Yes, yes I can.
My home game subs are running out soon (LOTRO, Station Access) and I have been messing around a LOT more with Mabinogi and a few other F2P games. Not only is the quality of some of these games up there with a "normal" MMO, but they are free to play to boot!
Now look, I know what you are thinking: "There is no way playing F2P games can equal the satisfaction I get out of "normal" mmo's."
For the moment, you are mostly right. But, the quality is increasing so fast that I predict that within 2 or 3 years that F2P will be the norm. The best way to present my argument is to just list off the pros and cons. I love lists, and will always jump at the chance to make one.
1) Economy: Now now, I am not one to cite the horrible economy as a reason to want to stop paying for my gaming. After all, the economy hasn't really shown itself to me and the wife in many ways, and to many people. Yes, if we had 2 houses, 3 kids and 3 cars we might feel the sting. But we don't have kids (never want them) have one car and live close to work so I can ride my bike. (It's called exercise people.) Look at the numbers:
* 2 WoW subs: $30.00
* 1 Station Access: $33.00
* 1 LOTRO sub: $15.00
Do the math. That amount equals a bill. And add on top of that the (very simple, yes) activity of having to remember: "Ok, which one expires now, which card did we charge that one to?" It's just getting annoying. Granted, I love those games to the point of being a fanboy, but I am an explorer. I play some games for only a few hours a week, then move on to some other game to try something else out. And it's not that we cannot afford them. We can afford lot's of things . But I go back to one of my favorite terms: luxury items. I could afford to do drugs or to drink a lot, but I don't. I want to be able to work and pay my bills and I can't do that when I'm messed up. We could afford another car, but we could barely eat if we bought one.
And luxury items are one of those things in MMO's that people seem to think are needed to the point of being forced to have them, things like the best armor or the top stats. The proof that you do not need them is that I can play alongside someone in the best gear in the world, and have an incredible time in my crappy armor. Too much about the MMO world is based on luxury, and people thinking that luxury is necessity.
2) Time: I do not have time to play all these games all the time. I play a few hours a day, or less, depending. Some days I won't play at all and some days I'll play for 6 hours. I could never be a raider because that's too much like a JOB. I don't need another punch-in punch-out job, and I don't need more constraints on my time. (I hardly have any, but I want to keep it that way.) With a subscription, the clock is ticking. If you don't play, you still get charged. That's where the Station Access is brilliant: they know that players cannot possibly play every game on the list that much, but players love the freedom.
3) Quality: This is the soft spot in the argument. Many many many (most) F2P games ARE crap. But let's compare some major points of both and see that there isn't that much difference.
a) Art Style: Some of the F2P games are just plain stupid looking. I HATE Anime. I hate the fact that every Anime cartoon you see (save for a few brilliant ones) looks the same, which is giant-eyed people that look not-at-all realistic, surrounded by cool looking backgrounds. So many of the F2P games are just that same annoying giant-mushroom-with-a-smiley-face style. But some are changing that. Look at Perfect World, or even Mabinogi in some areas. That "Imagine" MMO looks pretty cool, but you do tend to run into many big-headed monsters.
But honestly, how realistic are MMO's anyway? Vanguard looks amazing sometimes, and then sometimes in a few areas looks silly. EQ2 has it's beauty, but also has it's rough landscapes and it's (unless it's all the way up graphically) butt-ugliness. Do we really need to have photo-realistic characters to enjoy ourselves?
I say no way, that the game-play matters most. Look at browser based games, and how they can draw you in. Hell, look at WoW, with it's brilliantly simple yet loveable graphics.
b) Quests: Go back to the olden days (I love saying that, as though 10 years ago was a long time ago.) UO had no quests. EQ, from what I remember, had very few. CoH had the same quest over and over. Even Vanguard and WoW, with their brilliant quests, aren't read and are just seen as "grinding" by so many players that it is a "normal" style of play. ("I am going to go grind some quests." ) So, how is a F2P game with it's "grind-fests" any different? In Mabinogi (my recent favorite) you can do what you want. There are a few major "story quests" but overall you can do anything. Reason enough to play, even without any "reason" besides playing. I am a huge fan of incredible quests alongside incredible story, but I think I am more on the rare side. So many players see playing as a job, as a transport to just the higher levels. They don't read quest text, they don't pay attention to lore. In a way, their lack of attention to that stuff will allow more games like Mabinogi, with it's freedom, to become more popular.
c) System Compability: Some of these F2P games look amazing and yet would run on a pocket calculator. In fact, I have set up my art room again and moved an older machine into there. I can't run any pay games that well, so I will just have it as my F2P gaming machine. There is something in the water in those coding shops that makes the f2P games look great and run beautifully. Again, art style over textures res.
4) Experimentation: Think about it. If I reduce my subs for one month, I could save over 60 bucks. Again, I can afford that, but that's 60 bucks that could buy lizard grub, or dog food. Also, I am enjoying trying to adapt the Immersion Project (will write a new blog about that) into these games, which seemed impossible before. But so far, with a few tweaks, it seems to be working.
Now, question is, can I do this? We'll see. I love all those pay-to-play games. They are pay-to-play because they are good. But I think the time of subscriptions is coming to an end, and soon. Look at how many Asian market players there are using alternate payment plans. Those companies make millions and millions. For me, it's mainly about being able to decide when and if my money goes to the company. I might buy a game for 50 bucks and pay for one month of service, just to get stuck with a crappy game that I don't want to play. (I'm talking to you, Darkfall! hehe) F2P is about freedom of choice and the ability to decide who gets your cash.
We'll see, though. I might be wrong. I think SOE and a few other companies have already been making moves towards a F2P system, and that can only be a good thing. All of the data that I have seen shows that most of these "cash-shop" type plans are just recieved as something new, not as something bad or good. People just keep playing what they want, and many pump money into the cash shop.
If you ask me, the ability to spend 10 bucks for a mount in EQ2 is brilliant. Those damn things have been WAAAAAAAAYYY over-priced since I started playing years ago.