One of the guys that I've been playing boardgames with on Tuesday nights was wearing a Mythica t-shirt. I did a double and triple take, trying to place it, and then it hit me. Many people probably know by now that I love the story of the "lost MMO generation". It's a parable of corporate risk aversion that just speaks to me, particularly because its an area of work that I have interesting aspirations towards.
Brief recap on the tale for those that don't recall: Once there was a company that had become extremely risk adverse named EA. EA had two MMO projects on store shelves at the end of an MMO generation, and in a period where many more were planned and/or under development. EA lost a good amount of money on a very niche/cult MMO (Motor City Online) and instead of blaming poor planning decisions (seriously, EA, how many NASCAR-dads were interested in MMOs at the time?) they marginalized and down-played the near success of their richer MMO (Earth & Beyond) and blamed the market for their problems. "The market just wasn't big enough and wasn't expected to grow". This move surprised and frightened two mainstream publishers to renege on their plans, effectively dropping several years worth of innovation out of the market.
I generally focus my version of the story on Ubi-Soft, who in my mind made the crazier decisions (their investments were roughly 98% (Uru) and 87% (Matrix Online) ready for live play), because their MMOs were the ones that had me most interested, and I was more involved in Uru's community than any of the others (speaking of which, I'm still hoping for an early Uru beta pass...).
Mythica was the bigger, more notorious, of two Microsoft MMO projects that were cancelled mid-development, also within months of the EA decision. Mythica had rumors of some very cool technology and some true innovation, and gathered a fairly interesting community just from those rumors.
The real tragedy of Mythica can, and was, and will forever be sealed with the words: World of Warcraft. There are still people that are "amazed" by how Blizzard so quickly gobbled up a huge marketshare. I wasn't, because I knew that the market was there all along. (EA's decision sent a mass exodus of MMO gamers to Eve. Ubi's decision created an intriquing diaspora. The drop in competition helped immensely to establish the Asian MMO publishers.) Blizzard had the guts to tell their risk adverse parent company to ignore the EA drop out, and were the first major title of the "lost generation" to make it to market by virtue of being the last one standing.
World of Warcraft used the formula of "major license" + "previous generation MMO tech" for success. Mythica, without the major license but with more innovative tech, might possibly have been real competition to World of Warcraft. Tragically the market will never know what it missed.