Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Limited Impact of WoW's Extended Trial

People have inexplicably made waves with commentary about "free to play" WoW due to a surprise change to the game's free trial program.  There is no longer a time limit on the previously 14-day free trial, putting the trial on the same footing as similar programs in Warhammer and Conan (until that game's actual free to play relaunch anyway), but that change is less significant than it sounds. 

Extended capabilities?
As far as I can tell, the only real changes are that trial players now have longer to reach level 20, and that all players (trial or otherwise) now get access to the TBC expansion (including Blood Elves, Draenei, and the two starting areas that did NOT get revised in Cataclysm).  It sounds like "upgrading" to a real account permanently cuts off your "free to play" access to that account, so the real impact of these changes seems limited.  Trial accounts are banned from joining guilds or inviting other players to groups, so there's no real way for a community of trial-capped 20's to form and push the limits of what can be accomplished at that level; most trials will eventually have to convert or quit.  

That said, if you do not have an active WoW account, don't care about all the previously existing restrictions on trial accounts, are willing to put new alts on a throwaway trial account you may never use again to avoid sending Blizzard any money, and wanted to check out some of the new lowbie content in Cataclysm, this change may be for you.  You could have done all of this before by signing up for new trial accounts every 14 days, but I can imagine some advantage of a more open-ended timeframe in which to do so.   

If this is your plan, you may find my guide to Cataclysm starter zone revamps (no Goblins or Worgens for trial accounts) and old world leveling paths useful.  By my count, Trial accounts have full access to sixteen zones, plus however much of the content in the four level 20-25 zones you are allowed to access at level 20, so that's a fair amount of content to visit. 

Business impact
Free TBC, on the other hand, is potentially significant for retailers.  Basically every physical or online store that carries computer games has boxed copies of TBC, and it appears that these should no longer be sold to anyone because it is no longer possible to own a plain vanilla WoW account.  If this is the case, we might be talking about literally a million obsolete boxes at various stages of the retail supply chain, which likely puts this issue at an entirely different scale than previous cases of out-dated expansions or closed MMO's with boxes still left on store shelves. 

 That aside, it now costs $10-20 less to buy your way up to the current expansion, but my guess is that most people who wandered off before hitting level 20 and/or 2 weeks weren't coming back anyway.  There are a few folks who might finally make it to level 20 one hour at a time, and a few folks who choose to stay perpetually at level 1-20 for free, but I don't see this move making a huge difference to the subscriber count.


Anonymous said...

I see these accounts being aimed at people who have wandered away from WoW during this expansion, and for whatever reason don't want to send Blizzard money. Get them back on low level characters so they aren't spending their time getting attached to another MMO.

Can trial characters be in guilds, btw?

Green Armadillo said...

Negative, trial characters cannot join a guild, and can only communicate through /say, /party (which a subscriber has to invite them to), and /whisper (only to people who have added them as /friends). Trial characters also may not group with anyone above level 20, and last I heard no character is allowed to join a raid group before level 10.

I'm not sure if level 10-20 trial characters would be allowed to talk in /raid or not if a subscriber invited them to a newbie raid. If they were, I suppose a level-locked subscriber could invite the trial players to a raid so they could chat with each other (but they would then be barred from various things that you can't do in a raid group).

Saunder said...

They also cant see any of the normal chat channels, trade with players, or use the AH. They are definitely limited, and not for existing players to use as multiple accounts with any degree of success.

Like has been said, its for people to did their toes into Azeroth, without handing over cash and without a time limit.

However, if you want a 14-odd-GB chat program for people you already know play WoW, go ahead :)

Kring said...

All RealID functionality is disabled in the starter edition (aka trial account).

Can you use the LFD and run BG?

Tanek said...

As far as I can tell, Starter Edition characters can use LFD. I don't know for sure about BGs.

Tesh said...

Yes to BGs, at least, I could when doing a trial a few months ago. I suspect that hasn't changed.

...that said, PvP is pretty broken at low levels thanks to Heirloom gear in the first place.

Anonymous said...

May have to look into this for low-level multiboxing. Thanks.