If you follow MMOs, then you’ve likely noticed a trend in that F2P games are generally seen in poor light and a last recourse for subscription games. People talk about the monetization of F2P games, while they only talk about the content of subscriptions.
Let’s get one thing straight off the bat, games need to make money. It’s simple math. A subscription model provides a stable income that you can project into the future with. Generally, you don’t need to worry about your next week’s pay and as long as you don’t tick off the userbase, it’s pretty consistent. F2P games, well, they require a continual investment to keep funding consistent. Developers haven’t yet found the right balance of items to keep people pumping in money and have essentially devolved everything into lockboxes.
Would I play for free for 20 levels, then pay 10$ to get access to another 20? Very likely if the game was good. Would I do it for every character? Maybe 2 or 3 of them, if the value/time equation made sense. Once you have it though, you don’t need to buy it again. Would I buy dungeon sets? Yup. But again, that’s a 1 time purchase. GW2 sort of worked this way, in that you buy the box, have access to everything. B2P works when you have people coming and going.
Long-term though, this model doesn’t work as people have nothing to buy. Paying 2$ to get a week’s pass to PvP makes sense if you PvP alot. It doesn’t if you want to try 3 matches. I think TOR did a pretty good job in this regard, where if you’re in the F2P version, you can buy passes for the high level content. Since it’s consumable, it is a guaranteed money sink. If I was planning on consuming a lot, the I’d go the subscription route. Value for money and all that.
My personal thought is that all F2P games should have a subscription model for heavy consumers. It should provide you with access to all the content with that subscription, including credits for the cash store. If it means you wait 2 months to get the credits, then so be it, but it should be there. All items that can be bought for cash, should be able to be sold on the AH. Neverwinter and TOR do this decently. All items that can be bought for cash and provide “power” should be 1-2 tiers below what can be acquired by in-game means. Customization options should be consumed on use but allow you to save settings and try stuff out before you buy.
Personally, I think we’re on the breakpoint of a sustainable F2P market. Lockboxes are not the future and are likely to be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. I am extremely curious to see Rift’s take on this, as they have always provided great value for money and understand the player’s perspective more than most. It’s the reason I’ve kept subbed to them since launch, even if I don’t play as much as I’d like. We, as a gaming community, have to move beyond the discussion of what payment models are good and which are bad and simply to the core of gaming – is this worth my time/money or not?