Turbine recently unleashed the Rise of Isengard expansion upon its free to play (Freemium model) MMORPG, Lord of the Rings Online. The expansion costs $30 to $50 (depending on feature set, see link) and is non-optional for access to the new Isengard content. Content locks aren't unfamiliar for either of Turbine's F2P titles, both DDO and LOTRO require players to pay up if they want to quest through the majority of the game. But these have always been microtransactions: A few Turbine points here and there for a small packet of content at a time. A full on expansion to a F2P game seems... misplaced, somehow.
But its also not entirely misplaced for LOTRO. After all, LOTRO already has two expansions that must be purchased in order to access zone content. I always thought it was a bit weird, to be honest, that even VIPs have to buy expansions on top of their subscription fee in what is ostensibly a "free to play" game. If nothing else, it really goes to show just how much of a crippled free trial the free to play option is in LOTRO, given that it just has partial access to the areas prior to any of the three expansions.
Now, it is actually possible to buy the expansion with Turbine points; Turbine announced the components would sell for a total of just under 6000 TP. So all those extra Turbine Points you can earn in-game by accomplishing various achievements, or the stipend you can collect with a VIP subscription, could go towards unlocking the expansion that way. But just how much is 6000 TP if you buy them directly? $97.50. Wowzers. That $30 deal certainly looks a lot better, eh?
I think this goes to show one of the real strengths of the F2P model: you can milk a ton more cash out of people by obfuscating prices. For one thing, prices are listed in "Turbine Points" rather than real money, and points cost more (400 points = $6.50). This toys with the 1-to-1 psychology of pricing: people see an item that costs 995 Turbine Points and think it costs $9.95, when in fact they'd pay $16.17 to buy that many points. Or, more precisely, they'd pay $19.50 to buy three 400 point bundles to buy the 995 point item; having to buy larger bundles than you can spend is another way to convert wastage into profits.
But what this particular expansion has taught me is that, if you break something into its component parts and sell those components for seemingly really small values, you can actually make a lot more money from the total sale; assuming someone actually buys it all. If you take a $30 expansion and break it into twenty little parcels for a mere 350 TP each, you can get a lot more money as long as you can coax people into going for each parcel.
I wonder if this makes me think worse of F2P marketing... I already find that I end up having to pay a lot more to get the same experience as a subscription game. And since I hate to pay, I end up feeling very restricted and poorly enjoy what little is available to me. Perhaps there are different types of people who respond differently to different types of marketing strategies, but the type that I am responds very poorly to things that feel "scammy."