I was sitting around at lunchtime today discussing the news of the Firefly MMO. Reactions were decidedly mixed, my own opinion being that the things that make the show good — the characters and dialog — are very difficult to replicate in a game and instead you are left with exploring what is a rather shallow setting (seriously, I could come up with a better realized setting in less than a week). The discussion drifted to what sorts of properties are well-suited for MMO adaptation. People were suggesting various TV shows and movies when I suddenly realized what scifi property would make a killer MMO: Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld novels. Think about these plusses:
* You have every character that ever lived in history to use in the game. You can have plots that revolve around Attila the Hun, Richard Nixon, Julius Caesar, Jeffrey Dahmer, Che Guevara — you name it. Obviously you’d need to keep certain people as NPCs only, both for story purposes and to prevent guys running around pretending they are Hitler.
* Respawning is built into the setting. In the books, if you die you are reborn and we know from the character of Sir Richard Francis Burton that this can be done hundreds and hundreds of times.
* The building of an economy is again built into the setting. In the books people organize to start mining, building, and manufacturing. This would allow the players in the MMO to literally build their economy from scratch.
* With all of human history to play with, you can have nearly unlimited customization of clothing and costume. This allows characters to be highly individualized.
* If the game starts the day of rebirth, that gives you a great launch event that’ll encourage people to sign up early. Imagine 100,000+ people all starting to play at the same time.
Now the downside is that Riverworld is no Lord of the Rings as far as popularity and gamer-on-the-street awareness, but I think that could be overcome with the right marketing plan. The property is probably too obscure for any MMO company to consider it, but it could be quite cool if handled correctly.