Why do some MMO's work and some don't? I've been kicking this around based on my last post about properties that'd work. I think I've come up with a philosophy on that.
In a good MMO, a successful one, the world itself is a character or has character.
The world, therefore can exist on its own, and you can imagine yourself playing inside of it. There are certain rules and tropes, ideas and elements, that define the world outside of whatever characters are in it, in the source material, and created by the characters.
World of Warcraft, with its extensive lore, is an excellent example of this, building a giant setting with references, in-jokes, backstories, and more. Beyond the leveling, grinding, teamwork, it presents a very compelling and interesting setting.
As a counterpart, I think one reason the Star Wars MMO did so poorly (and why I have issues with the upcoming one), is that it was a series with dominant characters – the Jedi. Everyone playing WANTS to be a Jedi, and that promptly skews the gameplay away from having a consistent setting. A character set dominants – and you can either exclude people from it (thus making them bitter), or have to build a world around one set of characters.
On the other hand I have my doubts about the DC MMO (and did about the Marvel MMO). High levels of complex and retconned backstory don't help, but the setting has various world-dominating characters that one can never aspire to be like. The world isn't a character for either setting, but there are characters that define the world.
This is why I'm reasonably hopeful on the Star Trek MMO. It seems to be attempting to balance Trek Tropes with a good MMO, and what I hear sounds reasonably positive. There will be space battles, assembling a crew, away team missions, etc. There is, at least, an attempt to work within the setting.
This is also why i felt an game in The World of Avatar: The Last Airbender, was very possible. The worldsetting is richly defined, there's a lot of backstory and lore, and the one super-powerful character (The Avatar) is both part of the world, AND a unique phenomena so people won't expect to play such a character.
So if you work in MMOs, keep this in mind. Is your World a character first and foremost? If so, chances are good you have a setting to work with.
– Steven Savage