Expanding on the topic of IPs, MMOCrunch wrote a brief article asking why WoW and Lineage 2 sold so much better than MMOs based on LOTR and Star Wars. I appreciate how the writer is careful with his conclusions, since it's definitely not a clear issue. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject, in response to MMOCrunch's article.
Using a film / book IP and using a game IP are different. The Warcraft RTS games had millions of fans, and asking them to try a Warcraft MMO was like asking fans of the Star Trek TV series to go see the first Star Trek film. The mediums are close enough for the audience to feel a relatively smooth transition, whereas book-to-game or film-to-game is generally not as fluid a transition. It's easier for a game to hook fans of a game IP than of an IP of another medium, because audiences don't participate in other mediums in the same ways they participate in games. There are similarities, certainly, but a game is a fundamentally different type of experience.
It's also significant that Blizzard has become a highly respected brand. A lot of gamers who would not have normally looked at MMOs tried WoW, or payed attention to its marketing, primarily because it's a Blizzard game. Company brands have much the same marketing effect as established IPs. WoW particularly benefited from this because Blizzard was made so important in Asia by Starcraft (which has whole TV channels devoted to it in Korea). And if Asia has more potential MMO customers than the Americas and Europe (I have no idea if that is so, but it's worth considering), then Blizzard's brandname takes on even more significance.
Yes, there's a difference between initial sales and continuing sales, but a significant portion of late sales are directly and indirectly consequences of initial sales. First, you have word-of-mouth. The greater the initial number of customers, the greater the spread of interest and the faster it happens (talk of any product spreads more quickly when that product is new than when it is old news). Second, retailers are encouraged by a product's strong sales to increase advertisement and availability of that product. WoW dominated a lot of shelf space and Walmart advertisements mostly due to its strong initial sales.
Another possible reason for LOTRO's and SW:G's lesser financial success, despite being based on more popular entertainment IPs, is likely due to the IPs focus on specific and individual characters. Sure, Warcraft III has interesting characters, but the Warcraft RTS games are more about armies than individuals. Though LOTR and Star Wars involve wars and other huge struggles, the emphasis even in the battle scenes is on the particular heroes who dominate the narratives. We follow Aragorn, Legolas, and Theoden through the battle at Helm's Deep. We follow Luke and Lando through the battle against the Death Star. Incidentally, the success of Stargate Worlds is likely to be limited by the same effect. The Stargate TV shows (I'm a fan of the Atlantis series) focus on specific heroes... the humor and choices that result from the interaction of those specific personalities.
Which is why Raph Koster and SOE made the right choice to make SW:G about the Star Wars universe and not Star Wars characters, and SOE was foolish to add so many jedi and interactions with famous characters later. That probably sounds like an odd thing to say, after just explaining that the heart of Star Wars was the characters. But what I'm saying is that the heart of the Star Wars movies and books was the characters, while the heart of a Star Wars game must be the world... because the players are the main characters in any game.
On the one hand, that means that, no, the developers cannot count on the films' success to equate the same degree of success for the game. The IP cannot be wholly transferred across mediums. But the game does receive a boost from the films, as it is an extension of the same experience. The IP offers the game an elevated starting point. Then the derived game IP can be developed into a new foundation for future games. The derived IP is, in some ways, separate from the original IP.
So, for example, (1) the LOTR books and films magnify my interest in LOTR games. If two games, one based on LOTR and one not, are designed with the exact same systems, I'll enjoy the LOTR version much more. I've played a couple LOTR-based console games before, but none impressed until Battle for Middle Earth 2 (now one of my all-time favorite games). (2) BfME2 has reshaped my interest in LOTR, helping me to reimagine LOTR as a gameworld apart from the novel / film characters. Legolas becomes less important than elven archers in general. Aragorn fades back into a mass of Rohirrim and Gondor pikemen. Experience with a great LOTR game has helped me make the transition to focusing on new characters in a non-linear adventure apart from the linear mediums. The derived IP has, I believe, made future LOTR games more compelling by separating the LOTR universe from the story's main characters to a degree, thereby enabling greater emphasis on my (the player's ) choices and adventure.
Hence, the first game based on IP should, in my opinion, be used as a stepping stone to a greater work. IPs coming from films or books into games run into big snags, but the transition can be very successful if the story world can be gradually divided from the characters. Just look at the success of the first Star Wars: Battlefront, which almost completely excluded the IP's main characters from gameplay.