No, I’m not talking about those free sorry-excuse-for-a-game apps that you can download on your phone and are supported by advertising. I’m talking about full-fledged 3D computer games produced by top tier game developers that are both really immersive and fun to play.
The kicker is you don’t have to pay a cent to enjoy them, EVER. You can literally play for hundreds or even thousands of hours without ever opening your wallet and, for the most part, have no major disadvantages over those players who do choose to buy stuff in-game. It’s hard to imagine that this could be good for the gaming industry, but it does seem that many companies are able to make really good money with this model.
You have to be careful though, because not all free games are created equal. Some games have in-game purchases that give big unfair advantages over free players. Those games are affectionately called “Pay to Win”. Fortunately, just as many other games only sell cosmetic items that have no impact whatsoever on gameplay, like different skins for your character, or only a minor impact, like experience boosters, that will make your game playing experience slightly easier or faster.
How I Got Started With Free To Play Games
I play two free video games right now both by Blizzard Entertainment:
I’m not a fickle video gamer, I tend to stick to one title for a very long time because it is the competitive aspect of gaming that attracts me. I could mostly care less about single player gaming and will often skip the single player campaign entirely and jump right into online competitive play. I then get as good at that one game as I possibly can and play it almost exclusively for years at a time. My style of video gaming was already among the cheapest entertainment imaginable, even before Free To Play became a thing.
In terms of computer gaming, I started out with the original Warcraft and quickly transitioned to playing Warcraft 2 online using one of the first online gaming platforms called Kali. I played War2 for years and then switched to Starcraft when Blizzard released it in 1998. I played that for about 3-4 years before taking a very long break from video gaming. Eventually, I started playing Starcraft again after nearly a decade away from it. Surprisingly, it was still going strong, especially in Korea where huge tournaments with gigantic prize pools eclipsing $100,000 were taking place all the time.
At long last, Starcraft 2 launched in 2010 and I chose to play it over the now very outdated original Starcraft. Being a new dad and working 2 jobs didn’t leave much time for gaming so I struggled to be competitive. The game is so precise and fast-paced that one single mistake can lead to losing a 30 minute game. To keep up at the higher levels, an APM (actions per minute) in the hundreds is almost required. My APM averaged 40-50, so it was definitely a struggle to compete because I needed to make every click count.
I managed to reach a respectable ladder rank at the upper levels of Platinum league. That put me in the top 20% of competitive players, where I definitely reached my skill ceiling. I started losing a lot from lack of play and the only time I could win was if I was in tip top shape while having an incredibly good day and experiencing no signs of tiredness. Good luck having all those stars align given my busy life at the time. Playing became way too stressful and losing so much took most of the fun out of it for me, so I eventually decided to give it up.
That’s when I discovered Free To Play!
My First Free Game: Hearthstone
I took another short break from gaming and then I discovered Hearthstone, my first F2P game and not coincidentally the first F2P title by Blizzard Entertainment. If you couldn’t tell, Blizzard is my favourite gaming company and I’ve played their games almost exclusively over the years. The game went into closed beta testing in 2013 and I managed to weasel my way into it.
This game was just what I needed because it is a competitive collectable card game, similar in many ways to Magic The Gathering, but with much better graphics and streamlined gameplay. Games are short, typically about 10 minutes, and it can be easily played without a mouse and there is no stress because you have lots of time to think and make your moves. Originally, it was only available on Windows computers, but I could still play it anywhere because I had a Microsoft Surface tablet that was capable of running it due to its laptop grade processor. Now it is available both on tablets and phones with a slightly modified user interface.
I would play the game while doing the dishes, a few minutes in bed before going to sleep, or whenever I needed a quick break. It’s the perfect game for busy people because it’s so accessible and can fit into anyone’s schedule!
Some people criticize it as being Pay to Win because collecting all the cards you need to be competitive on the ladder can be quite difficult. You earn gold for playing, winning, and completing simple quests which you can then use to purchase “card packs” from the store that have a set of 5 random cards in them. You can use gold along with a bit of luck to collect all the cards in the game, it just takes a really long time. You can also buy card packs with real money to speed the process up which can get really expensive quickly.
There’s also a completely free game mode called “The Arena”, where you get access to all the cards in the game in a somewhat random way. You have to use gold to start an Arena run, but you get better prizes each time you win, including gold, so you can actually earn enough gold to play free forever with a little practice. You also win card packs in The Arena that allows you to grow your card collection slowly while also not being at a disadvantage to paying players that have a bigger card collection.
Heroes of the Storm: Definitely Not Pay To Win
After playing Hearthstone for a while, I got an email notification that I was accepted into another Free To Play Blizzard closed beta: Heroes of the Storm. This game is in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre and is similar to League of Legends and Dota 2 that are also F2P.
The best way I can quickly describe a MOBA is picturing a Real Time Strategy game like Starcraft getting together with a Brawler like Smash Brothers and having a baby. It’s a 5v5 team game where you control a single hero and team up with 4 other players, either randomly or with friends, and compete on varying battlefields trying to destroy the other teams forts and ultimately their “core”.
You do this by competing over map objectives that give you big advantages over the opposing team, fighting directly against them in team fights, and by attacking their forts head on while the other team has been temporarily defeated (heroes respawn after being taken out with full health in less than a minute).
This is fun for me because it gives me the action packed competitive experience that I love, but I only have to control a single hero instead of dozens of units making it a lot less stressful. Working as a team to accomplish goals and achieve victory also adds to the fun factor.
Heroes is a truly free game because there is a pool of “free heroes” that changes every week and you don’t have to pay money or even gold to play as them. From there, you can earn gold by winning games, leveling up, and completing quests to permanently buy your favourite heroes so you can play them any time you want. You earn gold quickly enough that you can actually buy several heroes with gold in a short period of time too, so the pressure isn’t very big to make an actual purchase.
There is absolutely no advantage to paying players because every hero works exactly the same no matter what. Sure, you can buy cool looking outfits and skins with your real money or own the expensive heroes more quickly using cash, but it is completely optional. Even the cosmetic stuff is mostly available to purchase with gold if you want to waste it on that instead of buying more heroes.
A Plethora Of Free Games
There are LOTS of other choices out there when it comes to free games too.
I must admit I had heard about this whole phenomenon long before I actually started with Hearthstone, I just didn’t bother to take the time to check it out in detail and try any of the games.
After Hearthstone, I did try a couple more F2P titles like the Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter (MMOFPS?) Planetside 2, and the more standard FPS Battlefield Play4Free (this one is shutting down this July actually).
Stay tuned until next week when I am going to list the top 3 Free To Play games in a bunch of different genres.
Do You Play For Free?
Do you play video games?
If so, which ones and are any of them F2P?