StarCraft II goes free-to-play seven years after launch
If you’ve been zealously guarding your money since 2010, waiting for the day StarCraft II would finally be cheap enough to try out, you’re in luck. At Blizzcon over the weekend, Blizzard announced the game would be transitioning to a free-to-play model, offering significant portions of the single- and multiplayer content for no charge starting November 14.
As explained on the Battle.net blog, players will be able to download StarCraft II‘s original “Wings of Liberty” single-player campaign for free. Players who previously paid for “Wings of Liberty” will be able to get “Heart of the Swarm” expansion for free instead, and players who purchased an expansion previously will receive an exclusive Ghost skin and three new portraits.
Players will also be to earn full, free access to ranked multiplayer play, including units from all three of the game’s expansions. That mode will be locked until players notch a single unranked or AI win on 10 separate days (“our way to preserve the quality and integrity of the ranked experience,” Blizzard explains).
Co-op players will be able to use three Commanders completely free—Raynor, Kerrigan, and Artanis—while others will be free up to level 5, after which they will need to be purchased individually. Blizzard will continue to make money off of StarCraft II by selling those Co-Op Commanders, additional single-player campaigns at $15 each (or $40 for a bundle of three), and other “premium upgrades” like announcer packs, special skins, and War Chests.
The full free-to-play transition follows the “StarCraft II Starter Edition,” which has for years offered a limited selection of missions, challenges, and custom multiplayer games for free. “That wasn’t well-known,” production director Tim Morten told Polygon in an interview. “It was confusing to understand what you need to buy to actually start playing StarCraft II. We wanted to cut through that confusion and announce that StarCraft II is free-to-play.”
Back in 2011, Blizzard scaled up World of Warcraft‘s 14-day free trial by offering free play up to level 20. That offer was eventually expanded to “Veteran” accounts to some extent, and it started allowing players to pay for subscriptions with in-game gold.
Last year, Overwatch Assistant Game Director Aaron Keller told Ars that he didn’t foresee any eventual free-to-play, DLC-driven pivot for Blizzard’s popular first-person shooter. “It was actually a game design decision, a balance thing,” he said. “Sometimes you need a different hero on your team. Like if you really need a Widowmaker right now, you don’t want everybody saying ‘I don’t have Widowmaker! We want everybody to always be in the big same player pool and we don’t want other players to feel like they’re locked out of playing with their friends because they haven’t bought a particular set of maps [or characters],” he said.
Author Kyle Orland