The other day I was at a gathering with a bunch of gamers, all of them Blizzard fans, and many of them seemed surprised when I pointed out that StarCraft II is largely free to play. They had all been under the impression you needed to buy the game to play it.
Right now, you can download the StarCraft II Starter Edition for free, and it will give you access to most of the game. You’ll be able to PvP as any race in any mode save ranked ladder. You’ll have full access to the Arcade, which is potentially a few thousand hours of gameplay on its own (there’s an entire MMORPG in there, for one thing), and you’ll be able to access the Galaxy Editor to mod and build games to your heart’s content.
While we’re at it, the Arcade also allows you to play the entirety of the campaigns from the first StarCraft and its expansion with updated HD graphics — again, all free.
You’ll also have access to co-op missions, a feature I’ve been singing the praises of for a while now. You will merely be restricted to the three basic commanders (Raynor, Kerrigan, and Artanis) unless you pay for Legacy of the Void or the standalone DLC commanders.
The only thing in SC2 you really miss out on by playing the Starter Edition is the campaign(s). You get a few sample missions, but most of the story remains locked unless you start ponying up for expansions or mission pack DLC. Still, given the large scale and high quality of StarCraft II’s story content, that hardly seems unreasonable.
Essentially StarCraft II is a free to play game with microtransactions to expand your experience. Granted, the cost of expansion packs is greater than that of standard microtransactions, but you also get a lot out of them (20-30 mission campaigns plus ranked play and, in the case of Legacy of the Void, three co-op commanders).
This is becoming even clearer with how much more the game is beginning to rely on DLC and microtransactions, including more paid co-op commanders — like the recently released Alarak and the upcoming Nova, who I’m almost embarrassingly excited to play — as well as unit skins and announcers.
In the face of that, it seems rather strange to me that most people are still under the impression that SC2 is a hard buy to play title.
I suppose the answer to the question in my header is simply that Blizzard hasn’t done much to advertise it. Normally a free to play transition is done all at once and accompanied by much fanfare, trailers, and developer press tours. SC2 did so in fits and starts, with the only mention of it being in a few articles on the game’s homepage.
Even so, one would expect word of mouth would have gotten the news out by now — this has been the case for years — but apparently not.
I grant the exact layout of the model is somewhat confusing due to its piecemeal nature and the large variance of costs and sizes between your potential purchases, but I wouldn’t think the fact that it’s not exactly like other free to play titles would prevent people from knowing that it is, in fact, mostly free.
No matter what the forum doom and gloom crowd might say, the volume and quality of content SC2 has been getting lately clearly shows it’s anything but struggling, but still I’m left to wonder how much more popular it might be if more people realized that they don’t need to buy it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to flailing like a muppet over the impending releases of the final Nova DLC and the ability to play her in co-op.
So much Nova.