A box-only game is successful if people buy the box. How they feel about what’s inside the box after the sale is only important if you intend to start or maintain a franchise. If this is a one-off game, whether you sell a million copies because you created a great game or because you had a great marketing campaign does not matter; at the end of the day you sold a million copies.
The subscription model collects equal pay from everyone, and is successful when enough people continue to pay. The plus side for consumers is that if you sell a box and the content sucks, you are going to fail under the subscription model. The downside is that if 10k people REALLY like what you are doing, it’s still only 10k people and you most likely have failed (unless you aimed at 10k). The other factor here is that, for the most part, one sub is just as good as another, so the goal is to just get as many as possible.
The F2P model makes its money off a tiny subset of players, but those players end up paying far more than they would/could under other models. The model is successful if that subset buys and buys often, rather than how many people in general find your game interesting. You could have the world’s greatest game, but if the cash shop is a ghost town, you have failed as a F2P game.
I write the above (again) because, to me, gaming is going down a very dangerous trend in terms of ‘wallet votes’.
The first model is not perfect. Games could and do often sell on pure hype. How many terrible, terrible movie tie-in games have sold in the past for no reason other than having a trendy name on the box? And no matter how much you hate that Superman64 game, you still bought the box and effectively told the devs behind it “more please”.
On the other hand, positive word-of-mouth could lead to better sales, and high review scores ‘mattered’. While it still happened (ICO), overall good games sold well, and developers had solid reasons to make quality titles. A sad trend of “good original game, lots of crap after” happens, but hey, at least the original was worthwhile.
The sub model should be familiar to everyone here. The obvious advantage is that box hype won’t save crap (WAR), and solid titles can earn their teams far, far more money than just a single box sale. CCP is able to do what it does not because EVE is an amazing game for all, but because EVE is an amazing game for 100-200k people who pay CCP hundreds of dollars a year, every year, ‘forever’. Under the box model EVE would have long since shut down and been declared a massive failure, while WAR and SW:TOR would be considered great success stories.
The other big advantage here is that not only must a quality title be delivered, it must be maintained. If a year goes by and your MMO falls behind, or goes in a negative direction, players have a direct way to inform the company that they do not approve (unsub). Games that are well maintained and innovate while staying true to their core are rewarded, and as a player that is the ultimate win/win when it comes to the MMO genre.
The big downside, especially from a company perspective, is that each vote is limited to a set amount of money. Super fans can’t (reasonably) vote more by spending more, and if the core of your title has a somewhat limited market, your updates might only go as far as they need to in order to maintain, rather than push the boundaries aggressively to really make players extra happy.
F2P allows for that super fan vote. Or rather, it ONLY cares about the super fan vote. Left at just that, it should be the ideal model for true gamers, right? The more you and your niche love a title, the more successful you can make it while also getting more out of it.
Unfortunately reality does not align with theory. Current-day F2P games, for the most part, sell power (because power sells), and games that sell power become competitions of spending rather than of skill (or even time). By design, a game that sells power is inherently flawed IMO. The devs are too motivated to put walls in front of you that you can spend to climb over, or ‘encourage’ PvP to be determined by he who has the bigger wallet.
What really worries me is that, even if the above is accepted by most, it only takes a few to justify peddling F2P goods. 95% of people can recognize a poor game that sells power as something not worth paying for, but unlike the other two models, the 95% does not matter. If that 5% is buying, the game is a success. Furthermore, in order to KEEP that 5% spending, devs must keep giving them a reason to do so. If the 5% all already have the sword of $25 doom, then you better have the axe of $40 godslaying coming tomorrow, even if that axe drives away scores of the 95%. You never counted, so you leaving is a non-factor.
I’ll go one step further; I believe those who spend heavily in F2P games are generally dumb gamers. They are the types who want to level faster even if it means they burn out sooner. They are the ones who use god-mode codes even when god-mode just means you need to pay for another game sooner. They are the ones who read a walkthrough before playing a game, all while complaining about how easy and predictable everything is.
The crux of the problem is that now, with F2P, the dummy vote is the only vote that counts, and while long-term that might not be sustainable, long term and quarterly financial results don’t mix. If your favorite MMO shuts down because it sold one too many power items, you can bet that the company behind it has already reallocated resources to the “next big thing”, and the only ones really screwed are those who wanted to play the game that was originally pitched, pre-F2P ‘conversion’.
(Which is not to condemn F2P overall. F2P can be done right (LoL), and the results can be a massive win/win for players (more content) and devs (way more money than box or sub. But F2P done right is, as of today, sadly rare.)