Ostensibly, “F2P” is an acronym for “Free to Play”.
In practice, the term can cover a couple of different types of MMOs that don’t monetize via subscriptions.
On one hand are the Item Shop games, say, Runes of Magic, Allods Online or Puzzle Pirates. RoM and AO are post-WoW DIKUMMOs (PWDMMORPGs?), but Puzzle Pirates is an entirely different animal that uses a microtransaction dual currency system. RoM and AO have taken heat for goofy pricing and design that spurs purchases, some of it rightly so, some of it ill-informed and incompetently reasoned. Noting that Puzzle Pirates functions quite nicely as an Item Shop game, might I take another moment to note that while business and game design are inextricably linked, incompetence in one need not mean the other is equally busted?
On the other hand, there are Subscriptionless games that monetize by selling content and convenience. Look to Guild Wars, DDO and Wizard 101 for this sort of game design. Content is sold with perpetual access, and players need not continue to pay a subscription. These games tend to be constructed differently from the Item Shop games, earning money most like offline games of yore, by providing a valuable experience out of the box.
Also of note are the hybrid games.
Wizard 101 allows for subscriptions, content purchases and item shop purchases. It monetizes all sorts of demand and lets all sorts of players play together, hopping servers willy-nilly almost at will. It’s a beautiful game that plays extremely well, carving out its own identity with unique game mechanics and quirky writing. The Harry Potterish feel is almost certainly part of the appeal, but it really is a solid game under the hood.
Puzzle Pirates has microtransaction servers and subscription servers. Players cannot change server, and their economies are largely unique. Doubloons (the microtransaction currency in their brilliant dual currency system) are tied to the account, not a server, and so may be spent on any “green” (microtransaction) server, but “blue” (sub) and “green” servers are isolated. Still, players can play on any server, and can find one to suit their finances.
I think there is a critical distinction to be drawn between Item Shop games and Subscriptionless games. I’ve argued for selling content instead of time for a while now, and I firmly come down in the Subscriptionless camp. Whether this is sold in large bites like Guild Wars or smaller bites like Wizard 101 or DDO, it doesn’t matter much, but there is a clear difference between this model and the Item Shop model. RoM and AO and their kind walk a line between selling stuff that’s useful and selling stuff that breaks the game, between impulse purchases and wallet-busting stupidity.
Both games can rightfully be presented as “Free to Play”, inasmuch as the acronym itself really only suggests that there is no subscription. (Though it is a curious thing when a product is defined by what it lacks rather than what it has or is…) We really have misnomers on top of misnomers abound in the MMO market, so this is no surprise, but it isn’t useful to take something like Allods Online’s messed up Item Shop (or your favorite game used as an example of the apocalypse) and paint an entire swath of games with a disdainful “F2P” epithet. Games need to be taken on their own merits, balanced against their monetary and time costs, and evaluated for fun. Blind prejudice against games roughly defined by a marketing acronym that doesn’t have consistent meaning doesn’t really help anything.