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World of Warcraft goes free-to-play…to level 20

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Lv 20 Paladin

If we've learned anything about addiction, it's that the easiest way to get someone hooked on something is to offer it for free for a while. Once they can't live without it - bam! Charge 'em.

Given how many people need their daily fix of World of Warcraft, we have to wonder why it took Blizzard so long to figure this out.

The world's biggest MMO has shifted business models, ditching the previous 14-day free trial in favor of a new system that lets players play for free until their character reaches level 20.

Available through Blizzard's site, the so-called "Starter edition" gets people well on their way into the game (which currently has a level cap of 85). No credit card -- or other financial information -- is required.

The move opens up the game for people who aren't able to dedicate time each day to their Azeroth adventures, but who still want to see what the massively-multiplayer game has to offer. MTV theorizes that it could take a month or more to hit level 20 in that circumstance (though more dedicated players can probably reach it in much less time) -- and Blizzard's counting on the fact that anyone who has spent that much time creating a character won't be willing to walk away from it.

With over 11 million paying subscribers, World of Warcraft is the industry's biggest MMO title, but it's shown some signs of weakness in the past few months.

The game lost 600,000 subscribers during the first quarter of this year, as players devoured the Cataclysm expansion, then put their accounts on hold once again rather than continuing to play the game without the possibility of advancing their characters.

In addition to introducing new models like the starter pack, Blizzard says it is also "looking to decrease the amount of time in-between expansions" and "speed up the development process."

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