In move that even a Tribble could have anticipated, Star Trek Online will be free to play by the end of year.
Building a virtual world set in the Star Trek universe must have felt like a sure bet for Cryptic studios and publisher Atari. The built-in community of fans and gamers excited to live and play in the United Federation of Planets as a member of Star Fleet would drive subscriptions. When the game came out in early 2010, I was impressed with the spaceship battles and could see the promise of the off-ship activities, but many players complained that killing endless MOBs to grind levels didn't feel very Star Trek-ey. After a strong opening, the population fell and this summer more than 1.5 years after its release the future of STO was unclear even if rumors swirled. Atari sold Cryptic Studios to Perfect World earlier this year, and the new publisher confirms they are in the process of converting the MMO to the free to play model by December 2011.
"When Perfect World acquired Cryptic, one of our contributions was to share our free-to-play experience with Cryptic," said Kelvin Lau from Chinese MMO operator Perfect World.
"Cryptic is working on the free-to-play model for Star Trek Online. This is going to be launched by the end of this year as well. So I think with the free-to-play model, we have bigger potential in the U.S. market and also in the Chinese market."
The move to free to play now seems to be the standard operating procedure for failing MMOs, or at least MMOs that are bleeding subscriptions. Turbine first converted Dungeons & Dragons Online to free to play back in 2009 and reported a massive increase in revenue. Since then, nearly every MMO has followed suit including Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings Online, the reboot of APB and Cryptic's own Champions Online.
Predicting that Star Trek Online would soon be free to download and be supported by microtransactions was about as difficult as guessing that Picard would say "Engage" or that Spock would say something is "Illogical." Now at least, the plans have been confirmed.