It seems that studios are less and less inclined to settle for just a monthly fee.
Last week, LOTRO announced that they're spinning off their new shared bank feature into a $20 "adventure pack", which also contains a mount and two character slots. On the same day, the Star Wars TOR beta EULA disclosed that TOR will have microtransactions, though, in fairness, we don't know for sure that the game in question has a monthly fee. (I'd be shocked if it was outright free-to-play, but it could go with the Guild Wars/DDO/W101 content purchase model.)
Meanwhile, SOE announced that the EQ2 team had been tasked with making an exclusive dungeon as a loot card reward for their online TCG. (Yes, people will buy a $4 online booster pack for maybe a 10% chance of getting a key that lets you run this dungeon for a presumably cosmetic reward ONCE.) In typical SOE PR form, the card game promo team was allowed to declare how cool this new feature would be, while the EQ2 community team was barred from disclosing anything about the contents of the dungeon in question to reassure the community that the best dungeons and loot won't be moving to TCG rewards and Station Cash in the future.
My guess is that the new zone won't be any more out-of-line than existing TCG loot, but the appearance is worse; Blizzard might not have made a Spectral Tiger at all if not for their TCG, Turbine might not have assigned someone to code the shared bank at all if there wasn't additional money in it, and SOE says that they would not have hired the guy who makes the Station Cash furniture and outfits without the added revenue, but one presumes that EQ2's dungeon team would have been making dungeons whether or not there was a new TCG expansion to sell.
The angry forum posters are wrong, as always. Very few will cancel as a matter of principle. A larger number might cancel as a result of running out of stuff to do, when their subscriptions might have been saved had the team not devoted its limited dev time to content that so few players will see. Still, the card game probably brings in more revenue than both groups combined, so SOE doesn't exactly have a strong incentive to change their priorities anytime soon.
Is the Monthly Fee Effectively Capped at $15?
I'm not thrilled with the addition of RMT to subscription games - I feel that they create a conflict of interest where future game design cannot be changed in a way that would hurt item sales, even if changes need to be made. Dealing with that conflict is the price of admission if the game isn't charging a fee to begin with, but this is not stopping subscription games from adding transactions left and right. But what is the alternative?
Like it or not, all games are compared to the production values of World of Warcraft. None of these other games have the revenue of World of Warcraft. Perhaps it isn't fair, but that's life - in order to crack my crowded MMORPG play list, your game needs to outcompete the games already on the list for my limited time and money.
Tobold once suggested that WoW has effectively capped the monthly fee at $15 - there were some rumblings that Warhammer might have a higher fee, and the reaction was so universally negative that even EA decided that this was not a PR battle they could win. I don't think that WoW is the only reason, though "more expensive than WoW" would certainly put some added pressure on a new game to be even bigger and better than the genre's 800lb Gorilladin. However, if Blizzard is responsible, then perhaps they have done the genre a favor.
The $15 monthly fee already adds up to $180 per year. At any given time, you've got a financial incentive to quit the game; if you can finish enough to declare victory and go home, that's $15 you could be spending on something else. Increasing the fee only increases the pressure, and the risk that players have to take on in order to try something new. If studios can't compromise on quality and therefore need to find some way to charge more, perhaps we're better off with RMT.