wow free to play thoughts

World of Warcraft has added a “free to play” option … and if you were hunting for a great set of keywords to type into a gamers search app, you’ve found them. Hits ahoy! On the surface this might be huge news, and the day that World of Warcraft actually does go fully free to play, with the mandatory micro-transaction components added, then we’ll really see something of a disruption in the MMO game market.The real facts here is that wow is not free-to-play, its just an unlimited trial period.

The fine print on the offer is more revealing, and demonstrates why headlines are worse than cheating husbands for how they can easily mislead (god bless the abuse of facts at the hands of the media, for without it we’d only have truth – not pithy taglines). Blizzard is unlocking the 30 day trial, so that it lasts forever. It has the same limit on communications functions, same lock-out of the advanced Cataclysm features (like new races and such), and you’re limited to level 20. It does now include one of the older expansions, which is a change from the previous evaluation period. Players now can play around as much as they want, switch and swap toons, design hairstyles, and the rest of the basic game functions for as long as they wish; just don’t expect to get far beyond the starter areas.

Now don’t get me wrong – every game should do this. If the publishers could actually understand that gamers distrust games, and hate spending a fortune on a product that sucks dreadfully, then they’d give this option out of the box on launch day.

The level 2-20 game is actually good in Warcraft. I’ve played almost all the starting areas and they all have something to offer. Compare a game which offers so many different starting zones to most other online games, and you’ll already see that offering this gratis is something more than most studios can do. I’ve seen many games that offer no more replay in the early content than changing the “hello Wizard, your quest” gets switched to “hello Fighter, your quest”. Hardly exciting at all, and not something that I’d pay for.

If a game is released without a trial period or a locked down open period (as is the case now with wow), then all the publishers and designers are saying to me is that that the game sucks, and they need the box price purchases from the great unwashed so that they can try to mitigate the huge loss of creating it. No thanks. I’ll trust the reviews, my friends, and the early adopters to filter the games that are worth paying for, which don’t have a free evaluation period. These games are trying to capture my attention for months and years, to entire return revenue, and if they can’t at least offer 15 days of test time, then they have something to hide.

In the future when the “Free to Play” change actually occurs in WoW I suspect the reason will be that the game is actually in serious decline, and needs a final boost. It will be like the installation of a pacemaker and blood thinners, so it can live longer. And I’ll bet a coffee that this happens after Blizzard’s next MMO is out and proven itself as a winner. Why else would a studio mess with a formula which is generating so much revenue for so many years.

Till the next greatest thing is released, consider trying wow if you have not already. Be warned – it is not the game for everyone, and has burnt out more players than most MMORPGs have had as subscribers; but it is actually a very good game. Other publishers copy the current incarnation for a reason, it works.

Happy gaming.