.
- Earn real-life money – with the freedom to be creative, and a thriving dedicated community, you can earn real-life money. If your creations catch on, and many users want it, you can opt to sell those creations for real-life money. It is how many Second Life entrepreneurs make a living.
There you have it; these are some of the best MMO games out there per genre. There are many more to choose from. Remember our tips and our recommendations, and you will find the best MMO game for you to enjoy.