Unless you've got a graduate degree from a good school or some really great connections (and sometimes even when you have both), one of the first things you learn as a writer who harbors any sort of hope of making a career of it is that you're probably have to give a lot of it away before anyone's willing to pay you for it. No one ever gets rich as a freelance journalist or a blogger, but becoming popular in those arenas can open doors to more lucrative work.
There's a similar principle seeming to emerge among MMO players these days. Many of us, perhaps even the majority, just aren't willing to shell out for an MMO they haven't tried out for themselves first, regardless of hype level. Open betas have become the norm because developers know that if they don't offer one they'll probably open to the public with a smaller player base then they'd like, never a good way to entice new players to sign up.
With the economy being what it is and money being a lot tighter in general than it used to be for a lot of us, MMO developers are coming to understand that if they want to be able to boast a player base of any significance when they open their doors they have to let people play for free for a while first to get them interested and engaged enough to pony up for a subscription.
On the other side of the coin, most MMO players are playing an MMO in the first place because they want to play with other people, particularly in games which feature PvP. An MMO with only a relative few players online at any given time isn't going to be very attractive to a lot of PvPers or really to MMO players in general.
Crimecraft's new pricing reorganization is, I believe, evidence of this new reality. They're obviously having trouble selling the software at full retail price, even with a 20% price cut and a boatload of free extras thrown in. To me that's not all that surprising given that for some inexplicable reason Vogster apparently entered into an exclusive distribution contract with Best Buy for their boxed software. While certainly Best Buy has plenty of stores nationwide, you have to wonder why Vogster would limit the access to the (presumably) flagship distribution format of their software to any single retailer. As someone with a lot of experience in the retail industry, that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me from a marketing standpoint.
In addition, Crimecraft is obviously having trouble converting beta players into paid subscribers. As a Crimecraft open beta player myself, as well as one who hasn't bought the full game, I think I may offer a little insight into why. I should point out up front that I have not been in Crimecraft since the end of open beta so if anything's changed or improved since then I haven't seen it.
When I joined the beta there weren't a lot of players. Perhaps twenty or thirty total in the open non-combat areas. I joined a few PvE combat instances without trouble. Those were entertaining enough, but when I tried to join some PvP instances I found it difficult if not impossible. Eventually I gave up and went back to PvE. After a few times playing the same levels, it just got boring. When I tried to log in one day and my credentials didn't work any more, I felt no sense of loss or of wanting more. I just uninstalled the client and moved on. I'm guessing that my story is far from unique and that there were a lot of players in beta like myself who just didn't find Crimecraft interesting or compelling enough to pay for.
So, what Vogster is essentially doing here is turning Crimecraft into a free-to-play game with microtransactions. I hope it works for them. I doubt I'll be shelling out forty bucks for the full game but I may be willing to play for free and I expect that'll be true for a lot of potential Crimecraft players. Out of all of those extra players who will log in and play for free, at least a portion of them will buy the full game and/or some in-game items through microtransactions.
In short, by essentially giving away their game to those who are willing to give it a try, Vogster is attempting to generate interest in Crimecraft and build a player base in an economy where the average consumer in general and the gaming customer in particular are much more choosy about how and where they spend their money.
Is this the future of MMO's? Actually, I expect that it is. While the biggies may be able to get away with offering access to paid subscribers only, I think it's doubtful that smaller MMO games will be able to make a decent go of it unless they offer players a taste before asking for money.