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Should Blizzard Expand the Starter Edition? June 6, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Technically… if you look at it from the right angle and the sun is shining from behind it and you squint your eyes just right… World of Warcraft has a free to play option.

WoWStarterEdition

It is called The Starter Edition, and it lets you create an account, download WoW, and play for as long as you want, no credit card required or anything.

There are just a few restrictions:

  • Can’t play expansion-restricted content (new classes, continents, etc).
  • Can’t exceed level 20, 10 gold, and 100 trade skill ranks.
  • Can’t participate in Pet Battles.
  • Can’t chat in channels other than say and party.
  • Can’t whisper another character unless they add you to their friends list.
  • Can’t create or join guilds, invite players into a party, or create calendar invitations.
  • Can’t disable experience gains.
  • Can’t trade, mail, or use the Auction House.
  • Can’t use voice chat or Real ID.
  • Can’t use value added services (character transfers, faction changes, etc).

Something about a long list of negative statements make me want to say, “Don’t do what Donny Don’t does.”

Anyway, aside from those restrictions, you’re free to go about your business, stay as long as you want, and enjoy as much of Azeroth as you can soak up.

I have no idea how successful the “Starter Edition” has been, if it actually brings new players into the game in any significant numbers, or if Blizzard just keeps it around to ward off suggestions about going free to play.  Look, we’re already free-ish!  But it has been around for a while now… I recall it starting somewhere between Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria…. and I started wondering if it ought to change.

Well, actually I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “Why stop at level 20?”

Sure, there are reasons, both historic and emotional for level 20 being the cap.

Historically, in any number of old games (EverQuest or TorilMUD for example), level 20 was sort of a coming of age point.  You could see all your stats.  You had enough skills and had learned to use them.  You could petition for a last name.  You probably made a few friends along the way.  It was time to venture out into the wider world, into zones not adjacent to your home town, and really get yourself into trouble.

And the first 20 levels of play can sometimes seem like the most enjoyable.  There are few decisions to be made and not much tramping about the world is required.  Everything is fresh and new and simple.  This is the happy vision you want to sell.  Once they pay their money, then they can get mired in Stranglethorn Vale or try to find their way up to the Plaguelands.

On the flip side of all that, 20 zips up on you pretty quickly in WoW these days.  Sure, it is a milestone in that you can buy a mount, but not much else gets unlocked.  And in terms of play time, 40 feels like the new 20.

So why shouldn’t they raise the cap on the starter edition to 40?

40 gets you to the mount level once known as epic, the 100% speed boost ground mount.

How about 60?

You can go to 60, but can’t train for flying mounts or run off into any of the expansion content.

Or is that going too far, giving away too much content or letting people get into what might be considered the grind of the mid-game?

What, if anything, should Blizzard change?

Comments»

1. tsuhelm - June 6, 2014

So its like a demo…er do any games claim to be F2P when they have a free demo?

I will one day roll a char on WoW…I hope I don’t instantly go Wow! and realize I should have been there a long time ago…

Saying that with that list of restrictions I will wait a little longer.

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2. Asmiroth - June 6, 2014

There’s content before 90?

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3. Shintar - June 6, 2014

I’ve gathered from comments I’ve seen that there’s a whole sub-culture of people playing that version of WoW for free, who like to work on best in slot level 20 gear and complain about level 24 twinks stomping them in the 20-24 battleground bracket. Wonder how they’d feel about having more content to play around with…

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4. Pasduil - June 6, 2014

I suspect there would be very little for WoW to lose by setting that starter cap to 40, or maybe even doing away with it altogether.

In practice LOTRO works out very similar to what you propose.

Sure in theory there is no cap for F2P at all, but the free content runs out at around level 30. If you’ve played up to that point, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve acquired enough store currency (aka Turbine Points / TP) to buy yourself a 30-40 zone, plus some other essentials like the riding skill and such.

So in practice for a lot of people the free game is up to level 40. After that if you want to carry on playing without paying a penny, you’d need to do some serious grinding for TP.

Some people do continue upwards entirely through grinding out TP, including I believe our esteemed Tsuhelm who commented above, but I’d guess the majority who continue past 40 will have paid something.

In my case if I’d had to decide by level 20, I might not have carried on playing. Because at that point I hadn’t yet found a kinship I loved, nor had much chance to try grouping.

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5. sid67 - June 6, 2014

It appears to have all same restrictions as the trial account that’s been around since pre-BC but without the 2-week time limit.

I do have some knowledge of how these accounts are frequently used- to test and create bots. Given the free nature of these accounts, they offer cheaters a risk-free environment in which to break all the rules to see how far they can exploit the game (by hacking or otherwise) before doing so on their “real” account.

