Free-to-play business models have become very popular as of the last few years, not just for MMOs, but for other genres too. We’ve all seen games that we once paid for become available to all.
During the ESO beta I read literally thousands of complaints about the game not being free-to-play, I’m actually amazed that people have already come to expect their games to just be free by now.
Personally I am still a fan of subscriptions for MMOs. I would rather pay monthly to not have to worry about paying to get ahead of other players with microtransactions – cosmetics, XP boosters, etc. Most companies don’t adopt any kind of pay-to-win microtransactions but the pressure is still always there to buy the better or prettier items from the cash shop.
Some subscription games offer a cash shop as well as having to pay monthly for the game which I find completely unnecessary. I agree with having to pay for account services such as character name change, character re-customization, but people shouldn’t be extorted with an in-game shop if they are already paying monthly.
Subscription games also keep out undesirable players such as troll accounts, gold sellers and cheaters, no one wants to pay and subscribe to a game just to be banned or ignored by every player.
The need for games to change from subscription to free-to-play is something that has affected all games, in all genres and I’m sure it will keep happening until there are no more subscription models – just look at Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning; the only big-name western MMO (besides WoW) to refuse to go free-to-play and now it’s shut down forever.
One of the key features that I think free-to-play has going for it is that people with little money can play the game for free because rich people subsidize them by buying microtransactions which make their game experience better. Where as subscription games have all players paying an equal amount regardless of their economic background, no one gets extra items or an advantage just because they have more money to blow – and personally, this model shares my political ideals; I’d prefer to know that everyone is on a level playing field.
However, free-to-play games are free of the mental stress of knowing you paid for game time and now you feel pressured to make the most out of it.
I think subscriptions for popular MMOs will still be around a while longer, but many new games from other genres will continue to adopt free-to-play/microtransaction models upon release.