Gentle readers, I direct your attention to the following article:
Today Blizzard announced that a very basic, watered-down version of World of Warcraft is free to play until level 20. You can't use the AH, you can't get your crafting above 100, you can't have more than 100 gold, you can't even earn XP after you ding 20. But you can play. So far people seem to be of the 'give them the first shot of the drug for free, and they'll be users for life' camp, but I think not. I think that Blizz knows WoW has reached the pinnacle of its popularity, and they're trying to prolong the gravy train awhile (especially in the face of increasing competition and a persistently bad global economy). Granted, WoW's demise has been prematurely predicted many times before, but this time I think that prediction is correct.
However, my real point is this: I predict that subscription-based MMOs will be a thing of the past in 5-10 years. WoW is not the first to offer limited gameplay to non-subscribers. Some of WoW's strategy was copied directly from Turbine's LotRO playbook....and LotRO is the master of making money without subscriptions. Let's look at how they do it:
First, you can play from level 1 to cap (currently 65, I think) without spending a dime. LotRO is free to download, and no subscription is necessary. Their money comes from 'Turbine points' (or, TP)- virtual currency that is used extensively in-game. Certain quest chains, handy-dandy crafting packs, the best mounts, the best legendary items, money cap- just a few things that you need TP for. You can earn them in-game (albeit painfully slowly), but you can also buy them either through the online store or with pre-loaded cards sold at retail stores. Of course, subscribers get a generous allowance of TP as part of their membership.
Eventually, one of the big MMOs (WoW, GW2, SWtOR, or whoever) will realize what genius this is, and adopt it in some form. And when one of the big boys does that, you can say good-bye to subscription-based MMOs.
You heard it here first, folks.