MMORPGs are not competitive at fun consumption.
Last week I wrote that MMORPGs must require a lot of time to be played because the basic content of a MMORPG is necessarily cheap and repetitive. This is the advantage of the genre (high profit) but it is also what makes it difficult to create a good game. Developers need to make players play for a long time so that they feel like they invest and don’t just consume because MMORPGs are not competitive at fun consumption.
This is a defining difference between most games and MMORPGs. In most games players only consume; things are instantly fun: for example, a polished shooting of birds. But in a MMORPG players ultimately invest most of the time. They must, because only the investment-experience can help make a MMORPG more fun than a typical story-driven shooter.
This is also the reason why MMORPGs tend to be a hit-or-miss project. If the game –somehow- manages to make players play a lot, this leads to players playing for months and years. But if the game doesn't succeed at making payers play a lot, players will soon find the MMORPG meaningless, superfluous, grind-like, etc.
(This discovery lead to daily quests etc. Even though we all know how many disadvantages those have).
Now, unfortunately, if your game requires a lot of time you automatically end up targeting younger folks (10-28) more than people at the age 29-55. And for younger folks money always is an issue. Back in 2000 there weren't many alternatives. If you wanted to play a fantasy MMORPG you had to pay a subscription. But this has changed dramatically. Nowadays players can choose between many, many free2play fantasy 'MMORPGs'. This poses a particular problem if you dislike f2p games as a developer: if you start with a subscription your game might never ever actually get enough players to become sufficiently popular.
So, is f2p mandatory now?
There are three strategies. The first is to give up and make the game f2p with item shops and lots of ads. We know that we can make some money this way. We also know that this game is not going to make anybody rich. Since most players never pay, you need to ask a lot of money from those few who do. This means that most players will hit a pay-barrier just when they wanted to spend a lot of time playing the game. Consequently they won’t play a lot and never start to enjoy the investment process. They will soon find the game meaningless, grind-like and, of course, unfair and expensive.
The second strategy is a compromise. The game is easy to try, but eventually ends in a subscription. Maybe, in the beginning, you ask for the credit card info but charge only 1€. A resub then costs 5€, and subsequent resubs 10€ - or whatever amount you think you can ask.
The third strategy is this: You ask an unusually high initial price for the game. For example $95. This includes free play for one month. Now, this seems pretty counter-intuitive. But it can actually work if the game is of sufficient high quality. While younger people always have little money, they usually have enough money to pay this price. The question is not one of ability (they already bought a computer..), but of will.
By asking a surprisingly high price your game does look interesting. Just like caviar looks more interesting, not even though, but because it is expensive. Game magazines will have a special look at a game company that shows off so much self-confidence. The risk here is that your game could become known as a scam if its quality is not high enough.
This strategy prevents you from using any kind of apology, like "we didn't expect so many players playing our game" (and all the other non-sense), as players now have the very good argument that the game is expensive enough and should offer superior service.
However, if you think that you do offer a superior product, asking a surprisingly high price will not only increase your revenue, but actually even help you sell more copies. Prices aren't just prices, but also a message.