After sampling various MMOs during the last year, my personal conclusion is that buy-to-play is the most optimal choice for MMO development.
The main reason as a player, is that there is less pressure to progress and to keep up. You can play at your own pace. And this means that developers don’t have to create filler content for the sake of having new content to justify the sub fees. When they do produce a substantial content update, they can charge for it, and I will pay for it when I am ready for it.
In my mind, for sub fees to work, there needs to be either: enough casual and/or social activity for all players to participate in beyond grinding; so much content that you can hardly catch up to the pace of development (which is highly unlikely); or players feel like they belong there, and there is a friendly community that is always there for them.
World of Warcraft seems to do pretty well in at least two of these areas. Final Fantasy XIV may even have all three covered. I haven’t touched Elder Scrolls Online, so I can’t comment on them.
WildStar has a great community, but very little “filler” content to do when you just want to relax, and they admittedly failed in their attempt at unleashing an avalanche of constant content.
I still play WildStar because I enjoy the combat that much. My playtime limits me in what I can do, and I usually only get one group instance in at a time, but when I do, it’s extremely satisfying. It is mentally draining, though, and not something I want to do for hours on end. I would really love for some more truly casual content, like in-game board games and such.
I still need to dip my feet deeper into the waters of Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, since I have them both. I’m still stuck in the early zones, as I only hop on very casually. Alas, that is the downside of buy-to-play games: you can always play them later.
Well, now that I’m contradicting myself, I probably need to redact my earlier statement.
A sub game works. It just needs to be a second home for players, and not just a sports gym to hop into after work.
To tell you the hypocritical truth: what do I really want to play right now?