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Need for Speed World goes free-to-play

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Need for Speed World launched at the end of July with a business model that many MMO fans like to call "free-to-try." Players could zoom around for as long as they wanted at no cost, but with a level cap of 10. Paid players could reach level 50.

The NFSW team members have had some time to settle in, watch player reaction, and discuss where they want the game to go from here, and today they announced their decision: the level cap is off and Need for Speed World is free-to-play! We chatted with Producer Jean-Charles Gaudechon about the change shortly before it happened, and he had some exciting things to tell us.

Follow along after the jump for all the details and a first look at some of the new content.

Jean-Charles began our discussion by addressing the reasons behind this change. Of course, as he stated, "players want to experience the full content and free is always good," but there was a second reason involving gameplay experience for those paying players. "People who bought the starter pack -- and it's been about a month now -- they have less people to play with. It's just a number thing. Unfortunately, someone at level 35 and bought the starter pack has a worse time than someone who is level 3 and getting races just because of the number game."

The team had a little more behind this decision, lest players worry about the state of the game: "We've recently passed the 1 million users mark, and that's something we're pretty happy with. It's something to say also, that we're not actually opening the gates because we're hurting for players, but because with that number we want to get people to enjoy the whole content."

The first concern from players was similar to one that was voiced when Lord of the Rings Online announced the free-to-play transition: "But I've already paid and now you're giving it away for free. Was my money wasted?" This transition was a surprise, so players were purchasing $20 Starter Packs as late as yesterday.

The developers certainly didn't want players feeling like they'd been taken for a ride (forgive the pun, it won't happen again), so they put together a special package for those who showed their support in such a tangible way: "Three free 7-day car rental vouchers for the BMW M3 GTR, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 and the Audi R8 4.2 FSI Quattro." These players will also continue to enjoy priority access to the servers.

Fan reaction on the NFSW site has been pretty vocal, with the vast majority of responses indicating that this is far from adequate compensation. The cries for something permanent have been coming fast and furious, and it will be interesting to see whether EA responds.

For now, though, the NFSW team is focused on the new content and more microtransactions. If you're going to open up this world to the entire playerbase, you'd better have a world for all of them to play in as well as some form of income, and EA seems to have planned for both.

Jean-Charles said that the game will be "much more microtransaction-oriented." The purchase of speed boosts won't be restricted only to those who have purchased the starter packs, for example, and you can buy those boosts beginning at level 1. More car rentals will be available, and the starter pack will continue to be up for purchase, as the team views it as a good value for players.

Now that the world is open to everyone, the new content is a more exciting prospect for the entire playerbase. Beginning this month and through the end of the year, you're going to find more content in all areas. More tracks, more zones, and more performance customization slots are all coming to the game.

The current game offers a chance for power-ups and cash at the end of a race, and the update will add performance parts to that list. When you win, keep your eyes peeled for some shiny new car parts, including rare items that will greatly increase your car's performance. These items aren't bound to the car that won them, so you can share them among your other vehicles.

"Team Escape" is another addition coming with the free-to-play switch, one that the developers hope players will enjoy. Team Escape is a "multiplayer co-op pursuit, something that's team-based. So you get in with four friends, and it's a sprint, which is going to be an escape with cops doing everything to stop you. You're trying to reach the county line with cops all over. We want it to be really high-intensity." This event will include team power-ups that will give a buff to everyone in your group, helping you all escape.

There are new cars and three new regions coming to NFSW in the next months, as well as a night cycle that brings a whole new dimension to racing difficulty. Racing a track at night is a completely different prospect than it is during the day, and veteran players may find a brand-new set of challenges.

We wrapped up our talk with Jean-Charles with a stack of new screenshots giving a first glimpse of what's to come in NFSW, so check out the gallery below to see!

Thank you for your time, Jean-Charles.

Gallery: Need For Speed World free-to-play | 19 Photos

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