Blizzard expected to release free-to-play game soon

Blizzard does not have to worry about money for the foreseeable future. Even though World of Warcraft subscriptions have fallen, the game still counts roughly 10 million players scattered around the world. Then there’s sales of StarCraft, and the forthcoming Diablo III launch to help refill the company’s coffers once again.

So it may come as a surprise to find out Blizzard is apparently developing a free-to-play title. It hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, but Develop has heard from a reliable source that an upcoming unannounced title will embrace free-to-play and the revenue model that accompanies it.

Although we don’t know what the game is, it’s definitely not going to be Diablo III. There’s Project Titan to consider, but that isn’t expected until the fourth quarter of 2013. Therefore, if the source is correct, we will be seeing a brand new game appearing from Blizzard as some form of free-play experiment.

Blizzard has experimented with allowing free-play in WoW up to a level 20 character, but that has none of the associated systems for revenue generation that a true free-to-play game includes. Whatever the game is, it will certainly include micro-transactions and advertising.

There is another possibility, however. Instead of an unannounced game, Blizzard may finally be opening up WoW to free-to-play. But would they really risk losing some of those 10 million paying players to free accounts and hope they buy stuff in-game?

Most of the high-profile MMOs that have made the switch to free-to-play now enjoy much healthier incomes. That includes a player base increase of 300% for EverQuest II and a 700% increase in revenue for DC Universe Online. The same switch for WoW could work even with its popularity already being so high.