Well, I just got the word from... um... do I say Cryptic or Perfect World? Well either way, they picked a date for Star Trek Online's F2P transition: January 17, 2012. That's later than I would have expected, to be honest; I would have imagined they'd be ready before Christmas so they could get people logged in and asking for point cards as stocking stuffers.
UPDATE: Derick from Perfect World informed me that "if people buy points this holiday season they'll still be redeemable when STO goes F2P. If you're looking at gifting points though I would get them straight from here http://startrekonline.com/crypticpointscards"
In any case, here's the nifty trailer they put together:
A week and a half ago I added Star Trek Online to coverage at Soulrift, after being invited to play the game by the folks at the Priority One Podcast. As soon as I was in the game, I had friends to talk to, a fleet to join, someone to answer my newbie questions... and most importantly, I got twinked the heck out with the best newbie gear I could stuff on my ship. Awesomesauce. Then Cryptic comes along and upgrades my trial to full access and throws in some other goodies to sweeten the pot. Awesomesaucier!
I'll come right out and say that I've had some rough times in STO. A few missions didn't work properly. There was a rough grind through to the end of Lt.Commander before I could finally upgrade to a decent ship. Sometimes the gameplay had me crying from "rough" design and a number of times the random Borg encounters had me force-quitting the game in fury at the bad balancing. But I keep coming back to the game and I keep seeing it through rose-coloured glasses. Why? Simple: other players in the game want me there and the people making the game want me there. That feeling of being wanted has a huge psychological effect on someone.
I'm writing this blog entry not just about STO, but to compare the experience I had with STO to experiences I've had with other MMOs. What jumped to mind immediately was my experience with Age of Conan earlier this year. I met with Craig Morrison, creative director at Funcom, who works passionately with AoC, and he hooked me up with a copy of the game to play. But that was it. I was at the mercy of the game. I didn't have anyone to talk to. I didn't have anyone cheering me on. I didn't have anyone twinking me out. Ultimately, it was just me and the game, tooth to tooth.
I think this is a meaningful comparison because I think I'd have had the same experience with Star Trek Online that I had with Age of Conan if I hadn't had any social ties to the game going in. I don't know if I would have kept playing STO right to the end of a 10-day trial if I had picked up that trial on my own and played the game on my own. In fact, I may have had the exact same "I tried, but I just couldn't get into it" experience that I had with Age of Conan.
I was recently invited to guest on the Priority One Podcast to discuss the F2P transition of Star Trek Online. They hooked me up with a 10-day free trial so I could re-visit STO and see how things have evolved since beta and, well, I got hooked. The game has been polished up quite a bit and there's a lot more to do! So I'm going to continue reporting on STO, especially as the game transitions into F2P mode later this year.
I think STO is an interesting example for the transition of a subscription-based game to an F2P title because STO already features a large amount of "bonus" content sold through their in-game C-Store. In a sense, I was shocked and appalled when I created my character and half the races were locked away as "premium" content. That kind of goes against the typical grain of a subscription model, where the subscription fee pays for all the core content. Likewise, there are a lot of "premium" ships that are only available in the C-Store, "premium" costume content, "premium" bridges, and "premium" emotes. Frankly, it already looks more like an F2P game than a subscription-based game!
The current (tentative) F2P Features Matrix that compares current subscriptions (or the new "gold" membership) with the upcoming F2P limits shows how little has to change. On the one hand, some people complain that there isn't much reason to go gold, but on the other hand, that's actually a good thing, to the extent that going gold won't be a major necessity. By keeping silver more viable than some of its competitors, STO should be able to keep free players playing, and as we all know by now:
Non-paying players keep paying players playing (and paying!)