Did the rise of the free to play model help or harm MMO gaming?
I recently realized that consoles are about 5-7 years behind PC trends. If you think back to our UT, Quake, and Doom, Tribes days, this was during the birth of MMO's, and the idea that gamer's would be willing to pay for a game on a monthly basis.
I remeber talking to a friend of mine who said I should play Everquest, and I thought, Hell NO, I'm not paying a monthly fee to play a game. Then more games in the MMORPG space began to take the genre by storm. So I walked down to my local game store, (thats right, we bought games in the store, another trend that has faded away) and looked at the shelves and was about to buy Everquest to see what all the fuss was about. That's when I noticed my Holy Grail, a new MMORPG had just released that day, Dark Age of Camelot. (-See what I did there)
I thought, since I was going to try this new game with thousands of others, it would be nice to start on the same level as everyone else. As I played month after month, I realized that I had been wrong, the subscription was well worth it. The game was much bigger than most single player games, the multiplayer aspect could not be matched anywhere, and they released updated content on a regular basis. I wasn't paying to play the game so much as I was paying for the service of constant updates. I also realized that I was actually spending less money than normal as I wasn't buying as many single player games. I even had two sub accounts in Eve Online for quite awhile.
Flash forward through two years of WoW, and then a slew of other MMO's I played until about 2 years ago. The new craze was Micro transaction. I "laughed" at those fools who would pay for content on a piece by piece basis on a crappy free game that had little "AAA" quality. Then I played League of Legends. I was wrong again, I made my first micro transaction buying some gold so I could buy some champions and skins. This was a highly polished free to play game that allowed to me buy things I wanted to help with the grind to get new champs, or make them look unique in game.
Within the last year almost all MMO's have realized the "Free" games quality has caught up with theirs, and the marketers for games have found out that we are all compulsive buyers. Thats what a gamer is, compulsive, so of course we handle our money that way. We can make many small purchases and not realize that it now adds up to more than we ever spent before.
Now to tie in my first sentence. Consoles started with no subscription at first, just buy the game. Then Xbox had their members pay for a service to play online, and Sony will be following them with the release of PS4. Micro-transaction have been with consoles but mostly for games you have already bought. The next change for them will be in offering games you don't buy at all, they are free, but have a store available if you want extra stuff. (I do realize there are examples of games like this already, but I am referring to their catalog on whole.)
As to the original question, I do not believe that the pricing model has had a good or bad effect on the MMO genre. How we bought and paid for the game we wanted to play didn't matter to most gamers. What has effected the genre has been Saturation, the success of WoW, and now, the success of LoL.
I think we are about to pass through what I think of as a stagnation period of the last year. Technology and Developers are now trying to increase story, immersion, persistence, and innovation in games, and finally stopped trying to copy everyone else, but the way we pay wont really matter, gamers will buy what they want.