The timeless free trials
I think it was either The Chronicles of Spellborn or Saga of Ryzom that were among the first of the subscription-based MMOs to offer free trials which were not limited in time, but rather how far you can get into the game. This approach has then been picked up by Warhammer Online, Age of Conan and Champions Online.
One thing that these games all have in common is that they are not really fighting in the absolute top with regard to subscriber-numbers, so understandably they have to do more to entice people to play. But some of them are still not going the path of “free-to-play” model and some of them keep the same subscription fees. Is an unlimited free trial enough?
In Ryzom you are restricted to the tutorial area, which you can spend a few hours. Age of Conan is limited to the Tortage area, which is also a number of hours, although a bit different game from what is outside Tortage. Champions Online is restricted to the Millenium City crisis zone (the tutorial zone), where someone typically would spend their first 5-6 levels, but in theory possible here to stay until 15. I do not know what the restrictions are for Warhammer Online, have not tried that game.
I guess it is a sign of the times that it becomes more difficult to compete in the MMO space – go back a couple of years and many MMOs were probably doing ok financially even if there were not big blockbuster successes. In the last 2-3 years it has been more of a mixed bag, at least that is how it appears.
I would not be surprised if we relatively soon will see that almost all games will have their first part “free” in some way and unlimited in time, to get people to try it.