I've been trying to think of a F2P model that I could stomach, and I think I've more or less found one. The Eve online discussion is what prompted this, as well as my own experience with the pioneer virtual worlds of Dreamscape back on Compuserve.
Instead of being based on purchasing items, the "pay" part of the F2P would be an acquisition of extra time.
The problem with F2P models is that they rely on a small number of users ("whales" as they are known to the F2P industry) to support the needs of the larger, non-paying population. Because the game is "free" the non paying populace tends to be large, upwards of 90% of the population, meaning that the 10% of whales has to support the other 90% in terms of revenue. F2P games also tend to have a larger, younger user base than subscription based games.
Back in Dreamscape, when it first came about, we were paying the outrageous blood rate of $2/hour. When EQ came out with its ten dollar a month flat fee, the cash cow of Dreamscape fell apart and they had also offer a monthly flat rate to survive. I paid $20 a month for about a year before I became an Acolyte and got a free account, far better than the $300 I racked up on a credit card as a teenager (which caused me to get into a lot of trouble with my parents. I think they disputed the charges since I wasn't 18 yet.)
What if a F2P model gave free complete game access with time limitations? A free account would get you 10 hours of game play a month. You could pay an extra $1 for two more hours of gameplay, up to a maximum of $15 a month, at which point you reached unlimited access since you'd "met" the monthly fee. These micro transactions could occur in real time or ahead of time.
I think such a system could provide both the benefits of the current F2P and P2P models. The overwhelming majority of players, the freebies, are severely limited in server time, meaning they aren't hogging server resources or generally polluting the community. Casual players who just want to log in and mess around on weekends could choose the amount of time they want to invest. For someone who just logs in on Sunday evenings, the free account plus $5 more of game time would suffice for the month. The hard cores can pay up front for unlimited access, and get to camp out overnight selling stuff, or spend 40 hours a week playing, whatever.
- Users pay depending on their utilization of server resources
- Users choose how much they want to invest
- Free model opens up basic gameplay to everyone, even kids under 18 without credit cards
- Maximum monthly charge ensures no one gets into a gambling habit and drops $1000 on pay to win stuff
- Limited gametime on free model will turn off large population (this may not be a con depending on your age)
- Complex microtransaciton system based on time may be confusing
- The hardcorers will invariably be better dressed and have more achievements than the freebies (since they can spend more time in the game)
Anyway, if 2-3 years down the road Square Enix were to move to a free to play system, this is the kind I would vastly prefer.