During Perfect World's Q2 2011 earnings conference call in late August, company CEO Kelvin Lau revealed plans to turn Star Trek Online into a free-to-pay MMORPG by the end of the year. The news arrives after Perfect World Co. Ltd' and Atari entered into an agreement whereby Perfect World would acquire 100-percent equity interest in California-based Cryptic Studios.
"Under the stock purchase agreement, Perfect World will pay an aggregate purchase price of approximately €35.0 million in cash, subject to working capital and other adjustments as provided in the agreement," Atari stated back on May 31. "The consummation of the transactions contemplated in the agreement is subject to satisfaction of closing conditions."
Perfect World CEO Kelvin Lau actually didn't reveal the company's plans for Star Trek Online until a Q&A session after the initial Q2 2011 results presentation. "Star Trek Online, after the acquisition, in fact Cryptic is working on the free-to-play model for Star Trek Online," he said. "This is going to be launched by the end of this year as well. So I think free-to-play model we have a bigger potential in US market and also in China market."
Is this a sign that Star Trek Online is having trouble staying afloat? Not really. Other than Blizzard's World of Warcraft which recently launched an "unlimited demo," many popular MMORPGs have shifted over to the free-to-play model including Dungeons & Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan and even EverQuest 2 (Extended). Blizzard in fact seems to be the only one not swaying with the market shift.
Still, Star Trek Online has seen its share of controversy. The game was initially developed by Perpetual Entertainment from 2004 to January 2008 when the studio filed for bankruptcy. Under an agreement with Cryptic Studios, Perpetual kept the initial code and its proprietary Perpetual Game Engine, and Cryptic acquired the license to develop the MMOG and all assets created prior to the agreement. Cryptic revealed itself as the new developer later on in August, and then launched the game via Atari in February 2010.
For those who like keeping up with the Star Trek canon, the MMORPG is a virtual non-canon continuation of the Next Generation "prime" era, taking place thirty years after Captain Jean-Luc Picard faced his clone, Praetor Shinzon, in Star Trek: Nemesis (X). According to the Star Trek Online website, the events that take place during the "prime" timeline in J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek (XI) movie – the destruction of Romulus and the disappearance of Spock and Nero – have actually affected STO.
That said, fans who have thrived on the "prime" Star Trek timeline that stretches from the very first Star Trek pilot (1966) to the moment just before Spock and Nero enter the black hole (2009) may get some sort of satisfaction mingling with the Borg and Ferengi in a first-person perspective – and soon for free.