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This is a sad, but seemingly necessary trend in the Massive Multiplay Online (MMO) games. I think the only MMOs, that have been out for more than one year, that still has a straight subscription base is World of Warcraft (WoW) and EVE. There may be some older ones that are still active that I don't know about, but a lot of the biggest players are now adapting the Free to Play model. These games are: EverQuest 2, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic Online, etc. WoW still holds to the traditional MMO model, with few micro-transactions. That franchise still sells expansions and charges a monthly fee to play; whereas EVE exists more off of their monthly payments schedules, and their PLEX system. This is where a player can buy game time, but sell it in game to other players for in game currency. This enables some players to never pay for EVE after the first few months of playing.
Of course, Free to Play is a bit of a misnomer, as the company will make up for the lack of subscriptions through what is called micro-transactions. Most games, even the off-line ones like The Sims 3, have these transactions. Some of the companies still offer a subscription to forgo some of these micro-transactions (EverQuest 2 does this), the player will still need to shell out a few bucks here and there to ensure the playability of their characters.
What is the difference between a free to play game versus a game like Guild Wars 2, which has never adopted a subscription based model? It comes down to content and expansions. In a free to play game a user will need to buy an item to access a new area, or buy the ability to increase your character's level cap, and so on. However, in a model like Guild Wars, the new area and level cap, along with some new items, are included in the purchased expansion. So both companies are making their money, you just get it in pieces with you are playing a game with the free to play model.
Some believe going free to play is equivalent to the death of a game; but that is not always the case. It depends on what is offered for free, and the cost of getting the game back to what you are used to; if there is a huge disconnect in what it would cost to upkeep a subscription and get expansions vs. having the same thing through micro-transactions, then the game will have some difficulty keeping past players. However, by making it free to play it will bring new and old players to the game because they have let thier subscriptions subside due to hard economic times.
I will reserve my opinions as to whether or not Rift has done well in this transition after I play it some.
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