Lost Ark: Why the New MMO Is Breaking Player Count Records

Lost Ark's sudden and shocking rise in popularity isn't as sudden or shocking as it might seem.

Lost Ark
Photo: Amazon Game Studios

Lost Ark is breaking player count records, taking Twitch by storm, and leaving just about everyone who is out of the loop wondering how this MMOARPG became so popular so quickly.

In recent years, we’ve seen games like Fall Guys, Among Us, and Splitgate seemingly come out of nowhere to take the industry by storm. While some of those titles end up staying on our radars for longer than others, each of them proved that it’s still very much possible for slightly smaller and relatively obscure games to make a name for themselves without the obvious benefits of a major franchise name, a huge marketing push, or any of the other niceties many Triple-A studios regularly get to work with.

Like most of those other titles, though, Lost Ark‘s sudden rise isn’t as inexplicable or sudden as it may seem. In fact, there are some pretty good reasons why Lost Ark has already become gaming’s biggest “new thing.”

Lost Ark Proves the Power of Free-to-Play

Lost Ark’s free-to-play status isn’t the final word about the game’s popularity, but you’re lying to yourself if you’re starting a conversation about the game’s historic debut without bringing up its price point (or notable lack thereof). 

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We’re going to talk about the asterisk that should be put next to Lost Ark’s free-to-play status, but there’s no denying that it’s yet another recent example of how much easier it is to convince people to take a chance on something new if you don’t charge them upfront for the privilege to do so. 

Whether or not Lost Ark remains one of the most popular games on Steam in the weeks and months to come remains to be seen, but the decision to launch it in new markets as a free-to-play game was obviously the right move. 

Lost Ark Benefited From Weeks of Streamer Hype (and its Amazon Connection)

Whether you love them, hate them, or have no opinions about them whatsoever, it should be clear at this point that the biggest streamers can easily influence a game’s popularity at launch. That’s certainly what we saw in the case of Lost Ark’s debut. 

Top Twitch streamers like Asmongold, Fextralife, and others have been talking about Lost Ark’s Steam debut for weeks now and really sent its hype into overdrive when some of them participated in the title’s recent early access period. Those that follow them clearly wanted in on the fun, and even those who couldn’t name a Twitch streamer if they were forced to do so probably ended up hearing about the game due to the ripple effect streamers can generate when they essentially devote their channels to new games.

Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Amazon (Lost Ark’s publisher and Twitch’s parent company) has been offering Lost Ark “loot drops” via Twitch since the game’s Steam debut. Honestly, Amazon is really starting to figure out how to use Twitch to turn a new game into something you feel like you need to experience ASAP just so you’re not completely in the dark.

Lost Ark Makes A Great First Impression

From a design perspective, one of Lost Ark’s greatest strengths may be the various ways the game is designed to make the best first impression possible. 

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From allowing you to try out its various classes until you find the one that is right for you to the title’s cinematic presentation and quick leveling system, Lost Ark puts its best foot forward in a way that helps ensure that even a quick taste of the action is enough to keep you hooked (if only for a little while). 

It’s hardly unusual for a developer to fill a game’s opening with jaw-dropping set-pieces and instantly accessible action, but the way Lost Ark presents itself as something other than an MMOARPG while staying true to that genre is quite impressive. 

Lost Ark Fills Two Important Genre Voids

As an MMMO with ARPG combat, Lost Ark essentially belongs to two genres that a lot of people seem to be invested in at the moment. 

The MMO void is easy enough to explain. Even since WoW started to alienate more of its fans, a lot of MMO players have been searching for the next big thing. Final Fantasy 14 has been one of the most obvious beneficiaries of that search, but just as we saw with New World, there’s clearly still a market for MMOs that allow people to potentially get in on the ground floor (or close to it) of a grand new adventure.

ARPG fans don’t have it quite as bad, but the situations are similar. Path of Exile has been feeding the ARPG need for quite some time, but those who have been patiently waiting for Diablo 4 and have burned their way through the genre’s other offerings are certainly open to trying a major new ARPG that offers what feels like an almost unlimited amount of PvE and PvP content. 

Speaking of which…

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Lost Ark’s Endgame and PvP Are Deep and Engaging (With One Big Catch)

As I said, Lost Ark makes a great first impression. However, that first impression would be nothing more than just that if the game didn’t ultimately allow you to participate in satisfying endgame options that reward you for your patience and your efforts.

So far as that goes, Lost Ark does offer a mostly satisfying endgame that is only hindered by the title’s already divisive microtransaction system and the way it utilizes mobile gaming (and MMO) elements to leave you feeling a little overwhelmed. 

Simply put, Lost Ark’s PvP is a lot of fun. You don’t technically need to reach the endgame to enjoy it, though there will certainly be many Lost Ark players who choose to pretty much only play the game’s various PvP modes once they reach a certain level. The title’s competitive scene is certainly robust enough to justify that level of devotion. 

As far as PvE goes, Lost Ark’s end game primarily consists of a blend of Chaos Dungeons (high-level dungeons that offer various difficulty tiers), Guardian Raids, world bosses, and the constant pursuit of more stats and better gear. There are also things like daily activities, strongholds, guild management, and collectible card sets that are just waiting there to help ensure that you never entirely run out of things to do. 

Unfortunately, that does bring us to Lost Ark’s microtransactions and time management systems. We’ll be talking about both those mechanics in a separate article that isn’t as focused on how Lost Ark became so popular so quickly, but it should be noted that you will reach a point in your Lost Ark journey when you’ll start to feel that itch to spend a little money to save some time or give your character a little boost. 

It’s not the absolute worst or most aggressive microtransaction system I’ve ever seen, but choosing to engage in some of Lost Ark’s most bountiful endgame content means that you’re much more likely to encounter those temptations.

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That point aside, Lost Ark’s replayability combined with its accessibility is a big part of the reason why it’s already proving to be a phenomenon. 

Lost Ark Has Been Fine-Tuned for Years

Lost Ark may have only recently been released in the West via Steam, but developer Smilegate RPG has been fine-tuning this game for years in order to ensure that it is as balanced, bountiful, and fundamentally enjoyable as possible. 

To really appreciate what that means for this game’s debut, you have to look at a game like New World. That Amazon-developed MMO’s initial hype faded quickly once players realized that it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. You can call some of those early expectations unrealistic, but a lot of people felt alienated by the game after the short amount of time they played it largely because they were left wondering why a game that felt so incomplete became such a big deal so quickly.

Lost Ark’s great advantage in that area is that it gets to benefit from that same “cult of the new” that a lot of the game’s Western players suddenly find themselves in while also being a game that feels a lot more complete from day one than so many other entirely new games.

Much like how a lot of people came to Final Fantasy 14 long after its developers managed to iron out so many of the game’s early wrinkles, Lost Ark is able to offer an experience that feels more “new” than it really is. Believe it or not, that’s a very good thing. 

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