Whenever P2P vs F2P models get debated, the F2P crowd likes to point to the fact that most people will only pay one monthly sub at a time, which greatly limits how many games one can play in a given month vs how many you could play with the F2P model. Assuming you are someone who falls into that “one sub only” crowd, this is correct.
Yet while “more” is usually better, in the MMO genre I don’t believe that’s actually true, at least not when it comes to how many games you play at one time.
Generally, the more you get into an MMO, the more you play it. And the more you play, the more ingrained you become in the community, be it a guild or a server. This momentum is one of the reasons MMOs entertain us for far more hours than single-player games, and it’s also why almost everyone’s MMO highlights include others in them. Community and player interaction are the “secret sauce” of the genre (because lets be honest here, even the best combat systems and such in an MMO are, at best, decent by overall gaming standards).
Solo content and solo focus are two very different things. I believe any good MMO will have solo content, as being handcuffed to always play with others is not always ideal, and such things can actually lead to reduced player activity (the whole, log in, no one around, can’t do anything, log off cycle). Sometimes, you just want to zone out and do something quick and easy, and such content should exist. But that content existing is very different than that content being the focus. In recent themeparks, solo content has been the focus, especially before the level cap.
Solo content becomes the focus when it’s more optimal to do something solo than to team up. Horrible examples include WoW leveling, where it is actually harder to level with someone than solo, but anytime it’s NOT optimal to group up, that’s bad MMO design.
Mix the two together (F2P + solo focus), and is it any wonder guild, and especially server communities are so poor? And the downward spiral is easy to see as well: more people casually playing = more need for casual (solo) content = more of it = more player focus on it, etc etc. I fully believe communities reflect the content focus of any game, and the more solo/casual focused you become, the less community matters.
The golden solution would be to create a game that is both casual but also group/community focused, but things like player momentum still get in the way. At the end of the day, the MMO genre (in the traditional sense, not Farmville) is a somewhat ‘hardcore’ genre; it requires more time than others to really get to the best stuff, but as we know, the best stuff tends to be much better than what a solo game can provide. The more you get into something, the more you enjoy the fruits of your labor, and taking shortcuts to reach a goal always cheapens the satisfaction you get.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but at some point you have to make a decision: do you create a game that some players will love, or do you create one that many can hop in/out of. I don’t believe you can do both in this genre.