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Why did the subscription model fall out of favor?

I didn't play any MMOs from ~2008 to 2019 (or really games outside of iOS junk for that matter). The offerings today seem so, so much worse than what I played from ~2001-2008 that I can't find anything playable that's not an "old school" or "classic" game. I know that freemium has become the rule rather than the exception in gaming, and it's very hard to make an "MMO" sticky so the easy way out is to make it free and hope people will come and pay for cosmetics (or much worse) actually useful items.

I played RS from late 2001 or early 2002 until 2005 (when I quit to focus completely on WoW), classic WoW and TBC (quit before patch 2.4), GW1 (all of the expansions, I stopped raiding in WoW to focus on GW), LoTRO (never got to max level but had some fun) and DDO (couldn't really get into this). Aside from RS, there was a clear model back then — you buy the game, and you pay a sub or you buy expansions. This meant that the developers actually had to work on compelling content to make people continue to play.

I don't remember paying anything for RS, WoW obviously has a subscription, GW1 made its money through expansions I eagerly bought, and LoTRO had a sub. Even "back in my day" there were shitty free Asian MMOs (mostly WoW clones) that were f2p and had cash shops where you could buy garish cosmetics or even have a p2w model where you could buy useful gear. These games were (to me) really unattractive both in terms of graphics (generic anime-inspired shitty gfx) and in terms of business model.

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Today, it seems that even the flagship MMO (WoW) is completely on board the old shitty Asian MMO train of "pay for cosmetics", and logging into retail I see a bunch of players who look ridiculous, totally ruining any sense of immersions. Level 1s driving around car mounts, the game itself advertising some dumb pets I can buy, wtf? I'm spending my MMO time in classic WoW now and enjoying the nostalgia trip, but after TBC the nostalgia will run out and I guess there won't be an MMO for me (unless Pantheon releases, maybe).

Is this "cash shop" infection even in subscription games just a consequence of the fact that the people who play MMOs in 2020 are very different from those who played in 2005? Am I out of touch with the vast majority of the MMO playerbase in wanting old-school tab-targety combat and no cosmetics shop in my subscription-based MMOs? Or is there a large number of players who tolerate all these changes because they still feel the urge to play RPGs with lots of players in them?

Apologies for the rant 🙂


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