Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages, bla, bla, you know the drill. There’s only one MMORPG for the fans of the famous universe – Star Trek Online, developed by Cryptic. But in order to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before, you had to pay £8.49 for the game and £10.79 monthly subscription.
That is about to change. Perfect World, a Chinese publisher who recently acquired Cryptic, has promised to make the game free, and to accomplish that before the end of the year. Both publisher and developer have some experience with free-to play titles (see Jade Dynasty and Champions Online), so this quick transition should be relatively painless. Besides, STO already features some content available through Cryptic Points, which are purchased at the game website.
Star Trek Online was released in 2010 as the first and only massively multiplayer online game within the franchise. In it, you become the captain of a ship, fighting in the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
The game consists of two separate elements: spaceship combat, and ‘away missions’, where the player controls a single character. It was voted Best New MMO of 2010 by the Massive Online Gamer readers, and currently has over 100,000 players (this an educated guess by the players themselves, since Cryptic doesn’t release player number data). The game lovingly references various Star Trek series and films, and provides a complex, immersive experience.
In the multiplayer game market, free-to-play model becomes more and more widespread. Battlefield Heroes, Team Fortress 2, upcoming Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes and my rusty Russian favourite – World of Tanks, these are just some of the high-caliber projects you can enjoy without spending a penny. The developers make their money through microtransactions, giving some players a slight advantage, or means of self-expression, in exchange for cash.
Is free-to-play fair? Or, for that matter, is it really free? The developers have an epic task to balance the system, to keep both paying and non-paying customers satisfied. Give too much power in exchange for money, and the non-paying players will leave the game. Make the benefits of purchasable items too small, and nobody will want to pay at all.
Will Cryptic succeed? You could argue that STO is a relatively new game, and if free-to-play is such a good option, why didn’t they implement it in the first place? The change could alienate the hardcore players who maintain the community. The experienced explorers of the final frontier will want their past achievements to carry weight. At the same time new players won’t be attracted to a game densely populated by über-powerful veterans.
Good luck, Cryptic you are going to need it.