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Surveying the Landscape of iOS MMORPGs

Massively Portable began as a podcast dedicated to “pocket-sized MMORPGs” – that is, massively multiplayer online role-playing games for mobile devices. While the podcast continues weekly, I have also teamed up with App Chronicles to provide regular coverage of the iOS MMORPG scene in a column format. Big thanks to Steve from App Chronicles for giving me the opportunity to talk about this subject that I love so much.

So, where to begin? I could, and at some point I probably should, define what I mean when I say “iOS MMORPG.” There are plenty of games out there that use the label, but don’t fit into what I would call a true MMORPG. But for the inaugural column, I thought it would be more worthwhile show you rather than tell you by surveying the MMORPG landscape a bit. The last year has been one of incredible growth in the genre; in fact, two of the top three titles are only now approaching their first anniversaries. So, who are the major players in iOS MMORPGs? Who are the up-and-comers? What’s on the horizon? Let’s find out.

The Big 3

Currently, iOS MMORPGs are dominated by two companies: Gameloft and Spacetime Studios. These two developers produce the three MMORPGs that command the genre.

Gameloft’s Order and Chaos Online

Gameloft’s Order and Chaos Online Order & Chaos© Online - Gameloft (commonly shortened to OnC) is arguably the definitive hardcore fantasy MMORPG on iOS. Anyone more than casually familiar with iOS gaming already knows Gameloft’s name and has played games like the widely popular NOVA and Modern Combat. Like many Gameloft games, OnC is a deliberate clone of a better game on another system – in this case, World of Warcraft – and like all Gameloft clones, it can sometimes be a generic copy. But that hasn’t stopped it from attracting a lot of players, as it features a very, very playable MMO experience. It has built a dedicated online player community, including a core of hardcore players who have maxed out the endgame and eagerly await new content.

Star Legends, from Spacetime Studios

The second and third top games both come from Spacetime Studios, who has embraced a more social model for its successful MMOs. Their first offering is Pocket Legends Pocket Legends (3D MMO) - Spacetime Studios, LLC (PL), which was one of the first true MMORPGs on the iPhone. It is a fantasy genre game with a furry animal theme. Its play differs significantly from OnC, in that the world is built around social hubs and players port to shared adventure levels where cooperative play is usually required for success. It is also a more family-friendly game with heavily moderated chat and active game admins.

Spacetime Studios also offers the anime-flavored science fiction Star Legends Star Legends (3D MMO) - Spacetime Studios, LLC (SL). Built from the same DNA as its sister game, SL sports the same social hubs and cooperative play, as well as the family- and casual-gamer-focus. In addition, both SL and PL benefit from a very hands-on development team that regularly runs special events in-game. With their emphasis on teamwork and social play, PL and SL are very different play experiences from OnC.

Other Notable MMORPGs

Seven Swords, from Asobimo

Beyond these titles, the iOS MMORPG landscape is fragmented, with a handful of games sporting small but still dedicated player bases. Amongst this tier are Celtic Heroes, World of Magic, Seven Swords, Empire Online , and Traveller AR. Each game has a smaller following, but this is sometimes traded off for having a much more involved and dedicated community than one sees with a game like OnC. Any of them could potentially rise to the level of a “big dog” with development updates in the future.

ingZ’s Traveller AR

Then there’s the rest of them — titles that seem to have lost player and developer support, have apps that haven’t seen an update in more than six months, and/or have many one-star complaints on the App Store. These include games like Galactic Empires, Yslandia, and Kingdom Conquest. While some of these games could still warrant your attention in the future, right now they look like dead apps walking.

Coming Up

There are also a couple of MMORPGs on the iOS horizon that are definitely worth knowing about. First, there’s Dark Legends, Spacetime Studios’s third game. It bucks the family-friendly trend of PL and SL, instead offering a vampire-themed game with plenty of blood and violence. It will be interesting to see how the successful Legends model translates into gritty noir. It’s expected to arrive in the next month or two.

Promotional shot for Dark legends

There’s also World of Midgard from Veraxon, a fantasy MMORPG in the same mode as World of Warcraft which is aimed squarely at challenging Order and Chaos for the iOS MMO crown. It plans to do so by offering things OnC doesn’t, like PvP arenas and mounts. A playable beta version, called Faction Wars, is also expected to arrive in the next month or two.

And finally, Sega recently announced that it was going to be bringing its highly anticipated Phantasy Star Online 2 to iOS. Yes, that would be the sequel to the classic game from a decade ago. Nuff said! This one isn’t expected until the end of the year.

In closing, let me just say that this is an exciting time to be an MMORPG fan on iOS. The genre is a maturing corner of the App Store, and there’s a lot of cool-looking games on the horizon. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be the one who gets to bring it all to you.

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