You've always wanted to create an MMO. You have an idea that's disruptive, unique, looks like a case study for Raph Koster's Theory of Fun, and all the gamers you respect that you've told about it just boggle at your awesomeness.
Your first funding prospect asks, "How is this going to compete with World Of Warcraft? Don't you need more features like that?"
Get used to it. But here's how to respond.
It's the secret of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Not that they are necessarily the best, the most sophisticated, the easiest, the most fun entry in their class ever. If you emulate them, you'll stay small and die. What's Blizzard's secret sauce?
WOW's too big to fail.
Yes, WOW haters everywhere, here's your answer.
The experienced MMO players have bounced around more than a few failed or sabotaged (yes I'm a SWG vet...) communities. They've made friends, found guilds, and had games fall out from under them.
As early adopters, they'll try a variety of games -- but when they find the people they want to play with, most will settle in, and not want to move and lose half their buds.
Less experienced players will go with what looks like the most popular thing. Herd mentality in later adopters.
This happened to Google among the search engines (IMNSHO Altavista and Northern Lights had them beat in different areas at one point).
This happened to Facebook among social networks (Myspace is far better for music fans, but I suspect it will die).
Twitter is...well, a platform, not a service. Twitter's *users* made Twitter into what it is today, by kludging uses like @ messages and # tags into their de facto toolset, eventually supported by the platform. I suspect more people use Twitter clients than use Twitter.com, because Twitter.com just doesn't have the ease of interface and feature set that the API apps have. Plurk was probably a better system, with threading and community features Twitter didn't even have ambitions to match.
It didn't matter. WOW, Google, Facebook, and Twitter got there first, got big, and are too big to fail, at least for now.
What's likely to bring them down? Clones? No.
What will bring any of these big players down eventually, is something disruptive, something (you should excuse the expression) game changing -- and something risky.
Which is why most funders you ever talk to will never want to hear about your disruptive, wonderful game, without comparing it to WOW.
Until you explain to them, it's riskier to emulate WOW than to take WOW's empire down from a completely new angle.
Have faith, stick with your idea (but listen too!), and speak to your investors in their own language of risk. Your intuition is right. We don't need another WOW, and anyone who tries to produce one is practically stealing their investor's money.
What's your investor/design -- or even player -- story about "more WOW?" Most of us have at least one.
Shava Nerad is CEO of Oddfellow Studios, Inc., a Boston game startup just filing IP and building an exec team this month.