Pablo Picasso is famously attributed the quote "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal". Copying, or emulating, is when you try to be like someone else. Stealing is when you take it and make it your own.
In the MMO space, we have seen plenty of examples of MMOs copying World of Warcraft. And they fail. And everyone is left scratching their head and discussing what went wrong.
By contrast, Warcraft stole from Everquest (and other games). They took these ideas and internalized them. They didn't just copy the idea, they took ownership of it. Then improved upon it.
Consumers don't want copies
A copy is never as good as the original. When a company copies a work, they aren't thinking about the consumers. They are thinking about the product. It's all "look we have these too" because it's become a standard feature.
That type of thinking just doesn't leave room for thinking about improvement.
This is why I ultimately believe WoW has been so successful. Take Warhammer, for example, which introduced an innovative new MMO feature in the Tome of Knowledge. WoW took that same concept -- internalized it -- and created their Achievements system. They made it their own.
And having played both games, I can say that the Achievements systems for all it's shortcomings is widely more popular and used than the ToK.
You might disagree with Blizzard's vision, but let me assure you that this ability to take ideas and make them their own is the real reason they are so successful.
They steal ideas, they don't copy them.
One day I'm going to write a fantasy trilogy. It might not ever be published, but I'm going to write it. :)
I think one of the reasons that I identify with this "stealing" concept is because of how I've approached creating the world and story for my trilogy.
I'm not going to discuss the specifics of my fantasy realm, but there are several core elements that were "inspired" by other fantasy works. Things I really enjoyed in other books I've read that I felt would have a great place in my world.
But I didn't just copy the idea. As I said, I was inspired by it. I took ownership of the idea and turned it into something that felt right for my world.
And it wasn't just one idea. But lots of them from lots of different inspirations. The result is something entirely different and I think only I would make the connection to what originally inspired my world.
This is how I believe an MMO developer needs to approach designing an MMO. They need to take lots of different ideas from lots of different games. Think about what they enjoyed about these games and then meld them into something cohesive that they own.
Something new. Something different. Something that those of us looking for that next cool MMO would want to play.
Not just innovation, but evolution as well.