Oh boy - if you've been reading my writing for a while, you're going to be saying to yourself "oh god, not again..." But - too bad - you don't have to read. ;) I know I sound like a broken record on this subject, but seriously: in the MMO world, fantasy has reached saturation. I'd even say over-saturation at this point.
Now before we get too far, let me make it clear: I like the fantasy genre! The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit, and the other writings of Tolkien) are my favorite stories and have been since I was about 5 years old. I also like more modern fantasy. With that out of the way...
Since the early days of MMOs, with the "father of the commercially successful MMO", that being Ultima Online, fantasy has been the prevalent (and at many/most times only) genre covered by MMOs. Sure there's been a wide variation in style - some have been original IP, some have been based on popular and established IP, but still... Fantasy. High fantasy, low fantasy, weird fantasy (Asheron's Call), but still, again, fantasy.
There have been "blips" from other genres. There is Anarchy Online - a good game for sure. There was Star Wars Galaxies (Peace Be Upon It). The Matrix Online (Rest in Peace... you had so much potential). There's EVE Online, City of Heroes/Villains (and Champions Online!), and a few others too. But I'm straining myself to think of the non-fantasy titles. Contrast that with UO, EQ1, AC1, AC2, Horizons, Shadowbane, WISH (RIP!), AoC, WoW, Warhammer Online, EQ2, Aion, FFXI, LOTRO, whew, and I'm forgetting a ton of titles! I can rattle those off without even thinking about it.
Now, when thinking about how MMOs work, it would seem to me that something in the Cyberpunk (or Steampunk!) genre would be a "bullets and guns" type match! Sure there's NeoSteam, but I'm betting this is the first many of my readers will have heard of it. Why isn't there a WoW-popular (or at least close!) Cyber/Steampunk MMO? Why isn't there an MMO, a good one, capitalizing on the popularity of monster/semi-horror type IP's along the lines of the popular vampire/etc literature of the day? Or on shows like Buffy/Angel? Well sure there's a project in development, but it doesn't appear to be a "serious" attempt at an A-list MMO title. The Firefly MMO would have been awesome if done properly and as an A-list title!
Sure, I get one reason: money. The fantasy MMO genre is a proven money maker. "Look at WoW!", they say. Sure, yeah, look at WoW. Blizzard is more a money printing press than a company. ;) You can't kill WoW with another fantasy title. (Well, I don't think you can kill WoW no matter what... But that's a subject for another rant!) WoW is a refinement of a proven MMO formula - that of EQ1. They evolved it several steps, and it got them 11,000,000 subscribers. Pretty cool! Now take that formula, evolve it a couple more steps, but do it with a non-fantasy IP. License it or make a new one - it doesn't matter. People will flock to your game.
So, yeah, I understand the bean counters looking at other successful titles and saying "Ok look, fantasy makes money." But what are the other reasons? I just don't see them. Developing an MMO is a huge risk anyway. But it carries the potential of insane rewards. Have you ever done the math on 11,000,000 subs times $14.99 per month? Heh.
Maybe Star Trek Online or Star Wars: The Old Republic will do it. Both have a lot going for them. Popular (HUGELY popular!) IPs, and especially with SWTOR, a very good, proven company behind them. SWTOR will suffer a little from "OMG NOT SWG AGAIN!!!" syndrome from ex-players of SWG, but I think in the end it'll win back a lot of pissed off ex-SWG'ers. I actually like both Star Trek and Star Wars, which is kind of odd as usually people like one or the other but not both. So I'm not sure which of the two will "win" the perceived battle between the two IPs there. CCP Games, EVE's developer, merged with White Wolf, the owners of the World of Darkness (Vampire: The Masquerade, etc) IP a few years ago and reportedly have an MMO in development based on that. Blizzard has a super-secret "next-gen MMO" (their term) in development. And Funcom has The Secret World - a Lovecraftian-style horror-ish MMO that looks awesome so far - in dev. Maybe one of these titles (and I hope it doesn't end up being Blizzard's!) will achieve the same level of success the fantasy MMOs have, and then open it up for other non-fantasy titles!
When it comes to WoW, take a look at what they did. They refined EQ, sure. But they added something for everyone in the game. You can craft virtual items, but that crafting is limited to preset items without customization.
There are mechanical, SciFi types of of aspects to the game. I mean hello Outland appears to be floating in outer space with Fel Reavers roaming around.
There is the fantasy, but what they did was make it so you obviosly have to devote huge amounts of time to the game. And they do an outstanding job on keeping you hooked as we know!!!
How can you defeat Blizzard? Funny enough it might defeat itself with its new MMO, not that they will mind.
But yes you need something new, something perhaps less cartoonish but nontheless that will apeal to many many different kinds of people while also being easy to start to play. And its the Open World setting that sold me on the game as well…some MMO’s are so limiting to movement and restrictive.
WoW is hardly “Open World.” Blizzard virtually invented the “funneled content” concept for MMOs with WoW. You’re shuttled between quest hubs in mechanical fashion and encouraged to follow the funneling like you’re on rails.