Would you pay 10$ to skip 10 hours of repetitive content? Would you pay 5$ to acquire enough skill points to use that amazing sword? Free to Play games are betting you value their items more than your time. It’s the basis of the market and at a simplistic level, it’s quite accurate. The problem is that we long-time gamers don’t play game so much for the reward as much as the journey. I didn’t beat BioShock to see the last bad guy (there isn’t one), I played it to be engrossed in the story.
Games today don’t always follow that mentality. Some are designed for instant (or partially delayed) gratification. A harsh slog, through horribly produced content in order to see the really good stuff. Any game that says “get through the first couple hours and then it’s great” is a poorly designed game. The intro to FF13 or Kingdom Hearts 2 spring to mind. EQ2 when it launched was like this. Games that provide random drops in order to progress (most F2P city builders, like FarmVille) are built around the concept of the result and not the journey. Rightly so, people will buy their way to the fun part.
Then you might get a game like SWTOR, where the good stuff is actually the journey and not the end result. Perhaps the journey gets long in the tooth on the 3rd or 4th attempt and then the company can make money. That could be convenience items or costumes. Some might sell new journeys.
While I disagree with Jacob’s assessment of the F2P market going through some sort of apocalypse in 3-5 years time (I’m more inline with Wilhelm on this one), I do see some rather drastic changes to the core concepts. The idea of a “fun tax” seems to be the current model, where you need to pay to have fun. Game following this model are likely to be doomed (or closed as Playfish) as you can get more fun, for less money on a mobile platform. The concept of a “fun bonus” is more likely to succeed. Think of it as a trial of an awesome game, like demos of old. “Oh, I get 20 hours of great gameplay for 20$? And you want an extra 5$ for 5 more hours? That’s reasonable.” The kicker here is that the content has to be of the same quality or better. WoW expansions sell on this. Skyrim was 50/50.
There is certainly a lot of money to be made in the F2P model (or the buy to play model). You just have to figure out how to make people want to give you money rather than need to give you money. That is, if you want long-term success. I mean, there’s a reason the 3 card monte guy isn’t sitting at the same street corner for more than a hour.