Back in the 90's the idea of playing an online game with just 4 to 8 players seemed like a wonder. So when a game comes along that pretty much lets you play with the entire world, it blew our freaking minds back then. There was Ultima Online, Everquest, and soon many other games would come and follow in their footsteps. And of course World of Warcraft came along, and then took everyone's money basically and is still a juggernaut to this day. However as times have changed so has the technology to allow people to play online. Course when you're creating an entire virtual world for people to inhabit that needs to stay consistent, you have to have a server to run all that and so players need to pay a subscription fee so that Blizzard or whoever else can keep that world going.
However in recent years many MMO games have moved away from this business model and instead go free to play allowing players to buy the game once, if at all and play the game without a fee. But they still need money to keep servers running right? Of course they do! That's why they will sell you all kinds of costumes, weapons, XP bonus packs, etc. in order to bring in revenue. The best part of all is that it really does work. Sony has found a good amount of success using a F2P model with Free Realms and DC Universe Online as well as Perfect World with a very large variety of games that they maintain.
Of course there are still a good number of companies who still want a subscription out of it's player base because they simply think they're worth it... or they just want to make as much money as WoW does which is usually the case. But as many companies have learned it's not easy chasing that WoW dollar. Players in this day and age still find the barrier of entry rather high simply because they have to pay a monthly fee ,especially when that's money that could maybe be used on their TV service, Internet Provider ,or other things that may be more important than just a game that is as much a time investment as it is a money investment.
But when a game is free you'd defiantly check it out wouldn't you? I know I certainly have. I even went back to Star Trek Online myself after it switched to a F2P model. Based on what I've heard lately the game is doing better now than it ever did on a subscription. The same success can be said about DCUO who saw it's numbers sky rocket after it became a free game and is doing pretty well based on various websites I've read.
Still there are good number of games like WoW, Star Wars the Old Republic, EVE Online, Secret World, Rift, and many others that still use the subscription model of business. WoW still maintains a good sized audience to justify it's subscription and doesn't need to resort to giving that up just yet, however there have been numerous stories of people abandoning SWTOR as the game may have failed to keep their interest. But it begs the question of if all these games and if ANY MMO game that comes along can justify charging a subscription anymore?
One thing that comes to mind is how some folks like EA would consider going F2P something of a failure at least that's the impression I get from them whenever it's brought up by the various journalist of the web. But that's so far from the truth! Going F2P isn't a failure state, it's just a sign that the business has changed and if you want your game to continue you're going to have to change with it. Another thing that comes to mind and something that's been mentioned during the GiantBombcast here is that the novelty of an MMO was playing with large numbers of other people and interacting with them in a persistent world. However in order to remedy certain problems such as waiting in a line to fight a boss, developers had to section off levels, dungeons, what have you in an "instance" taking you out of the world and putting you and your group in another area. Guild Wars built it's entire game around this idea and they don't even need a monthly subscription.
With so many more games building their worlds around instances it feels like it may not even be necessary to charge a subscription, at least that's the impression that I've gotten. But what do you people think? Has the technology gotten to the point where a MMO game doesn't need a subscription anymore? Are publishers pulling our legs? Or is it still the much needed necessary evil?