If you’ve been diligently guarding your money since 2010, waiting for the day StarCraft II finally cheap enough to try out, then you’re in luck. At Blizzcon over the weekend, Blizzard announced that the game would be moving to a free-to-play model, with a significant portion of its single and multiplayer content being offered for free starting November 14.
As explained on the Battle.net blog, players can download StarCraft IIoriginal single player campaign “Wings of Liberty” for free. Players who previously paid for “Wings of Liberty” can instead get the “Heart of the Swarm” expansion for free, and players who previously purchased an expansion will receive an exclusive Ghost skin and three new portraits.
Players can also get full, free access to ranked multiplayer play, including units from all three expansions of the game. That mode will be locked until players achieve a single unranked or AI win on 10 different days (“our way of preserving the quality and integrity of the ranked experience,” Blizzard explains).
Co-op players can use three Commanders completely free – Raynor, Kerrigan and Artanis – while others are free until level 5, after which they must be purchased separately. Blizzard continues to make money from StarCraft II by selling those Co-Op Commanders, additional single-player campaigns for $15 each (or $40 for a bundle of three), and other “premium upgrades” such as announcer packs, special skins, and war chests.
The full free-to-play transition follows the “StarCraft II Starter Edition,” which has offered a limited selection of free missions, challenges, and custom multiplayer games for years. “That wasn’t very well known,” production director Tim Morten told Polygon in an interview. “It was confusing understanding what to do. buy to really start playing StarCraft II. We wanted to break that confusion and announce that StarCraft II is free to play.”
Blizzard scaled up in 2011 World of Warcraft‘s 14-day free trial by offering free play up to level 20. That offer was eventually extended to “Veterans” 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 he wasn’t envisioning any free-to-play, DLC-driven pivot for Blizzard’s popular first-person shooter. “It was basically a game design decision, a matter of balance,” he said. “Sometimes you need another hero on your team. If you really need a Widowmaker right now, you don’t want everyone to say, ‘I don’t have a Widowmaker! We want everyone to always be in the same big player pool and we don’t want other players feel like they can’t play with their friends because they didn’t buy a certain set of cards [or characters],” he said.