Blizzard tells us why they’re about to make MP StarCraft 2 free-to-play (for friends)
The StarCraft community has been calling on Blizzard to make some portion of StarCraft 2's multiplayer component free-to-play for a long time. Up until now though, nobody really had any idea of whether or not Blizzard was actually considering such a thing, and if they were, what form that would take.
Today, we have the answers to both of those questions as Blizzard announced a new initiative called “Spawning” that will make StarCraft 2's multiplayer free-to-play for anyone who joins the game with a friend who owns StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty or Heart of the Swarm. The player will be able to share whichever game they own with up to 14 friends as long as they're in the group.
There are some additional caveats though. There is no access to the campaign, and since you need to be playing with a friend, the classic StarCraft 2 1v1 ranked mode is off limits (though you can play unranked 1v1 against each other.) Additionally, free players will only be able to play as the Terran race, although Zerg and Protoss will be unlocked for the first week after Spawning launches today.
Players will be able to access ranked and unranked play for 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4 matches as well as all custom games and mods in the StarCraft 2 “Arcade.”
Believing in Blizzard again
“The first [advantage for Blizzard] is just letting people go back to believing in Blizzard the way I remember I believed,” Chris Sigaty, lead producer on StarCraft 2, told the Report. “I think people have lost sight of some of the things that Blizzard has done in the past and we want to continue to demonstrate that we still do that. So part of it is to gain some nostalgia that way.”
The feature is actually a call-back to something Blizzard used to do in the old days of StarCraft: Brood War and Warcraft 2 called the “Spawn Disc” feature which similarly allowed players the ability to give the multiplayer components of those games to their friends.
“It came about in brainstorming on our side, and thinking back to some of the things we used to do back in the old days,” said Sigaty. “Remembering how that was received…even going back to Warcraft 2 when I wasn't with Blizzard, I remember thinking 'this is so cool that they did that.' So we wanted to give back that feeling to it.”
But there are other advantages that Sigaty says he's hoping the new initiative will bring to the StarCraft world.
“StarCraft tends to skew 1v1 in perception, because obviously eSports focuses that way. But we hear about players talking nostalgically about Big Game Hunters and building up massive armies with friends and wiping out AI armies. Or even just playing teams against each other. And for me personally, I'd love to see us break down some of the perception that the game is all about this ranked 1v1 play. And I think this is a great opportunity to share that.”
The other aspect seems to be that Blizzard wants to renew interest in the Starter Edition of StarCraft 2 which is completely free, but isn't widely used. The Spawning feature requires free players to access the game through the Starter Edition, so in some way this is partially Blizzard sweetening the pot to convince players to give the Starter Edition a try so they can get their feet wet in the StarCraft 2 experience.
“I don't think we've done a good job of publicizing that there has been a free way to get into StarCraft 2 this whole time.” said Sigaty, which was an amusing comment considering StarCraft 2's public relations representative was also on the phone with us.
Whatever the tangential benefits, it really comes down to getting more people playing StarCraft 2.
Growing the community
“The more people that interact with our games the more cool things they can see we're doing,” he said. “We are constantly patching and upgrading our games and adding new ladder season maps, and new seasons are starting all the time. It's a very active community. The more people who are living in that space, regardless of how they're living in that space, whether it's in the Starter Edition space or if they're licensed owners of the game, it lets them see that this is a very active community and it's something they want to be a part of.”
Speaking of that community, the reactions to this move have so far been very positive from the fans. Some people were a little bit annoyed that free players can only play as the Terran race, but otherwise the consensus is very positive.
What the community cares about most is the ability to share the game they love with more people, and this is a great starting point on that path. There's still the hope that one day Blizzard will make Wings of Liberty's multiplayer completely free-to-play, but in the mean time this is a step in the right direction.