By Jared Newman | Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 8:00 am
Why, it was only last week that I wrote about how Valve and several other big video game publishers are lovingly embracing the free-to-play business model. Now you can add Activision-Blizzard to that group, because World of Warcraft is going free-to-play.
The new program is called World of Warcraft Starter Edition, and lets players explore the massive multiplayer game for as long as they want. Eventually, they’ll hit restrictions that can only lifted with a full, paid account. Those restrictions include a level cap of 20, a gold cap of 10, a trade skill cap of 100 ranks, no trading, no guilds, no public chat and no voice chat.
That’s a lot of drawbacks, so there’s obviously a big difference between World of Warcraft and most other free-to-play RPGs: Instead of giving away the core experience and trying to sell individual pieces of content, Activision-Blizzard wants to sell people on the full game, which costs $15 per month for the service and $20 up front for the software. In that sense, World of Warcraft Starter Edition is more like the “Lite” versions of software you see in smartphone app stores than games that are only offered free with lots of in-app purchases.
But it’s good strategy at this point in the game’s life cycle. For years, Activision-Blizzard has offered free trials of World of Warcraft with a time limit. The ticking clock may turn off new players, who may feel lost in everything the game has to offer. A feature-limited trial allows players to take their time exploring the game, and only upgrade once they’ve invested in building a character.
Given how addicting World of Warcraft can be, the free-to-play model may be just what Activision-Blizzard needs.