Well, apparently once the free-to-play bug bites, it’s hard to shake. Blizzard have announced that gazillion-selling mega behemoth strategy title Starcraft II will be replacing its demo with a free, limited ‘Starter Edition’ to tempt prospective players.
According to a blog posted on the US version of Battle.net, penny-pinching players can expect:
- The first four missions of the StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty single-player campaign, including Mar Sara 1-3 and the choice to embark on Tychus’s first mission or Dr. Hansen’s first mission.
- The first two Challenges: Tactical Command and Covert Ops.
- Access to the terran race in Custom Games and Single-Player vs. AI.
- Access to the following custom maps (map selection may rotate over time):
- Xel’Naga Caverns
- Shattered Temple
- Discord IV
- High Orbit
Plus, it appears any progress you make in either single or multiplayer will be applied to your Battle.net account to be carried over to an eventual purchase of the full game.
How this differs from a traditional demo release is slightly unclear. The addition of a large amount of online multiplayer content with continuous replay value could be one reason, although it is difficult to see anyone being satisfied with the amount of maps on offer. The spectre of being unable to always play alongside friends who own the full copy of the game should push a significant number over the edge into paying for an upgrade.
This could be more of a coup for Blizzard than it seems on the surface. Starcraft II has proved remarkably resilient to price drops, and remains hovering around the £30 mark despite having been released in July of 2010.
Apparently, the successful implementation of a free-to-start and paid-upgrades-to-continue model with World of Warcraft has sold Blizzard on the idea. I would be not be overly surprised to see a similarly full-featured version of Diablo 3 available sometime after launch.