I surmise during every banwave when Blizzard tries to awe subscribers with the number of accounts banned that in fact, a significant number of banned accounts are in fact these trial style accounts.

There is actually an easy way to prevent this — ask for $0.01 and a credit card to set up an account. If caught hacking, any accounts using the same credit card are also banned.

This won’t stop everyone, but it will stop the vast majority because the barrier to entry is significantly higher. Particularly among teenagers who may not have access to more than 1 credit card (the one provided by their parents).

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6. bhagpuss - June 6, 2014

I think you’d be surprised just how slow the leveling is on one of those accounts. I have one and I played it quite a bit last year and blogged about it a few times. One of the most striking things was how very slow both traveling and leveling were. It feels more like early EQ than WoW.

As a first character on a fresh account you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps all the way. Just look at those restrictions – you’re basically playing a single-player game. You can’t buy or twink your way out of trouble – you just have to get out there an graft. It’s great!

I’d love to see them raise the level cap for the Starter Pack but only if they keep pretty much all of the restrictions in place. I can;t really see any reason why they’d need to change it unless they were also going to loosen the reins though. I hope that doesn’t happen.

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7. NetherLands - June 6, 2014

WoW has indeed called itself ‘F2P’ and later/now ‘Play for free forever* *(to level 20 and with restrictions)) as it was a ploy made during the declining subs of Cata. ‘F2P is hip, afterall’ the marketting people probably thought.

Rasing the cap to 30 or 40 could make things more interesting, but by that time the lack of communication with others could make for an even more lonely time when you really want to know how to get to EPL for example.

To add to Shintar’s comment:

Indeed there is. It started out with disgruntled hardcore PvP’ers who had left retail because levelling PvP had both become increasingly bad with Cataclysm and on the other hand feedback on eg the WSG GY change and other assorted problems wasn’t appreciated by Blizz, their own PvP Forum Poll ignored, Raid or Die the motto etc.

‘Pay what it’s actual worth’, that sort of idea. The initial philosophy was pretty fun to hardcores- being reliant entirely on your own to get Gear etc – and AddOns got around the (lack of) communication issue, but it soon degenerated into graveyard camping (the actual one, not the non-issue the WSG GY ‘solved’ even though the Timer had already done so years before), bilking GM’s into sending P2P gear to F2P accounts, and other assorted shennanigans and nastiness.

But it was (and is) popular, and as in their eternal wisdom Blizz places Capped Out characters in the Twink BG queues since Cata-end instead of in the regular ones (already iffy where the BattleChest Accounts are concerned – newcomers to the game generally don’t buy the latest Expansion immediately, and have no idea they’re put in a different BG queue filled with geared-up Twinks, they just think they’re very bad at the game – but downright questionable in case of essenially gimped Trial players), an amalgam of opportunistic and/or bottomfeeding twinks descended on the newly formed 20-24 bracket (traditional Twink levels being 19 and 29, before the advent of the Starter Edition there were no active 20-24’s).

For more on the current state, see Twinkinfo

http://www.twinkinfo.com/forums/f43/

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8. C. T. Murphy - June 7, 2014

I’d raise it to sixty, add in expansion content, and allow pet battles.

As someone who loves the subscription model, never skips an expansion in a MMO I am actively playing, etc. I would have ZERO problems with this. The real experience in a MMO is social in nature and even that mostly exists toward the more recent content additions. I think populating the lower areas with warm bodies and giving people a chance to really get hooked (rather than a mere taste) would be great boons for the game.

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9. Expand Starter - July 22, 2014

I completely agree with C. T. Murphy. Raise the level cap to 60. I played the game 8 years ago for 40 days. I couldn’t get into it because I couldn’t spend enough time. I just couldn’t justify paying the subscription.

Now I have the starter edition and it is great, I can play at my own pace. Again it hasn’t grabbed me enough to justify paying a monthly subscription, but that is a whole other question.

I think all the classic content should be free to play for everyone up to level 60. If I could get to level 60 then I would want more and could justify the cost. As it is, I will likely play up to level 20 for multiple characters and leave it for a few months then come back and do it again.

Blizzard please:
1. Expand the content available to the Starter Edition for free (Even a one off cost is acceptable i.e. a battle chest that has no time limit, but lets you play up to Cataclysm)
2. Change the subscription model to open the game up to people that cannot justify the monthly expense.

A though came to me today, why can’t Blizzard set up a model for WOW like Hearthstone. You could even have specific servers for it so that it doesn’t unbalance subscription based users. Just a thought.

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