#3 Star Trek
Yes, I know that Star Trek Online is being developed by Cryptic Studios. I thought long and hard about listing the Trek IP this week, given that by looking at what we know of Cryptic's take on a Star Trek universe MMO, they are focusing on developing a game with a core of combat. Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks that this is a bad idea. Trek, especially in its later incarnations, was very much an IP about combatitive conflict. In fact, some of the coolest memories I have of the franchise come out of the Dominion War from Deep Space Nine and entanglements between the Borg and the TNG crew. I think it was a completely valid decision to build a Trek MMO around a combat system.
That being said, it's impossible to argue that there isn't another side to Star Trek entirely. The original spirit of Trek was based on a combat as a last resort philosophy. Themes of diplomacy, exploration, technology and interpersonal relationships mattered much more than the mechanics of which ships were the toughest and whose phases were better than whose.
There are two fundamental problems with the idea of developing a Star Trek MMO in the latter style. The first is that it would be damned difficult to create a fun and engaging game based on these concepts. While it's all fine and good to write stories for television or even movies based on these ideals, it becomes a much more difficult concept when you're talking about individually entertaining thousands of people at the same time, in unique ways, without falling back on combat as an engagement tool.
In any case, It's the non-combat aspects of Star Trek that make it an ideal candidate to bring in a more diverse audience than the current crop of MMOs and while I respect what Cryptic is doing with their version, I wonder if a game so heavily steeped in combat will be as effective at netting that "other" demographic of Trek fans as might be a game that put the focus on the more traditional Trek values.
The number two slot goes to another game that is currently in development. Fortunately for the purposes of this list, we know even less about the internal mechanics of Gazillion's upcoming MMO than we do Cryptic's Trek. That leaves a little more room for me to wax poetic about its potential without stepping on what we know about tis current design.
Growing up, at least around the people that I grew up with, LEGO was a fairly universal toy. Boys, girls, it really didn't matter. Everyone loved those stackable blocks. I think that it owes a lot to the limitless potential of this particular toy (and by extension, IP) that can literally be whatever its players want.
The potential for this IP with a virtual world is obvious and if the developers (who are working very closely with the license holders) manage to pull off the same kind of free-form creative play that has made the physical toys a success, then there is little room to doubt that a LEGO MMO is going to bring in at least a few players who wouldn't normally come to an MMO.
It is my hope upon hope that the developers behind this game don't muddy the IP's waters by trying to stick a combat system into it somehow. If this game becomes simply about building LEGO creations to destroy other peoples' creations, I'm going to be pretty disappointed.
#1 Harry Potter
The number one IP on this list really shouldn't take anyone by surprise. In the last decade, perhaps no other IP has been so engaging for such a wide variety of demographics than the universe of Harry Potter. Already credited with brining a generation of children back to reading, this series has flown in the face of demographics. It has been successful with the young and the old, male and female, rich and poor. Then, the movies were met with the same success. People fell in love with the universe in droves.
While I'll be the first to admit that combat certainly has a role to play in any Harry Potter game, let alone an MMO, but I honestly believe that it doesn't have to be and probably shouldn't be the core focus of such a game. In the stories, the universe is so much about the wider scope of wizard society. While everyone loves the wizard duels, it's also about learning all of the other magical disciplines, it's about wizarding history and so much more.
Once again, when someone finally develops this MMO, and mark my words, it will happen, I will be sorely disappointed if it all boils down to combat in the end. If combat is the primary means of advancement in this game, then the developers, whomever they may be, have not only disappointed me (which I feel should be enough to stop anyone from doing anything, but others don't tend to agree), but they have missed an opportunity to draw in an audience larger and more diverse than any other MMO to date has been able to do.
Now, with all of this said, and this list created, I want to be clear about the fact that I don't think that everyone should stop making combat-centric MMOs. I think that combat has been the cornerstone of the genre for a long time and it's probably going to stay that way for a long time to come. The point of this list was to get people thinking about ways to draw in the demographic of players who might want to play in virtual worlds, but who might not want one centered around combat.