I have seen a number of mentions in the forums on this site about the "failure" of free-to-play games in the North American (or, more broadly, the "Western") market. This has me thinking about how we define success and failure in the MMO marketplace.
Some successes are clear-cut and obvious. Nobody can argue whether or not World of Warcraft was a huge hit. It clearly was. And, being a subscription game, there is an exact number to be had to tell you exactly how many people have paid accounts at any given time.
Maplestory, on the free-to-play-unless-you-want-this-sparkly-doodad side, has been successful enough to make the news and to spawn spin-offs like a collectible card game. It is pretty clear that Nexon is raking in the cash. That would seem to be a huge success, yet it seems that the predictable forum-rat response would be that it isn't a "AAA" game, that it is a "crap" game, and can't really be compared to "real" games. What can be said about that? Nexon is laughing all the way to the bank.
And they clearly aren't the only ones. Look at the growth of Perfect World Entertainment since bringing Perfect World to the international market. They've got to be making some kind of money somewhere.
I think a lot of item mall games are doing very well. They have more players than people might think, though numbers are hard to pin down, since accounts are active and inactive at will. (I know that I come and go and then return and leave again all the time from f2p games.) But if you have 15 people willing to pay $100 a month, that's still the equivalent of 100 players paying $15 a month, in pure revenue terms, and it turns out that a lot of free-to-play players will shell out more for their game than they ever would for a subscription. The people who don't pay still provide entertainment, social opportunities, and sometimes opponents for the people who do pay, becoming part of the product. (Look at it this way-- your friends on Facebook are part of that product too. There's not really much of any interest there if you don't have any friends. You can play games, sure, but how much will be locked because you don't have "neighbors"? )
They might not be WoW, and you might hate them with a passion, but free-to-play games are hardly a huge failure in the Western market. The fact that you don't play and neither do any of your friends doesn't make them less of a success. People are playing them, and some of those people are paying too.