I know I'm a bit late on this, but I think the passing of Fury (along with the undeath of Hellgate: London and Flagship Studios) hold a lot of valuable lessons and insights into the MMO industry today. Failure can teach people a lot, but the natural reaction is to try to ignore the failure of others as if it were somehow contagious. It isn't, and just because WoW was successful doesn't mean the MMO industry won't see failure after failure until the Rapture (and even then, those left behind will want a MMO to play).
And, in the case of Fury, the failure was quite spectacular.
From what is publically available, Fury started development at Australian developer Auran in 2005 and made its first major public appearance at E3 in 2006. It was a MMO title with a difference - a pure PvP arena combat game with no PvE, with huge numbers of powers, a highly customisable character power system and even finishing moves (you might need a codec for that video). Fury had some great ideas on display - no endurance bar (your attacks built up mana that could be then used for more powerful abilities - a similar system is being used in Champions Online), a loot system that saw both winners and losers get copies of loot from their opponents, a very easy respec system - that made it stand out as something different.
The fact it was being developed by Auran, a publisher with a small but solid reputation (Dark Reign, Trainz) also added to the idea that there was a studio out there willing to push the envelope. A lot of PvP orientated players were excited by the potential of Fury as being something different on the horizon.
Fury's alpha started early in 2007 and, from memory (I'll check my emails later) I got an early invite. My PC wasn't up to spec at the time, but the beta forums were quite excited, even if the game had flaws (crashing bugs, it was hard to find opponents - stuff like that). Closed beta happened in July 2007 with a lot of the same bugs and issues still causing trouble. Auran had determined that in order to refine the game as much as possible, they needed a large number of players to beta test Fury despite its instability and short comings. Although this sounds like a sensible idea, the reality is that players get into a closed beta to play, not to act as free quality assurance or to deal with an application that crashes their PC every time they try to remap their keys. Should a player get past the bugs and the waiting time for a match to start, they were then greeted by experienced Fury players / teams, who would then squash their newb face into the dirt. Repeatedly. Often the match was over before you had an idea of what was going on (and yes, I speak from experience :-).
The large player churn that Fury experienced saw them invite more and more players to the beta test, which became more like an open alpha - players got deterred in playing Fury for a number of factors, declared it sucked and left... and then told their friends about it.
So, Fury was getting quite a bit of negative PR and launch (October 16 2007) was approaching. Gamecock Media Group, who'd come aboard as publisher in February 2007, Auran and Codemasters (the European publisher) arranged the Fury Challenge, a pre-launch event with a prize pool of over US $1 million (and later US $2 million in prizes), to help attract attention to the MMO. This was despite Fury still having a number of issues affecting its playability and the fact it was still technically in beta status.
Suffice to say having a competitive event with real world prizes on a game that is still not completely finished backfired somewhat. A lot of people were interested in the idea of winning prizes, but ran into bugs with downloading Fury, installing it and then actually playing it. Those who played in the event found themselves up against the uber-PvPer who didn't make the play experience particularly enjoyable. Although this article makes the Fury Challenge seem like fun, the key stat for me is that even the top 20 didn't win more than about half the matches they took part in. I think a lot of people were turned off by losing more than they won, especially in a MMO.
All of which, surprise surprise, led to Fury launching very weakly and never really picking up an audience. Reviews of Fury were very harsh and the lifespan of Fury looked short from the beginning. Despite Auran's best efforts - free content updates, the introduction of a PvE play type, free play being offered, players being called "LLLOOOOSSSSEEEERRRRR!"s (who thought that was a good idea?) and so on - but it was too late. Fury "was a financial disaster, it lost Auran a lot of money" (Fury cost US13.2 million, which is a big amount to a small developer) and staff numbers working on the title continually were reduced. The branch of Auran who worked on Fury was forced into voluntary administration and, on August 5 2008, Fury announced the servers would be permanently shut down on August 7.
So, who was responsible for this failure? As always, a number of factors go into it. Fury had a good concept that might have been foiled by the real world - do people want to pay a regular subscription fee for a PvP when there are quite a few out there with free online play (especially FPSs)? Perhaps not. The former staff of Auran have been particularly chatty about what went on at the studio, with Adam Carpenter, the lead developer on the title, saw both the difficulty in learning how to play Fury as a new player (correct) and that a certain group at Auran only wanted to work 9am - 5.30pm on the game (incorrect) as key reasons for Fury failing. Former Auran staff blame poor management decisions and a lack of an ability to listen to a wide variety of opinions as reasons for why things went so wrong.
Having been through a lot of articles about Fury and based on my experience with this title, a lot of its problems came down to management decisions. New players had no chance to learn how to play before they were thrown to the wolves, which was a major reason for Fury having very high player churn. The range of power options available were also very confusing for players, especially those who had no idea about the differences between the (say) fire and water power of nearly the same function. How equipment worked and what characters should wear was very hard to work out. These problems are design issues and have to lay clearly at the feet of the developers.
Another management blunder was the handling of alpha / beta. Inviting huge numbers of players to an alpha / beta, only for them to be turned off by bugs, is a great way to get your game some free negative word-of-mouth. Holding a huge contest that attracts a lot of hard core players who also experience bugs / crashes while also destroying the fun of other players new to the game is also a bad move. Bad move after bad move helped sink Fury at launch and it was never able to recover.
Fury is a game that was probably ahead of its time and had a lot of really good ideas behind it. Unfortunately, the execution didn't put those good ideas on the best display and left Fury committing the greatest gaming sin of all: not being particularly fun to play.