Well, this is another personal post of mine. I want to start out by saying that I haven't played an MMO in some time (about a year), but I've been active in following what's been going on, and I used to be quite an active gamer (until my Desktop broke... *insert whimpers and whining*).
Here's why, in my opinion, Free-to-Play (F2P) is "a thing". When I used to game heavily, I noticed something. Some gamers liked playing subscription models, which is somewhat fine. But I never played with them. Why? Because I didn't have much money to keep up the subscription. The money barrier kept me from playing with my friends.
And you know what, they eventually stopped playing a short while after. Why? Because their other friends weren't playing either... because of that money barrier.
Gamers know that games cost money to develop, and that's fine. And gamers can afford to buy games every now and then. But gamers aren't always rich. OK, some gamers are, but many gamers don't have much money. It can be a 14-year-old boy who comes home from school to play Battlefield 3 on his XBox 360, or it could be the 21-year-old at college playing GuildWars2 on his desktop after a full 8 hours of work at Wendy's, earning minimum wage. Or it might even be that 35-year-old tech-savvy dad who works in IT and games on his spare time.
Gamers come in all shapes and sizes. And not all are neckbeards... (OK, maybe I'm a hypocrite saying that... d*mn facial hair!) But some of us don't have a steady source of income, either because we aren't good at controlling our spending, our because we go through rough patches, or because we might not keep jobs for long (guys in their 20s with their first jobs? I'm talking to you... and myself... I need therapy *sigh*).
Whatever the reason, gamers might not have a steady source of income. And that's often not included in the pricing model of an MMO. That's because the people who make MMOs (executives) live in a world of ivory towers, fancy car of the year, and so forth. They forget who their target audience is, and how much money they might have. They also forget one of the most compelling reasons people play an MMO: the social factor.
Gamers don't simply play an MMO just for competition. Sure, it's part of it, but many gamers (far more than are considered) like to play with their friends. Call of Duty, GuildWars, you name it! Gamers like spending time with their friends, and playing with their friends. And their friends often live across the ocean, or in some other state, and can't come to play in a lan party. That's a distance barrier, which keeps them from enjoying their game - but there's a solution, and it's called (wait for it...) the internet!
However, an MMO subcription model means that if you want to play with someone else, they have to pay to buy the game. Then pay some more to continue to play. And then pay forever and ever until your wallet's soul belongs to EA (err... well, something like that). But you get the picture.
When pricing models become a barrier that keep more players from joining, sure you get a more interested community... but it's a very small community. Players leave because they don't have anyone to play with, feedback is limited so big bugs go unnoticed until they're a much bigger (and costlier, or more embarrassing) problem to resolve. The issue is that when your pricing model keeps players from joining, something is wrong.
World of Warcraft is only able to keep charging people to play because their fanbase is so large. You may not like to pay so much a month, but you have friends there you like to hang out with and play with, and that keeps you hooked. But most MMOs never get that far. They need to start out somewhere. And putting that price gate at the launch of a big AAA MMO is not only stupid - it's downright (financially) suicidal! Look at how many MMOs have fallen. Sure, many new ones pop up, but few remain.
There are several models beyond the subscription model. Free-to-Play (or F2P) means the game is free, but there are micro-transactions. A good example is DDO (Dungeons and Dragons Online). It's an example of an MMO with good gameplay, and lots of fun... but I never played it for more than two weeks before quitting for six months! Because most of it's content was (once again) blocked by that annoying "pay barrier". It kept me from diving in and enjoying myself. Even though I met other friends through the game, I couldn't join them in certain areas... and I eventually quit.
When 90% of your game is behind pay barriers, you're really just setting gamers up for frustration. It gives gamers a bad memory association with your game and publisher brand, which makes gamers feel somewhat uneasy when they hear your brand name or your franchise. You know the face that most gamers make when they hear the words "EA" or "Origin" or "Sim City Online" ? Yeah, that's exactly what I'm talking about.
