What do all these games have in common?
2. Warhammer Online
3. Age of Conan
5. Allods Online
...they were all highly hyped before their release, and then loudly proclaimed 'failures' and 'dead' by large numbers of their (former) playerbase soon after (often via lengthy tirades on various message boards).
Yet, they're all still online. Which, I assume, means they're still making money and being played, sometimes years later. What does that say about the definition of 'failure' as it's often used by so many MMO gamers? Does it simply mean a game is a big disappointment? That it 'failed' to fulfill its ambitious concept promises? That there's only a few(!) hundred thousand people playing it instead of millions? Or because it's gone F2P?
I think many times, people toss around the accusation that a game is a 'failure' too easily, and often because they're feeling personally let down by the game. A lot of MMO gamers get very emotionally invested in their games (often years before they are even released!) so it's only expected that there can be a lot of bitterness when that investment ends up not paying off. Sometimes that bitterness becomes an active attempt to smear and tear down a game, hoping to drive people away (I've seen this with many former Allods players most recently).
In some ways I think the rise of WoW has skewed people's perceptions of what makes a game a failure population-wise. For example, nowadays MMOs are assumed to need a few million players in order to have a viable population (as a comparison, when WoW was first released Blizzard was expecting around 300,000!). The definition of success was different 5 years ago, that's for sure.
I think that the MMO community needs to be less eager to throw around the term 'failure'. I also think the biggest barrier to a new game's success now is the box price+monthly fee model, which I hope is soon replaced by the free download/trial model (I still think it's baffling why most new MMOs treat trials as something that should only be offered later in a game's life rather than right at the start) or any of the various F2P+micropayment models. I honestly believe that could allow smaller games, niche games, to succeed in a way that is nearly impossible in the current MMORPG market. The more options for different game sizes, types, and payment models that there are, the more chances for success for a modern MMORPG.