The world of games has never been more accessible than ever, thanks to the so-called free-to-play (commonly known as F2P) games. These F2P games allow seemingly low barriers of entry for new and returning players who want to play casually or even competitively.

However, the bigger and better games need money for day-to-day operations, game maintenance, hosting, and other related costs. It wouldn’t also make sense for big game developers to create free games without any chance of profit, or else they will go bankrupt.

In this article, let’s talk about free-to-play (F2P) games and the hidden costs of playing them.

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What is a free-to-play game?

A free-to-play (or F2P) game is a common type of video game that is usually free to download and play without any up-front cost. F2P games also exist on all kinds of platforms, like PCs, mobile phones and tablets, gaming consoles, and more. 

However, it’s also important to differentiate them from the traditional Pay-to-Play Scheme. These Pay-to-Play (or P2P) Games require a payment or fee before you can start playing them. Back in the day, the majority of the games were pay-to-play, where you’d have to buy gaming CDs and game cartridges from brick-and-mortar shops before you could play them

This is on top of your usual expense of buying hand-held games or gaming consoles, which used to be the recurring cash cows of game developers. But that’s no longer the case today, as most games are now free to download, thanks in most part to the Internet.

However, we know there is no such thing as a free lunch, so even if a game doesn’t require you to pay real money from the get-go, you can be sure most games still make money from F2P games in one form or another. 

How do free-to-play games make money?

Games that usually advertise themselves as free do not tell the whole story as they often require some form of payment, purchase, or ad-ons to separate serious players from the casual. This is why F2P games are often criticized as pay-to-win (P2W) games because many require players to spend money to get ahead of the curve.


So, suppose you’ll look at the major game developers and platforms offering some form of free-to-play scheme. In that case, there will always be a way for them to get recurring revenue. Here are some ways F2P games make money after you click the download button.

1. Advertisements

Ads are the easiest way for F2P games to earn money. These games are normally easy to download but will bombard you with advertisements before, during, and after a game. On the other hand, some games use ads to give you more lives, give you another try, or reward you with coins you can use to continue playing or purchase equipment.

Here are some common types of ads that you can see when playing various games.

  • Display Ads – these ads can be static, dynamic, banner ads, or pop-up ads that are displayed on your screen most of the time.
  • Interstitial Ads – these ads are usually displayed between levels or after clearing a stage before you can continue to the next round.
  • Incentivized Ads – these ads reward you for watching video ads. In return, you can receive coins, diamonds, or extra lives.
  • Contextual Ads – these ads are integrated into the game and become part of the gameplay, like Pokemon Go’s Augmented Reality (AR) ads and brands you can find in stadiums and courts of sports games.

Think of most casual games you download from the Google Play Store or App Store; they usually show ads in one form or another. Because of this inconvenience, it usually leads to another money-making scheme called ad-removal.

2. Ad-removal

Some games don’t intend to use ads as their primary source of income. However, they want to display as much as possible to bother players just enough for them to make a one-time or recurring payment to remove the displayed ads.

Once you get sick of the advertisements that keep popping while you’re playing, it becomes easy to buy the ad-removal feature that instantly eliminates all the promotions of your F2P Game. 

3. In-app, in-game purchases

In-app purchases are one of the most common and highest-earning strategies employed by F2P Game Developers. They will hook you to start playing the game while selling you items and equipment to improve your game experience. In-app purchases are commonly divided into two general categories – the consumables and the non-consumables.

Some common in-app purchases are gold/coins or any in-game way you can buy items and equipment. On the other hand, some games offer new playable characters, upgrades, and levels that you can unlock at a cost. 


Cosmetics, like skins or avatars, are also a great way for developers to incorporate advertisements and partnerships with other brands, as well as earn money from sales. Some examples are Mobile Legends’ Diamonds, which you can use to buy heroes, skins, and other in-game items. The same happens in high-profile games like Fortnite, League of Legends, and Roblox.

Another money-maker for many F2P games is the Gacha boxes. These are like toy vending machines, loot boxes, or lottery. However, in-game Gacha boxes are sold for real money in exchange for the chance of getting random rare items. Just be careful with playing Gacha boxes, as they are proven to be highly addictive.

4. Subscriptions

While the subscription model is common for music and video streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, more games are also moving into this monetization model. These seemingly F2P games may sometimes give a limited trial period or discount coupons before asking you to subscribe.

Some games offer weekly, monthly, or annual subscriptions that give players exclusive game access or add-ons on top of the free platform. These subscription-based games aim to incentivize the players and provide them with another level of experience over their free-only counterparts.

5. Data monetization

This is not about game developers stealing and selling your data on the black market. Instead, data monetization means some games track your in-game behavior and insights that companies can use inside and outside the game. Remember the quote, “Data is the new oil”?

Should you pay for these games?

Gamers have their own way of maximizing their Free-to-Play Gaming experience. Some would want to use real money to buy in-game purchases to get ahead of the pack, while some players want to keep the game free and take the extra challenge of working their way up throughout the game.

However, you must also identify if these games are worth it and if they will enhance your level of play. You can read reviews of whether spending money on these purchases is worth it. So, what are the disadvantages of falling for these additional expenses for F2P games?


1. Unnecessary expense

Money spent on playing games is often for entertainment purposes. Unfortunately, many gamers often fall into the trap of spending the money they need. So, if you really want to buy that skin or item, make sure that you have the budget for it.

2. Risk for addiction

Based on research, Gacha games, which are common F2P in-app purchases, are found to be highly addictive because they provide a lottery-like satisfaction and high. So, it’s important to be careful with this kind of purchase because it is one of the most common monetization strategies of gaming companies.

3. Lower game satisfaction

People who play games using a lot of shortcuts and cutting corners are less satisfied than players who play the game as intended because they don’t have enough gratification from going through the grind and the long hours of leveling up and building their character and inventory.

4. Over-reliance on top-ups over skills

They say that you can’t buy skills, and this is true for RPGs and battle arena games. So, players who usually buy into the idea of pay-to-win often lose because they can’t match up with players who have continuously honed their skills.

Are free-to-play (F2P) games really free?

To finally answer the question of whether Free-to-Play (F2P) Games are free, the straight answer is no, because as they say, if you are not paying for the product, then you are the product. So, even if many F2P Games seem free, they may eventually push you to spend real money to unlock your game’s true potential.

However, there are still games that are 100% free, especially in the indie and online community scene. These games are usually created by gamers for gamers and were developed to be enjoyed by players around the world without strings attached, but they are commonly simple and low-budget.

In your experience, what is the best F2P game you played? Please share it in the comments.

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