While I was out, the NDA on the LOTRO F2P beta dropped, and we also got a few more details on EQ2's shift to F2P. Both models are still in testing, and it appears that both are weighing what to do about buying character features versus renting them.
EQ2E Class Rentals
Over on the EQ2 side, the game's producer confirms that it is not possible for non-subscribers to purchase access to the non-free classes. Eight of the game's 24 subclasses are available to non-subscription free to play accounts. For the moment, the remaining 16, including popular group classes like bards, shamen, and enchanters, are only available to subscribers.
(In a minor nuance, players who pay the $35 fee to copy their characters from the existing traditional subscription version of EQ2 will be allowed to continue playing those characters as long as their EQ2 subscription remains active, even though they would not be able to create a new character of the same class in EQ2E due to not holding a subscription there. Players who use SOE's all-access Station Pass will be considered subscribers to both services.)
This is a very clunky and counterintuitive way to handle things, and Smokejumper concedes that even SOE's own marketing materials fail to adequately explain the split. The entire selling point of the free to play service is not having to pay a recurring subscription. If you're paying the $15 anyway, you're better off playing the subscription service, where you don't have to pay extra for things like the majority of the game's races (available in packs of 3 for $7.50) and aren't stuck on a server whose class balance will be overwhelmingly stacked towards the third of the game's classes that are actually available without a monthly subscription.
I maintain that there is going to be significant buyer's remorse among players who invest time and money on the F2P side only to realize its limitations at endgame, and that this unproductive model arises solely from the need to keep current subscribers from ditching their fees.
The LOTRO Beta Subscription Downgrade Paradox
Meanwhile, LOTRO is struggling with the same type of issue surrounding the game's free to play rollout. The beta forums remain closed to the public, but the previously published account type chart illustrates some of the potential pitfalls in dealing with players with lapsed subscriptions (from before or after the F2P shift).
Using updated prices from today's beta build, it would cost more than 1700 Turbine Points (about $17, plus or minus depending on sales and exchange rates) PER CHARACTER to unlock all of the various things that are locked for free players but not for subscribers. This includes things like trait slots, the gold cap, the ability to ride mounts, and bags. The ability to advance reputations is also sometimes gated by subscription status, either because the quests needed to do so require the purchase of quest access or because there's a physical unlock to purchase (in the case of crafting guilds).
The thorny issue is what to do with characters who have already acquired these perks when their subscriptions lapse. Apparently, the way it currently works allows players to keep everything they have at the time their subscription expires, if for no other reason than because the game would otherwise need to be set up to temporarily ignore traits and reputation levels based on subscription status.
The result would be that a one month $15 subscription comes with 1700 TP worth of perks on as many characters as you have available at the time of the subscription (which would leave anyone who unwittingly pays the 1700 TP feeling like a sucker, since the one month sub also comes with 500 TP and a month of subscription access). The alternative, though, is the path that EQ2 plans to use, where lapsed subscribers can't log into their characters because of lapsed perk rentals.
The purpose of free to play?
For me personally, the entire point of having a free to play model is not having to remain shackled to a monthly fee. This can be beneficial to the developers as well as the players, because it allows me to stay involved with games that would otherwise be on the back burner. If I go from spending $45 per year for three months' subs (spread through the year as content is added) to spending $60/year in item shop currency, the developers win, and I'm not going to spend any currency on a game I'm not playing at all because of the monthly fee.
I don't have a problem with temporarily locking down features (though I can see how that approach is technically more challenging), but locking down characters kind of defeats the purpose.