In my previous two articles, I explained the best business model (in my opinion) for any indie MMO developer seeking large profit over time, and also how to utilize your playerbase to effectively campaign your product for you.
There's something you absolutely need to remember when developing an MMO with self-sustainability as a goal. You need to remember that players will always invest way more cash into a continuous positive experience than they will in a single transaction.
I read an interesting article by a volunteer staff member for Iron Realms, a successful MUD company. In the article, the author writes:
"A role playing game event can be anything, really, that involves players interacting either with each other, with a Divine, or with a (or a group of) non-player characters.
Small role play events can be anything from helping a lost child find its way home, to defeating an oppressive bad guy from doing whatever it is oppressive bad guys do for that instance. Small game events do not always need to be planned, and are sometimes spontaneous role playing events that became so interesting we keep them going."
That last line is what I enjoyed most; "role play events that become so interesting we keep them going". What that means is that, instead of relying on scripted quest chains and some website mythology, Iron Realms is utilizing their (volunteer) staff to take control of NPCs and have unscripted, engaging conversations with players.
At this point you're probably wondering, "How cost effective is that?" First, notice I said volunteer staff. Iron Realms allows its players to apply for various positions including newbie guiding, storyline/event writing and even area building. Not only does this save their wallet, but it allows the paid staff to focus on important things like bug fixing and customer service.
With Iron Realms nearing their 14th birthday and only growing, I think it's safe to say that the concept of staff interacting with players is one that has been overlooked by major MMO developers. You have to remember that not only is your role dungeon builder, but Dungeon Master as well.