“Trial” and “F2P” might sounds different business models, but if we look things from big higher level, there aren’t that many differences. Kind of.
Let’s look things closely between free-to-play (F2P) and shareware* trials:
*by shareware here I mean games that provide you a demo to check out, and then you can buy full version.
Price to get started:
Shareware: free! (yes, the full game costs, but you can start to play free)
Cost of full gaming experience:
F2P: 0 to 50+ and more bucks (as long as you keep buying virtual items and stuff, there’s endless amount to pay)
Shareware: 1 to 50 and more bucks (many indie games fall in the 5-20 range, but on the other hand, very many games offer add-ons and stuff like that which in a way is quite similar to “virtual items” that allow you to “explore more stuff”)
Time or feature limitations:
(Does the game have limitation like 60 minutes or something that you can play)
F2P: yes (for example, WoW is said to be “free” to play, and it has level cap which effectively gives you certain time limit… at least you cannot progress after playing the game so much (10 hours or so) that there’s nothing more to gain)
Shareware: yes (Big Fish Games have “try 60 minutes for free and buy after” on all their games, many other games have limited features)
So far, these models actually are somewhat similar. I guess it’s much more typical for F2P games to let people buy “virtual goods” (in F2P), but in my opinion “buying new levels” (expansion pack of a shareware game) is quite close to the same idea. After all the point is that player gets more stuff to use and try.
Size of transaction
Virtual goods can cost like 99 cents or $5 or even $500 or whatever in F2P worlds. Indie games can have full game for like $10 and then $5 add-on contents. In F2P games, players make several more smaller purchases in longer period of time.
In shareware model you see few (possibly) bigger purchases.
So… now what?
From my own experience, there’s certain games that I buy no matter what they cost. There’s indie games that I buy for ten bucks. And I’ve even spent some money on in-game purchases (not that many really).
What is interesting that buying something in game (that costs like a buck or two) doesn’t require much thinking. Essentially, spending 2 bucks on some nice thing feels pretty close to “free” in my mind. Spending $50 for a game is something I stop to think for a second.
In a way, F2P model sounds like a “easy tiny payments scattered over a period of time” (bit like how credit cards work).
I don’t know how far F2P model will go, but I feel that if me and you aren’t prepared and designed our games totally ignoring F2P then we have a serious problem. It’s simply something we gotta take into consideration when figuring out how to price our games.