“I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assert that setting a realistic scope is one of the most difficult challenges an MMO producer will face.”
Lum understates his point. He shouldn’t.
Scope is a balancing act. When making an MMO that seeks to evolve the genre in some way (assuming you want to do that, of course), you need to figure out how much of the New & Sexy you really need. But more than that, you need to question your assumptions about The Must Haves to be sure you’re not wasting time building expensive features just because that silly Warcraft game added them four years in.
How do you do this? You have to be brutally honest with yourself about the core vision of your game. This core vision is not a 10,000 page document–I’ve seen much-vaunted 10,000 page design documents, and they’re utter jokes. You need a list of four or five bullet points that describe the foundation of what your game is, and you use those four or five things as razors to evaluate every feature you consider putting into your game.
If a feature can’t stand up to your razors, you change it or cut it. It doesn’t matter if the feature in question is your greatest stroke of genius ever, or the most perfect example of design or art or code or music anyone has ever experienced. If it doesn’t advance the core vision of your game, it needs to change or go away.
Check out the director’s commentary on deleted scenes of your favorite DVD and you’re likely to hear how a certain scene was the director’s absolute favorite thing he ever shot, but ultimately he realized that it worked against the film and had to go. It’s painful to murder your darlings, but discipline is necessary in any art form.
Scott is right about something else, too: Nobody is ever going to give a developer an award for thoughtful scoping. But if you have the force of will to trim your game down to the purest core of what it can be, and you have the resources to polish that core so that it is excellent and fun, you will succeed and become very rich in the process.