There is one school of thought that thinks F2P means “if you spend enough time, you can experience the whole game for free – paying is just a shortcut”. There is another school of thought that says “you will never see the whole game, unless you pay astronomical amounts of money, and maybe not even then”. There’s a real conceptual rift between the two camps, and some games are finding themselves caught in the middle, or transitioning between the two.
— Brise Bonbons
I’d argue “astronomical,” although that depends on the model, and it’s really the models I want to discuss here.
We’re all familiar with pure subscription models, as well as subscription plus a small premium shop (WoW sparklepony, CoX booster packs). WoW, Warhammer, and others now have unlimited free trials along with their subscriptions. Most Western players have limited familiarity with the item shop model in its pure, evil form, although Allods players got a taste. I think it’s clear under these models that you will be ponying up some funds or you will not be getting much beyond the most basic experience; item shop gamers may have been fooled at the onset, but it should become quickly apparent once they’re into it.
The murkier middle comes from hybrid models and games that let you unlock content (“no cover charge”). Wizard101 has a very clear unlock model, in which you just do not get most zones unless you pay for them. League of Legends gives you access to everything, eventually, a little at a time, with some free permanent unlocks and why don’t you just give them $20 to get the handful of champions you really want? Turbine is the headliner for the hybrid subscription/pay to unlock model, with Dungeons and Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online. You could theoretically unlock absolutely everything in LotRO without paying, although you would be creating and deleting characters to grind deeds until your very fingertips wore away.
And there really is tension between people who want to play for free, absolutely free, and those who are willing to pay and/or recognize that someone needs to fund these companies if you want servers to stay up. When I am getting a lot of value from a game, I don’t mind giving an extra $20 to Valve or Riot or whatnot. I look at my Settlers of Catan box and wonder if I should mail Klaus Teuber a check or something, based on the play value received. But I remember having no money, and I can see a bit of that perspective.
And then there are games that are just annoyingly in your face with their pleas for money. See, for example, the LotRO UI re-design that makes the shop the most visible UI item (poor design decision: the shop links are annoyingly present even if you cannot use them to spend more money, such as subscribers/lifetimers at the stables).