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Of course, indie MMOs try...but have not near the funding that an AAA company would have.
So what am I talking about? Every AAA MMO is themepark after WoW. Only one is going the sandbox route. Granted, it does seem EQNext is going to change things...so that is (from what has been revealed) a great step in the right direction.
Every themepark MMO that has been released has either shut down or went free to play. Even WoW is thinking of going down that path.
But no sandbox MMO has ever needed to be free to play. Some have free options (like Runescape), but all of them survive on a pay to play model...no themepark MMO except WoW (and even then, it doesn't look good) has needed to go free to play.
Lets see here.
SWTOR...failed and went free to play
LOTRO...failed and went free to play
EQ2...failed and went free to play
Age of Conan...failed and went free to play
list goes on.
However, Ultima Online is the oldest MMO...AND IS PAY TO PLAY! AND A SUCCESS!
EVE Online is a very successful MMO and completely pay to play (minus the stupid 50 dollar cash shop item that I still lol myself to sleep at)
Asheron's Call is also still pay to play, and it is as old as EQ
And...lets see...then some exceptions (like Ryzom has a free model, and probably only really true sandbox MMO that failed for some reason (which is a shame, as it is amazing))...and runescape having a free model, similar to Ryzom.
Now...what are the most successful games that MMOs can learn from?
Skyrim, X3 Terran Conflict, Minecraft (which EQ Next seems to be using ideas from), Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row 3...all are a super success, have more life span than a linear game AND...sell more copies than most themepark MMOs do.
And many companies are seeing that open world and sandbox games are a success and going that route...the next witcher...the next assassin's creed...and I'm sure others.
So to refer back to the title...is it time for AAA MMOs to change genres? All sandbox/openworld games (mmo, singleplayer or multiplayer) see FAR more success than any linear game.