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Star Trek Online Going Free-to-Play in January 2012

Star Trek fans yearning for a little bit more of the TNG/DS9/Voyager action in the Prime timeline can jump into Gene Roddenberry's universe for free via Star Trek Online starting January 17, 2012. Original parent company Perfect World Entertainment, which acquired the MMORPG and its developer Cryptic Studios from Atari for $49.8 million in cash back in May, planned to launch the free-to-play model by the end of the year.

"And also Star Trek Online, after the acquisition, in fact Cryptic is working on the free-to-play model for Star Trek Online," Perfect World Entertainment's CEO, Kelvin Lau, said in a recent earnings call for Q2 2011. "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."

Currently there's no reason given as to why the new free-to-play model has been delayed, but Star Trek Online executive producer Stephen D'Angelo indicated that its been in the works since the very beginning. However the game's original publisher Atari didn't want to launch the MMORPG with a free-to-play model, so Cryptic put it on indefinite hold. Perfect World Entertainment, which owns other free-to-play MMOGs, naturally gave the model the green light.

Thursday D'Angelo said that current subscribers will be rewarded with 400 free Cryptic Points each month starting December 1, 2011 as a "thank you" to loyal customers. "The stipend is granted on the 'anniversary day' for your account," he said. "This is the day in the month which corresponds to the day after your subscription would renew if it was monthly. 3-month, 6-month, 12-month, and lifetime accounts use the day of the month in which they were started for this purpose. This means that you won’t necessarily get your stipend right at the beginning of the month, but it will be coming for you at the appropriate time during December and each following month. Stipend points from STO can only be spent in STO."

On Tuesday D'Angelo told IGN that Cryptic is taking a different approach to the free-to-play model with Star Trek Online than it did with Champions Online. "We're revisiting the game's economy," he said, adding that the high-end equipment will be more difficult to acquire and the low-end equipment will be extremely easy to acquire. Dilithium will also be the only item in the game that can be auctioned off for Cryptic Points.

"Dilithium buys you the cool gear," he explained. "People who buy Cryptic Points can go to our store and can buy the cool ships, but they can't get the cool gear. We're going to let people sell their Dilithium to other players for Cryptic Points."

There will also be a limit to the amount of Dilithium a player can acquire through normal means in a given day, he added. Players will also have access to Cryptic's in-game cash store. "If you have no money and want to spend no money you can literally get everything available in our store," he said.