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.
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?