Sometimes You Get More Than You Paid For: A Beginner’s Guide to Free to Play Games

Over the past couple years a new trend has appeared in the world of video games. Games that have a high replay rate, such as massive multiplayer games and action RPGS, have moved away from the traditional retail scheme and moved into a shockingly productive new venture: Free to play, or F2P, games. Games such as Dungeons and Dragons Online and League of Legends have found a new fanbase by not only eliminating monthly fees, but purchase prices all together.

The concept behind the movement is quite simple: instead of charging a one time fee to purchase the game and then charge a monthly fee to play it, the company makes the core game available to all comers. The company then makes money off of smaller micro-transactions inside the game. So rather than having a small client base the pays a set amount every month, they have a large market that spends as much as they want on the game. For example, the game might offer items that range from strictly cosmetic to in game content such as quests. The player picks exactly what they want in their game and then purchase those specific items.

Strangely, most games that have switched to this à la carte market system are now generating more profit than when they were charging a monthly fee. While there are some players that will only spend a few dollars a month on services and in game items, the cap of spending for hardcore players has now been completely removed. No longer are companies looking at $15 a month from these dedicated daily players, but rather upwards to hundreds of dollars spent on completely optional content.

So now that we’ve covered the basic idea behind free to play games, lets look at some of the games out there that require no money to start playing!

Lord of the Rings Online – This MMORPG is actually licensed off the book, rather than the movies. While this means the title doesn’t benefit from the familiar faces and places from Peter Jackson’s epic, it does benefit from all the content and characters that didn’t quite make the cut into the movie trilogy. The game also benefits from an amazing story that integrates a well known series of books that are loved by millions.

As one of the many people that are aiding the Fellowship and protecting the free people of Middle Earth, you quest to distract attention from The Ring and help push back the evil that is invading the various lands. The game play will be familiar to anyone that has played an MMO before, but the execution is fresh and makes it a unique experience for long time gamers. The high level dungeons and raids are especially fun. Utilizing not just monsters, but at times the actual environment around you, the larger boss fights often require creative thinking and are a blast to play through.

F2P Details – Anyone can sign up for an account and jump right into this game for no fee. However, there are three different tiers of accounts: free, premium and VIP. Free players have limited inventory space, a cap on how much gold they can have, are limited on trading and the auction house, and are subject to queuing when servers are busiest. Simply buying anything in the store with Turbine Points, or TPs, will upgrade you automatically to premium. This unlocks more character slots, raises the gold cap, opens up trading and the auction, and more. To get VIP status, you must actually subscribe to the game in a traditional manner. When VIP you get all the perks, access to all quests and a monthly allowance of TPs to spend on anything you want in the store.

One of the more interesting things about Lord of the Rings Online is that you can actually earn TPs by completing in game achievements. So in theory, if you complete all the achievements and save up your points, you can actually “buy” all the game content and all its expansions without spending a single cent. Though to be fair, that is a lot of grinding.

League of LegendsLeague of Legends is one of the premiere F2P games. Released in October of 2009, the title combines elements of real time strategy games like Warcraft 3 with some persistent elements from games like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. This colorful and fast paced game pits two teams of players, or “summoners,” against each other. The players then used summoned champions to battle each other and attempt to destroy their opponent’s “nexus.”

The game offers a standardized ranking ladder for players organized by whether or not they were playing with a randomly matched team. Added in large part with it free to play price tag and overall quality, League of Legends has taken off worldwide and has become a hit within both the casual and competitive gaming worlds.

F2P DetailsLeague of Legend prides itself on being free with no catch, and more or less it does deliver on this claim. You can download the client and be playing within minutes. If you choose to, you can actually buy in game items such as additional champion classes and new skins for your existing champions, but it is in no way required. So feel free to try this title at no risk.

Team Fortress 2 – One of the newest entries to the Free to Play market, Team Fortress 2 is one of the most highly regarded multi-player first person shooters of all time. Touted for its balanced team based combat, stylized graphics and sadistic charm, TF2 won the hearts and minds of PC gamers everywhere.

The game pits two teams against each other as they attempt to achieve various objectives. Be it capturing the enemy’s intel or capturing control points, you join a team of mercenaries who’s only lot in life is to fight and die… repeatedly. Each player selects their class, which directly affects the abilities and weapons available in their efforts. From Spies that can impersonate an enemy mercenary to Medic that can heal their wounded comrades, each player has a role to perform and the team must work together in order to complete their mission.

Though it has only recently become F2P, it was a very generous game at heart. While games like Call of Duty were busy charging $15 for a handful of maps, Valve was busy pumping out all sorts of free content for TF2 players. New weapons, new maps, new cosmetic items, and even completely new gameplay modes were all released to TF2 players for no additional cost. Then Valve decided to open a store that would allow players to purchase the in game items instead of relying on the game’s random drops and crafting mechanics. Apparently reaction to the in game store was positive because Valve has now moved to a free to play model that is completely supported by this store.

F2P Details – The game is freely available in all its glory via Valve’s distribution platform Steam. All maps, gameplay modes and classes are available to everyone. Nearly any practical in game item can be either earned through completion of achievements, in game crafting or by random drops. If you’re tired of the wait for the more rare in game items, you can simply purchase them for a small fee. Of course there are plenty of cosmetic items available exclusively for purchase, but nothing that truly affects gameplay.

So if you have a computer and are looking for some games to fill your free time, look no further than the wonderful world of free to play gaming. Have a favorite free to play game (that isn’t Runescape)? Share it with the rest of us in the comments below!


  1. Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink | Reply

    You missed one, though to be fair it’s not that big a deal:

    That’s right, the grand-daddy of them all, World of Warcraft, is now free for the first 20 levels.

    What’s that saying about drugs? The first hit’s always free?

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I really don’t think of that as free to play. That’s more of an extended free trial. The games in my article might have some limitations, but no level caps or anything that truly forces you to subscribe or buy anything.

      Also, I would never encourage anyone to play WoW 😉

    • BasNo Gravatar
      Posted January 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I can be lvl 20 in just 9 or 10 hours, they let you play free till you reach lvl 20. its not free, its just a trial to lure new players.

      • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
        Posted January 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

        I think that’s more or less what both of us were getting at.

  2. Julie M.No Gravatar
    Posted July 4, 2011 at 2:45 am | Permalink | Reply

    9Dragons has always been F2P. Acclaim built it’s whole business model on F2P years ago, when everyone thought they must be insane. Now, of course, they’ve been bought by Playdom. Works for casual gaming, too. Two out of the three top grossing phone apps are Pocket Gems F2P.

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