As we reported earlier in the week, the inevitable (we think) is finally happening: Cryptic’s Star Trek Online is going free to play. The story also touched a bit on the Torchlight MMO and Neverwinter, two hotly anticipated titles in their own right, but nothing made jaws drop quite as much as the STO going Freemiumn by the end of 2011. While we’ve all been kind of expecting this since Champions Online went free this year, the fact that it was backhandedly announced during an investors’ meeting sort of caught us all of guard and made everyone here at MMORPG.com go “Bwuah?!”
Our own Suzie Ford commented on it aptly when she wrote:
“A sticky issue for PWE is going to be the fact that STO has run on a "sort of" item mall model from its inception. While the game charged a monthly fee, players who wanted to, for instance, play other races had to unlock them using the Cryptic Store. The new model is going to have to address some of that when it reemerges as a F2P game. Devs are going to have to ask themselves which things will stay in the store as vanity and which will have to be released wholesale as something required to "win" at the game. Without adequate answers, the idea of pay to win might have some merit.”
I also believe that a big factor and one we’ll have to watch is how Cryptic and PWE handle the player-created content side of things. It’s becoming a larger and larger part of STO (and a big part of Neverwinter down the line) and I’d hate to see people charged for the work of other fans, when that content should be made and delivered for free. On the other hand, it could be quite novel if PWE were to hand-pick some truly epic creations by players, set them up for sale and allow the players to receive some of the income. But then, it’s early, it’s Saturday and I could just be tired and delirious.
In short, we’ve all been expecting this. I just don’t think anyone expected it this year. The plus side is that PWE and Cryptic have been handling the Champions Online version quite well so far by most accounts and there’s no reason to believe the same won’t be the case for STO. As long as lifetime subscribers are taken care of and never have to pay a dime for anything they would have been entitled to before, I see no qualms with the change. If anything, as past experience has proven, this could be the best possible move for STO as it could mean higher revenue and more content for interested parties. We’ll review the Freemium version of Star Trek Online once it’s officially launched.