Personally, I believe both FFXIV and FFXI should enter the F2P space provided they do it 'correctly'; however, I doubt they would stand a chance in hell of implementing a proper F2P model based on how terrible square's understanding of "what players want" or "expect" in the MMO space has been over the last 10 years (look how poor the star wars F2P model was implemented... pitiful... I imagine an S/E implementation to be far worse).
With ideas like level sync, There's no reason a F2P 'option' should be completely unavailable. For example, I'd love revisiting FFXI to say "hi" to some old friends now and again, I'm just not willing to pay to do it; if they were to implement a level 30 cap restriction (I.E. you are synced down to level 30 at a maximum on all jobs higher than 30, and allowed to level 'to' 30 on sub-30 jobs), I'm sure they'd make a lot of ground as far as new player-base goes (lots of people would be happy to subscribe for a month at a time, and the crysta system might finally make sense), and in the meantime the existing playerbase would see a much needed boost to low-level company and activity. Hell, with the way FFXI content is oriented, even capping sync at level 75 for "previous" subscribers would make sense and help boost the 'old content' activity, and even allow players to experience some of the 99 content with friends.
The problem I see too often these days is a piss-poor implementation of an F2P model - where even the most basic ideals of an MMO, like drop rates, the ability to equip items that you already own, respeccing (in games that utilize talent trees), and even the most core element in an MMO ... chatting... all get micro-transactioned to DEATH. I've seen the drop-rate thing implemented well, but more often than not, it means you don't get items if you don't pay. Personally (and this is just my opinion from other F2P games I've dabbled in) I think the F2P model works best when it does one of the following two methods:
Method 1 (my preferred method ) - "Subscriber" & "Visitor" method:
Full subscription based game, with a level restricted F2P visitor option. This gives people incentive to visit old friends and encourages subscribing when people have the free time or desire to play high level content for a month or two at a time. This method works almost flawlessly as a transition away from an already existing pay model as it usually allows subscribers to explain to new people that the game is limited, but also walk them through parts of the game and give them incentive to join. Restricting in any way other than level caps tends to really change the mindset of the player... they will have no desire to play a game that feels like it's taking away their right to hold items, chat freely, or participate in events other people can at that same level. Restrictions other than level also result in frustration from friends / other players, because they have expectations that you will be able to do basic things... and when you can't because of poor design choice, they, the paying characters, are stuck trying to figure out ways around it (we saw a lot of this recently in the new SWTOR F2P model).
Method 2 (less preferred, but can work if done well) - "Minimal Impact Microtransactions" method:
MMOs are unique in that the virtual items in game have to represent something, or the game is pointless. In FFXI for example, having a fully upgraded relic or mythic means a lot of time or in game currency was pumped into the acquisition of that item (or at least it used to) and are a status symbol of dedication (and sometimes power or deep understanding) of the game. Today they don't mean as much because they are a lot easier to aquire, so it's not the perfect example of what I mean, but they still take dedication to aquire. If microtransactions make these items 10-20 or even 100 dollar purchases, you hurt the in-game perception of those items. Microtransactions only really work in a purely "side-grade" or "cosmetic" driven environment. Team Fortress as an example (while not an MMO), features hats that are purely cosmetic and fun, while weapons are never really pure upgrades, and pretty easy to aquire in game, so if someone drops 5 bucks on the item, the game balance isn't thrown off, it just speeds up something someone was going to do anyhow by maybe a day or two.
I see a lot of varitions or combinations of the above two methods, some have worked ok, others bomb completely, but I think the most important piece of keeping a free to play MMO functioning is just to "keep it simple". If it's so overly convoluted you just can't understand why you don't have access to certain features in the game that seem like they should be basic... (especially in a game like FFXI, where it's ALREADY convoluted just to figure out simple things like maximizing bag space via quest lines for a new player) ... it's a strong sign of piss-poor implementation.
At this point in time, there are so many GOOD free to play options it's insane... this is not the F2P market we saw just two years ago, this is a F2P market that now completes directly (and on par quality wise) with the existing subscriber model games. We are no longer in a generation of "crappy-Korean-dime-a-dozen" games, we are seeing grade-A top-notch games being released into the F2P space, and they are all struggling to find the "perfect" F2P model, but in time they will all figure it out.
I'll Finish up this long-winded rant with this:
People will go where their friends go, and where a games populations are highest. Growing up in a generation where we had to buy every next big game the moment it was released, keeping in touch with friends was easy because we all had the same games. Today we have thousands of options when it comes to games, so we have to carefully pick which ones we buy so we don't break the bank. The F2P space is going to become more and more popular as you can join friends and get friends to join you more easily, even if it's only to "try" the game for a month before they give up on it - but myself and my friends haven't purchased many games in the last 7 years "just because a friend had it"... and I am not alone in this stinginess as our generation of gamers grows older. So yes, while I love the idea of a subscription based model that allows me to do whatever the game has to offer, I do not believe that has to be mutually exclusive to the idea of a reasonable, well implemented, fun-for-most, F2P model doesn't make you hate yourself for playing
Edited to remove the world "truly" and replace it with "purely" as it seemed to cause some confusion / misinterpretation
Edited, Jan 10th 2013 4:01pm by FUJILIVES