Online free-to-play games shot to prominence when Fortnite took over the gaming world back in 2017, giving players access to the first game to blend aspects of building and combat across a vast open world map, and all for free. Many doubters failed to see how the game could possibly maintain its popularity without an obvious revenue stream, but those doubts were duly quashed as it became clear that players were willing to spend their hard-earned cash on in-game extras, such as avatar skins and various upgrades. The smart thing about all these in-game purchases is that they never detracted from the gameplay, so that whether you had paid for a flashy avatar or just chose to stick with one of the stock characters, everyone was on a level playing field. Other sorts of online game have now adopted this free-to-play model with providers of online casino games, chess games, and mobile games all getting in on the act, with some even going so far as to offer free credits and sign-up deals as added sweeteners, such is the fearsome nature of the scramble to attract new players.
Here we take a look at just some of the free-to-play games which appear to have got the balance right by creating a beautifully playable title without sucking the life from it by misusing paywalls and attaching confusing small print, which can catch out unsuspecting players.
Fortnite lit up the gaming world in 2017 and, ever since, there has been a tireless search for what could be the next big free-to-play title
Classic Games Still Have Mass Appeal
Some of the games that have made the most of the free-to-play model are classic games of the past, which have since transitioned online to great effect. Good examples are chess, slots, and backgammon, with some sites choosing to allow players to make use of a certain number of free spins, and others just making their entire platform free to use. There is then the option to upgrade to a premium version or join some sort of VIP Club for players who are interested.
The effect of this approach is that the popularity of these games has grown exponentially online, with several now being watched via live streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming almost as much as they are played.
Mobile RPGs Are New Kings and Queens of Free-to-Play Gaming
Now that the hype surrounding Fortnite has finally died down, there are some new free-to-play movers and shakers in town in the form of the mobile RPG genre which, despite being scoffed at by many pro gamers and streamers, still commands more mobile downloads than any other free gaming genre out there.
Just some of the titles that boggle minds with their download stats are: Raid: Shadow Legends, which puts players in the midst of a fantasy realm so vast and graphically impressive that it is hard to believe you are playing a free game; and the smash hit that is Genshin Impact, which has picked up where the Legend of Zelda left off to create a gaming world that is satisfyingly expansive, something that is not lost on the millions of people who play it daily and completely free of charge.
Last but by no means least there are Black Desert Mobile and V4; both hail out of Asian development studios which seem to be banking on free-to-play games being the future of the mobile gaming industry. While it remains to be seen if their strategies will pay off in the long run, there can be no doubting the sheer number of players they have amassed on their respective platforms.
The next great free-to-play game is most likely to come on mobile as gaming companies can harness the power of new handheld computing tech and features like AR and VR
Head into Outer Space
There has been lots of chat about the prospect of people someday being able to blast off into outer space for the same price as a first-class airline ticket thanks to the space travel operations founded and realized by the likes of Virgin, Tesla, and Amazon.
While the owners of these ridiculous tourism concepts wax lyrical about making space travel an experience open to the masses, for the time being most folks will have to make do with using online games to launch themselves up amongst the stars.
Thankfully there are a whole host of free online games dedicated to delivering exactly that experience, just without the mortal danger of putting your life in the hands of a billionaire. Some of the titles that gamers should absolutely give a go include Star Trek Online, which harnesses the power of one of the most successful franchises in the galaxy; Warframe, which takes ninja warriors into space; and Star Conflict, where ray guns and space ships cut through zero gravity to try and achieve interplanetary dominance.
Racing at Breakneck Speed
Racing games are one genre of game that appear to pride themselves on being free to play, with many different titles littering app stores and online streaming services like Steam. There really are so many to choose from that it is difficult to know which ones to highlight, but some of the standout games are Victory: The Age of Racing, RaceRoom Racing Experience, and Extreme Off-Road Cars 2. Meanwhile, if demolition derbies are more your cup of tea, then Heavy Metal Machines has all the axel snapping and rubber burning that a thrifty gamer could ever wish for.
Pretenders to the Fortnite Throne
Of course, free-to-play battle royale games are still very much in vogue in some corners of the internet, as games developers cling to the hope that they can one day emulate the success of titles like Fortnite. Some of the main contenders who have certainly made a good go of making that dream a reality are CRSED: F.O.A.D., Call of Duty: Warzone, and Apex Legends. It remains to be seen whether another breakout success can come from this particular genre.