Minecraft, World of Warcraft
Minecraft:Minecraft is the sort of game that makes game publishing executives slam their heads against a wall. It doesn't feature any big-budget voice actors, massive special effects, or an army of animators and artists. There's no plot, no scripted combat sequences, no multiplayer mode with character levels, weapon unlocks, or finely-tuned multiplayer maps.
It's not that features like multiplayer don't exist -- they do -- but the game's open-ended design puts as much control in player hands as possible. You can explore dungeons, fight monsters, and build up a base of operations for yourself, or you can flip to creative mode with unlimited resources and build to your heart's content. Worlds are procedurally generated, which makes each game a new experience. There's an extensive crafting system and a huge variety of resources players can gather in their explorations.
Minecraft's website summarizes it as "Minecraft is a game about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine. At night monsters come out, make sure to build a shelter before that happens."
What can you do? What can't you do?
People have built scale models of Hogwarts, a 1:1 model of the Enterprise D, the house from Up, and much, much more. Some folks make scenery, while others design functional CPUs.
Yes, you can create a functional circuit in Minecraft. And people do.
With over eight million players, the game's popularity shows no signs of waning. It's a powerful testament to the joy of creativity even when players are given little more than blocky graphics and a handful of options to show them how to play.
World of Warcraft:When it comes to to the number one spot, there was never any serious question which game would take home the prize. World of Warcraft's star may be fading, but no other game, MMO or otherwise, has sucked in so many players for so long. Answering the question of why WoW was so addictive, however, is surprisingly difficult.
When WoW launched, Blizzard was the new guy taking on Everquest II and Sony's established empire. I played a lot of WoW, starting from six months before the game launched and continuing, off-and-on, through the Mists of Pandaria expansion. I was a guild leader, a raider, and a casual at various points. It was the first MMO I ever played, but far from the last.
I think WoW grabbed people because it nailed the quests, storyline, and dynamic play that were sorely missing from previous games. Before WoW, MMO gameplay boiled down to standing in one place and killing the same mob over, and over, and over. Most quests still boiled down to "Kill X number of Ys", but they were often interwoven with plot developments and zone-spanning adventures. Most quests could be completed without ever joining a group.
WoW's broad appeal has faded in the past few years, but no other MMO has remotely challenged its dominance. It seems as though no game ever will. Even the high-flying Star Wars: The Old Republic, the last major title that attempted to adopt per-month pricing, has gone free-to-play in an attempt to encourage more subscribers.
That's our list -- what's yours look like? What games have kept you coming back year after year, even as graphics advance and new titles launch?