Blizzard offers free copies of WoW, removes demo time limit

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Blizzard just made it a little easier to persuade your most reluctant friends to take their first hit of WoW. Last week, the company announced a new "Recruit-a-Friend" promotion that allows veteran players to give away free copies of the aging MMORPG. It's unclear precisely what constitutes a "veteran" player, but if you're worthy enough to don that title you should've received an email notification along with a code that'll grant your buddy a fully functional copy of the original World of Warcraft title along with their first 30-day subscription.

Although the free copy technically comes without restrictions, the base installation of WoW only covers levels 1 through 60. To access the maximum level of 85 and all the WoW content Blizzard has published since 2004, newcomers will have to cough up about $65 for three separate expansions: The Burning Crusade ($10), Wrath of the Lich King ($35), and Cataclysm ($20) -- not to mention the subsequent $15 monthly subscription. In other words, you're only saving about $10 (you can buy WoW and The Burning Crusade together for $20).

To accompany its Recruit-a-Friend campaign, Blizzard announced today that it would loosen the time constraint of its trial program. The company previously allowed new players to explore Azeroth for 10 or 14 days, but that time limit has been removed. Folks can now play WoW for an unlimited amount of time without paying, but only up to level 20 -- a cap that has always been a part of the game's demo period. Again, if you want progress beyond that point (which shouldn't too take long to reach), you'll have to pony up for the full experience.

Both changes are designed to ease WoW's hemorrhaging subscribership. During a shareholder's call last month, Blizzard co-founder and president Mike Morhaime said subscriptions fell by 600,000 to 11.4 million between October 2010 and March 2011. Morhaime noted that subscriptions in March had already dipped below pre-Cataclysm levels and almost below pre-WotLK levels. The former expansion launched only a few months ago in December and fresh content generally encourages long-lost players to return for another taste.

Although Blizzard is clearly concerned about WoW's player count, losing 5% of its subscribers is hardly a death knell for the wildly popular MMORPG. Interestingly, instead of focusing on pleasing existing (and former) players, the company seems to be embracing an "out with the old, in with the new" philosophy by making it easier for fresh faces to join the crowd. Along with opening the doors to Azeroth, the company is reportedly interested in porting WoW to Apple's iOS platform, thus exposing the game to an entirely new audience.

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