Over the last couple days, the gaming blogosphere (the only thing I hate more than the word blogosphere are people who use the word blogosphere and then complain about how much they hate the word) has been reporting that Multiverse has secured the rights to an MMORPG based on the not-so-hit TV series Firefly. Generally, the news has been reported with a pretty hefty dose of understandable skepticism. People are disappointed nothing has been mentioned of Joss Whedon's involvement with the game (meaning it will probably be negligible), they say the property has a very niche fanbase, or it doesn't lend itself incredibly well to the MMO genre, or that by the time the game comes out, a large part of the fanbase may have moved on. Some of these may be true, but this doesn't necessarily mean this was a bad move on Multiverse's part.
For those that don't know, Multiverse is trying to launch a universal MMO platform. Their plans include a single client that connects to any game developed on the Multiverse engine, as well as development tools to greatly reduce the difficulties in developing and running an MMO. All for free. They make their money by taking a cut of any subscription fees or microtransactions you charge (that is, if you choose to charge anything for it). Overall, not a bad idea at all. It could lead to a lot of really cool experimentation in a genre that's generally lacking in that kind of thing. Or it could become the next Second Life, where the gaming and tech press is enamored with it, but nobody actually plays it. Unfortunately, so far they don't have any games that look compelling or interesting enough to draw much of an audience. Mostly generic fantasy adventures through generic fantasy worlds. They need a high profile game to draw a fanbase. The easiest way to draw a fanbase is to pay for one that's already established.
Firefly was actually a pretty inspired choice for Multiverse. It has a somewhat small, but very loyal fanbase that I imagine has a pretty strong intersection with the MMO demographic. It has at least a few strengths that lend themselves to MMO gameplay: an interesting universe with a wide variety of locations, two competing factions (outlaws versus the oppresive empire), no complicating technologies (things like the replicator in Star Trek that would tend to destroy any economy the game might have if implemented faithfully), and the Reavers make a nice constant threat and enemy. Best of all, since Fox has probably written Firefly off as a viable property by now, I bet Multiverse was able to pick it up for relatively cheap.
This game is not meant to compete with World of Warcraft. Heck, the game doesn't even need to make a profit. The game's purpose is to give people a reason to download the Multiverse client. Even if the players end up not liking Firefly, Multiverse has already got a big group of people past the platform's biggest barrier to entry. From there, they just have to show all those people the dozens of other games they can try, many of them completely free.
That said, if they really want the game to be a success (and why wouldn't they?), they really need to get Joss Whedon involved in some way. There's nothing more ferocious than a rabid fanbase that thinks you're abusing their favourite property. Being able to say the original creator is involved will do a lot to assuage any potential backlash.