A proper free-to-play game allows players to enjoy the game and still spend money based on the amount they feel comfortable with
The “they feel comfortable with” is, for me, the key part here. Comfort to me is when the decision to spend is totally optional, but still has enough personal benefit to make that spending more than a straight-up donation (donations don’t work long-term). Comfort is spending at your own pace, based on how you feel about the game, rather than feeling ‘hooked’ and having the ‘encouraging’ message to spend slowly morph into demands.
Buying a skin in League of Legend has zero effect on the result of any one game, but some of the skins are cool enough that I’m more than happy to drop some cash on them. The ones I don’t like are not thrown in my face with constant pop-ups, I don’t suffer through ads or lesser service, and I sure as hell am not playing a weaker version of that character.
I also have a much easier time justifying spending in LoL because of how great the core game is, and how frequently it gets updated and just the general ‘feel’ Riot (the devs) puts out. They are very active on the forums, transparent with their design decisions, take customer feedback into consideration, and anytime things have even remotely gone bad (servers down) they have more than made things right with the players (free RP or IP boosts for example).
It truly feels like spending is not required, and this for me makes spending that much easier. I’ve easily spend over $100 on LoL, and I see no reason to stop yet. At the same time, if I don’t spend RP for a month, fluff aside, I still experience the same quality gameplay. In short, I still feel like an appreciated, ‘normal’ player.
In contrast, teleport licenses in Atlantica Online are far closer to a must than a comfort. Either you play without them and suffer terribly design (super long walks for no reason other than to make you waste time and wish for a teleport license), or give in and play the way the game was REALLY intended. At best it’s a major annoyance, at worst it gimps your power (if you are at war with another clan, being able to teleport is pretty huge). Spending money on the license is in no way a comfort, it’s a cost you just suck up and deal with.
AO is full of such spending. Plus most patches include major power additions to the store, usually in the form of a lottery box that may or may not result in the item you want. Of course the super powerful stuff (mounts with stats, character boosts, etc) is also very rare, so if you really want something you are going to spend a ton of cash and end up with a lot of lesser ‘junk’ from all those boxes. Plus even after spending a lot of money you still might not get whatever item you wanted. Buying into that kind of power lottery feels more like being pushed off a cliff than treating yourself to something nice. And should you reach the end-game, good luck still enjoying the game if you decide to totally stop paying. It’s a nightmare.
The ‘good’ F2P model is a tougher sell IMO from a business standpoint because it only works for great games. If LoL was some meh title that Inquisition picked up for a month and then moved on, no one would have spent any cash. But because it’s something we have been playing for months and month, ‘investing’ in a skin feels like a good use of money.
The ‘bad’ F2P model works because it begs/annoys/forces you to spend, and often that spending makes the game better (at least short-term). That model can squeeze out a few bucks from someone playing for a bit, while it will demand a small fortune from its most serious players. The model is, in some ways, like a drug. You start out small, weekends, whatever, but the plan all along is to hook you to the point of doing damage. The more you get into something like Atlantica, the more you are ‘encouraged’ to spent. If you stop spending, you will noticeably see your game quality degrade. Not to mention the fact that everyone around you is also spending heavily after a certain point, and you either keep up or get left behind. There is very little comfort here, and it has almost nothing to do with the actual quality of the content.
The biggest hurdle right now is that ‘bad’ F2P dominates the market. For every LoL, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of games that will happily sell you godlike powers, or even just slip you a little 5% damage boost. I believe, perhaps foolishly, that eventually players will smarten up and see ‘bad’ F2P for what it is, and avoid it. I refuse to believe that millions really want to buy victory in a game, especially ones where player skill plays such a large role.
Good F2P has a lot of the traditional benefits going for it (easy to get your friends to try it, low initial risk, etc), but it ‘unfortunately’ also requires a quality product to support it. For some companies, it seems shipping something of quality is rather far down the list, and sadly too many players currently continue to reward them.
Hopefully in five years or so, we look back at bad F2P model games and laugh, amazed that they lasted as long as they did.