Top 5 MMO Developers

by Tyler Edwards, January 25 2012

There are many MMOs in our world, each with their own colorful history, but they all have a common source: development teams slavishly working behind the scenes to create epic and inspiring virtual worlds. Developers are the foundation of the MMO industry. Nothing would get done without them, and so we have taken it upon ourselves to cover some of the more noteworthy developers of the MMO. Some are massive juggernauts, some are more modestly sized, some are ambitious newcomers, and others are veteran companies with years of success behind them, but all have left their mark on the gaming world in some way.

5: CCP Games:

CCP Eve Online

Crowd Control Productions, better known as CCP Games, is an Icelandic developer best known for the space MMO EVE Online.

CCP was founded in the late 1990s with the purpose of producing MMOs. However, they lacked money to start, and thus came up with the novel solution of producing a board game whose name roughly translates to "Danger Game" in English in their native Iceland. The profits from that, combined with money from private investors, financed the creation of EVE.

In a world of Warcraft clones, EVE Online sets itself away from the pack with its sci-fi setting and open-ended, sandbox gameplay in which players can explore and exploit a galaxy of over 7500 star systems. Other unique features include the game's complex in-game economy and its lack of servers. All EVE players exist in the same persistent and ever-expanding universe.

In other MMORPG news, CCP Games also has two other MMOs coming down the pipe. Dust 514 is a console-based MMOFPS that will tie in to EVE via both story and gameplay. EVE players will be able contract Dust players to conquer planets for them. The second, World of Darkness, will be an MMO based on the Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing games.

There are bigger and more successful MMO developers around, but CCP dares to be different, and they deserve credit for that.

4: Trion Worlds:

Trion Rift

A relative newcomer to the MMO world, Trion Worlds has nonetheless managed to make a name for itself with the release of the much-hyped Rift: Planes of Telara. While not quite the genre-redefining juggernaut some expected it to be, Rift has been well-received by both critics and fans and enjoys a respectable level of success.

To their credit, Trion has shown a remarkable commitment to keeping Rift updated with new content, adding patches at a rate that puts most other developers to shame and sparks jealousy in the players of other MMOs.

Trion isn't resting on the laurels of their early success, either. Ever ambitious, they're already planning to publish a real time strategy MMO, End of Nations, which is slated for release in 2012.

Even more daringly, they are developing Defiance, an MMO that will run concurrently with and tie in to a science fiction TV series being produced by the Syfy Network. As long as they continue to make innovative decisions like that, Trion will continue to be one of the more noteworthy MMO developers around.

3: Sony Online Entertainment:

SOE EverQuest 2

Sony Online Entertainment, or SOE, was one of the first big names to arise in the world of MMORPGs. EverQuest, released by SOE in 1999, was a major success, gradually working its way up to nearly half a million subscribers a very large number in the days before the rise of World of Warcraft.

A few years later, SOE achieved further success with the launch of the Star Wars sandbox MMO, Star Wars: Galaxies, which was praised for its open-ended gameplay and freeform character progression.

But then along came Blizzard Entertainment and World of Warcraft, and the standards of success in the MMO field were utterly redefined. SOE found its place at the head of the pack usurped as Blizzard built up millions upon millions of subscribers.

SOE also found itself bogged down in controversy. Star Wars: Galaxies was criticized from the start for glitches and missing content, but all of that paled in comparison to the backlash that came from the "Combat Upgrade" and "New Game Enhancements" that SOE implemented, completing changing the mechanics of the game. This triggered a veritable tidal wave of nerd rage the likes of which have rarely been seen.

But still, despite all that, SOE remains a major player in the MMO field with frequent MMO news headlines. New expansions for EverQuest and EverQuest II continue to roll out on a consistent basis, and SOE also produces other games, such as DC Universe Online. They may not be the dominant force they once were, but they're not fading into twilight any time soon, and if nothing else, they deserve recognition for their pioneering in the early days of the MMO.

2: NCsoft:

NCSoft Aion

Both a developer and a publisher of many successful MMOs, Korean company NCsoft is one of the biggest names in the MMO field. Founded in the late 90s, it became one of the first developers of MMOs with the release of Lineage. Lineage was the first MMO to exceed 100,000 active subscribers, and is still played in Asia to this day.

NCsoft and its various subsidiaries went on to develop several more successful games and MMOs, including Guild Wars and Lineage II.

In 2008, NCsoft released Aion in South Korea, with a North American launch following in 2009. It was one of the biggest MMO launches in recent history, raking in tens of millions of dollars in the first few months. While Aion's reviews have been somewhat mixed, it still has a strong following, particularly in its native Asia.

ArenaNet, a subsidiary of NCsoft, is currently hard at work on Guild Wars 2, one of the most highly anticipated MMOs in recent history. GW2 promises numerous innovations to the MMO format unlike any seen before, and each new preview released whips its fans into a frenzy of excitement the likes of which are rarely seen outside of a Justin Bieber concert. With titles like that on the way, it's probable that NCsoft will continue to be a big player in the MMO world for the foreseeable future.

1: Blizzard Entertainment:

blizzard WoW

Love them or hate them, no can argue the fact that Blizzard Entertainment is the top dog of the MMO world. Their mega hit World of Warcraft has sometimes been estimated to have more subscribers than all other MMOs combined.

Founded in the early 1990s, the California-based developer achieved early success with the release of the real time strategy game, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Blizzard then went on to enjoy many years of critical and financial success with the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo franchises, earning a reputation as a perfectionist company that released nothing but top notch and highly polished games eventually.

All of that paled, however, in comparison to the success they would achieve beginning in 2004, with the release of an MMO set in their Warcraft universe. A less time-intensive and more casual-friendly MMO, World of Warcraft was an immediate hit with critics and players, and over the next few years, Blizzard skyrocketed to unprecedented levels of success, eventually peaking at approximately twelve million subscribers during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

WoW has experienced a much-publicized loss of approximately two million subscribers in the past year, mostly in Asian markets, but despite losing what could amount to the entire subscriber bases of some other MMOs, WoW continues to be a multi-billion dollar a year industry, and Blizzard continues to rake in massive profits that make the rest of us mere mortals weep bitter tears of jealousy.

WoW and, by extension, Blizzard is a controversial topic among gamers, and has received harsh criticism for everything from its community, to its story, to Blizzard's business practices in relation to the game. Whether these are valid points or just the inevitable backlash that comes from extreme popularity is difficult to judge, but the fact remains that, no matter how much hate is leveled their way, Blizzard continues to dominate the MMO field, and will likely continue to for a long time to come.