Tuesday evening Blizzard revealed that it converted the previous 10- and 14-day demos of World of Warcraft into a pseudo free-to-play MMORPG, throwing the time restrictions out the door and letting new players roam about indefinitely. The news arrives after Blizzard's CEO Mike Morhaime revealed that 600,000 subscribers jumped ship shortly after the release of Cataclysm, possibly due to the "quick consumption" of the expansion.
Previous comments from Blizzard indicated that the studio had no plans to go free-to-play with World of Warcraft anytime soon. And with the just-launched World of Warcraft Starter Edition, that's still somewhat the case. Interested gamers can now play the base game for free up to a maximum character level of 20. The Starter Edition even includes some of the content found in the first expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, including draenei and blood elf characters.
Tuesday Blizzard said that players who previously signed on for 10- or 14-day trials will be able to jump back into the Starter Edition right where they left off. But once characters reach level 20, they’re required to purchase the $20 digital "World of Warcraft Battle Chest" and sign up for a subscription. Thus, the Starter Edition isn't exactly a F2P game, but rather an unlimited demo. Still, this could serve as a springboard to launch a F2P service in the near future.
In addition to the Starter Edition launch, Blizzard also said that the second content update for Cataclysm, Rage of the Firelands (patch 4.2), is "erupting" across Azeroth. "With a new raid, a legendary DPS staff quest line, the most diverse daily questing experience to date, PvP Season 10, user-interface enhancements such as the Dungeon Journal, and much more, Rage of the Firelands brings a little something for everyone," Blizzard said.
The studio added that anyone who owns the original World of Warcraft, regardless of when they purchased the game, will automatically be able to access all of the content and features from The Burning Crusade expansion at no additional cost.