To make a good MMO, you have to get people (metaphorically) "addicted" to your game before you charge them. You've got to get them immersed, involved, interested, intrigued, excited, anxious. Once they can't wait for the next moment, or what monster or treasure may be beyond that next turn beyond that pillar in some far-flung cave in SomethingPlaceWhateverStein, you've got the gamer immersed. He wants to play, he's excited, he's involved. And he'll pay good money to continue playing.
But you can't do that with just a game demo. You can't do that with just a game trailer. You have to give them a live sample of it beforehand, otherwise it just won't work.
WildStar has come up with an interesting model. The "Pay-Through-Play" model, or "Pay-With-Play", in which you pay for your subcription through being more active in the game, earning in-game currency to pay for your subscription. This is very intriguing, but it's also somewhat limited, because casual gamers are still going to be limited, and even though hardcore games might like the game, your casual gamer might get cussed out by the hardcore gamers for "not casting the right spell" (also known as the blame game), which might cause once more those negative associations with your game franchise and/or publisher brand. So keeping only a hardcore gamer audience isn't the way to go, especially considering the money to be made from casual gamers or "medium gamers" (not hardcore, not casual, somewhere in between).
There's also the "Pay-to-Win" model, or P2W is what we had in the Diablo III real-money auction house. It allowed gamers to sell for real money their in-game items, and it allowed less-skilled gamers to buy these items for money. Thus, it allowed less-skilled players to beat more skilled ones by having better items. This became the bane of many gamers, and it enraged them to no end. They wanted a game of skill, an equal playing ground where skill (and maybe a bit of luck) determined the outcome. Gamers don't want a game where the one who makes the biggest down-payment wins - because it's not a game, it's just buying a victory, and there's no fun is losing because you aren't as rich as the other guy.
Ultimately, there's also the GuildWars model. Buy once, and then buy DLCs as more content comes out. The initial purchase pays for the hosting, the DLCs pay for hosting of existing/prior customers and also pays for the new content to explore (but also rewarding those who bought the DLC with that new content). It should be noted that this model does have a lot of advantages. Basically, now you have a game that is online, but that's only because of the scale and interactivity of it - not because of some stupid, artificial DRM-related nonsense. You've got a game for life, you bought it and it's yours. No need to keep paying for it as if you're renting a game, it's yours to own for life - the way gamers wanted it in the first place.
With ESO (Elder Scrolls Online), we're going to pay 15$ a month (I hear now it's going to be 10$ a month), but there's 60$ upfront and one month free. That means if the game costs 15$ a month, that's 60$ + 11 x 15$, or 225$ in a single year! Or, if it's 10$ a month, that's still 60$ + 11 x 10$, or 170$ in a single year! Few gamers would actually pay 170$ for a game they intend to play for a year or longer. Remember Skyrim? How many people still play it today, and still make mods for it?
Considering that, it's no wonder gamers don't like the subscription model. We've got better deals out there, better alternatives. GuildWars figured out that gamers like to own the games they have, because they never know when financial troubles may come. And they like it that way. Gamers don't want to "rent" games for life, they want to own games for life.
Other models are possible, such as putting advertisements in a game. But that only creates a bad memory association with the game and the product being advertised - a bad idea, if I've ever heard of one. It also makes gamers stare at advertisement screens instead of playing the game they love. They'll often just close the window, open up Steam and play some other game instead - one that doesn't make them jump through hoops. (Think of how many times you've pressed the "Skip Ad" button on YouTube, or jumped ahead to skip the in-video ad of Linus's Squarespace commercial.)
Here's a pretty good article about it, from a WordPress blogger: http://casualaggro.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/best-mmo-payment-model-ever/
I agree. Let gamers earn content through playing, but don't make us play forever. Let games buy the game at a fixed price to begin, and then earn more content through playing or through buying the extra content. Gamers who are cheap can complete quests to get access to new areas or storylines, but other gamers can buy the new content. Gamers who play get to understand the storyline and plot, and get more immersed in the game, and maybe hear extra tidbits of information along the way that the other gamers wouldn't hear. Thus, it rewards immersion (and maybe a bit of roleplaying).
You can find more info on that link above. Have fun! (Does anyone think this should be a blog post, or not?)