Firstly and most obviously, there's the current state of the MMO genre. Everywhere I look, MMOs are going free-to-play, which suggests that it's getting harder and harder to convince gamers to shell out $15 a month for a subscription. World of Warcraft seems to be the only major MMO that hasn't gone completely free-to-play and even it has a rather open-ended free trial (to level 20). Now, it may well be that many of these free-to-play MMOs are still profitable. Indeed, I suppose they'd have to be on some level or else they'd have shut down by now. Even so, could a new MMO based on Pathfinder's setting turn enough profit in a crowded marketplace to be viable?
This brings me to my second thought: Pathfinder and Golarion. From what little that has been said so far, it would appear that, despite its name, one of the big selling points of this MMO will be its setting. In part that's probably because the OGL does not cover video games, meaning that Paizo can't use many (most?) aspects of its D20-derive ruleset in a video game. Or at least that's my understanding. I suppose it's possible that there's some way around this or that I've misunderstood the OGL all these years, but I don't think so. That means that Pathfinder Online won't be using the Pathfinder RPG system but something else, whatever that may be. Now I like Golarion as well as the next guy. It's a very well-done "generic but flavorful" fantasy setting that includes tons of terrific nods both to the hobby's past and to its pulp forebears. But is it interesting enough in itself to drive interest in this game?
So what is special about this MMO? According to Lisa Stevens:
It's going to focus around the characters you create, in a world that will grow out of your interactions, developing the way you choose to develop it. It takes place in the River Kingdoms of Golarion, with our own Kingmaker Adventure Path providing some of the inspiration. There will be an overarching storyline, and dungeons aplenty to explore, but where Pathfinder Online is going to thrive is in the ability of each of you to leave your mark on the world. Do you want to build a castle that you own and control? Go for it. Want to start a town and rally folks to your banner? Do that. Do you want to ally with the neighboring villages to form a new nation—or perhaps wage war on them instead? The choice is yours. Want to become the most feared bandit in the River Kingdoms? The path is available. Want to become the greatest armorer that Golarion has ever seen? All it takes is hard work. If you can imagine doing something in the world of Golarion, we want you to be able to do that in Pathfinder Online.That makes it sound to be me as if Pathfinder Online is going to be somewhat sandbox-y but with a big dash of EVE Online's "fun with economics" model thrown in. No one should be surprised by this possibility, since Ryan Dancey is attached to Pathfinder Online and he worked for EVE's publisher, CCP, for the last few years. Could it be that Dancey thinks he's found a way to translate EVE's inexplicable popularity into a fantasy setting?
Finally, the fact that Pathfinder Online is being produced by a new company, Goblinworks, ought to give anyone pause. Creating a new MMO (or indeed any video game) isn't easy, so there's always a worry when you see a startup company taking on a big project like this. It's true that Dancey has experience at CCP, as does Mark Kalmes, who's also involved. But you need a talented and experienced team of people to launch an MMO and I wonder if Goblinworks will be able to assemble one.
Those are my initial thoughts based on very little information. As ever, I wish the Paizo crew all the best and hope this proves a worthwhile avenue for them, but I have my doubts.