"The joy of online strategy gaming, and online gaming in general, is defeating an opponent who was just as likely to defeat you—so how much fun is a game if, no matter how good you are, you may get owned by some kid who blew his allowance on WMDs? If you don't stand a chance in a 'free' game without shelling out, then the game ain't really free."
A game that you can play for free, with a heavy restriction on the "can play" part. Browser games based around this idea are also known as "Free To Pay".
This is primarily an advertising trope about a mismatch between PR and reality. If the commercials bandy about terms like “FREE,” “UNLIMITED” and “WITHOUT PAYING” while the ability to complete or be competitive within the game is walled off for those who don't dish dough (or even those who do!), you've got yourself an Allegedly Free Game. This isn't about games where all monetary elements are purely cosmetic, or they're minor enough that you could genuinely play the game for free and never miss them - say, removing adverts - then it doesn't belong here. This is for games that claim to be free, but players have to pay for a HUGE chunk of the content.
Sometimes you're restricted to a "free" zone and have to repeatedly buy access to the rest of the game piece by piece, sometimes you're incapable of gaining certain abilities or items without buying them with real world money, sometimes you can buy a copy or pay a subscription fee (and even then, additional purchases may be needed.) Some games just have so much that is exclusively bought that those who pay have such a gigantic advantage over those who don't. Some games make progress dependent on Level Grinding and/or Money Grinding that becomes obscenely tedious without shelling out real money for Experience Boosters or other things that reduce the time for grinding or eliminate the need for it. Any way that you cut this, you aren't going to get very far without reaching for your wallet. Some combination of Freemium, and Microtransactions will likely be involved in this.
Allegedly Free Game is a Sister Trope to Bribing Your Way to Victory. Not to be confused with actual Freeware Games, nor with Shareware, which is straightforward about its commercial nature and final about its sale. Contrast Real Money Trade, which is when people buy and sell in-game resources against the developers' wishes. See also Revenue Enhancing Devices, which is when there are lots of extra goodies and bonuses to buy along with the game.
For a small fraction of the player base, these games are very susceptible to becoming Serious Business, with some players spending astronomical sums just to get the best equipment and Character Class. Game design jargon calls these players Whales - they are usually the major source of a game's income and how badly you should milk them is a permanent ethical question for any game company. There's also the need to maintain a balance so that the whales don't become so overwhelmingly powerful that they drive everybody else out of the game...which in turn can lead to the whales themselves also moving on to another game after the "massively multiplayer" portion of your MMO is gone.
See also: Freemium
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This is the standard operating procedure for "Freemium" apps for both iPad (and smartphones), where the app can be downloaded for free, but premium features can be purchased in the game with real money, usually a special ingame currency (such as Gems or Coins) which also used to Bribe Your Way To Victory and in some cases are required to complete a hard challenge. These premiums are sometimes required to advance in the game and can cost up to $100! Many of these apps, such as Tiny Zoo Friends and Monster Galaxy: The Zodiac Islands were targeted towards young children who don't fully understand the sheer ramifications of running up Daddy's phone bill to buy a virtual doggy, meaning that this business model is starting to get legal scrutiny.
There's also the less shady (and much more common) practice of having a "free" and a "paid" version of the same smartphone app; the free one only has a few levels or features and essentially functions as a free trial to encourage players to buy the full game. The various Angry Birds games are probably the best-known examples.
Star Trek: Trexels, a tablet game released in December 2013, has this in spades. Just about everything in the game costs Dilithium Crystals, the in-game premium currency, including extra rooms on the Enterprise, new outfits/characters, unlocking new areas and planets, etc. The rate of normal acquisition of Dilithium Crystals without paying is next to nothing, and there are paywalls on top of paywalls (i.e. even if an area is unlocked, you still have to pay to unlock the game areas themselves). The extra characters are another thing altogether - expect to pay more than $50 for the classic TOS/TNG characters, who are far and away better than the vanilla characters you receive at the start of the game. Angry Joe called out developer YesGnome on this in his review.
The iPad app "Tap Fish" (which was showcased by The Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi). You pay to resurrect fish/get a better aquarium. One man's children spent $1,500 on the game, since it goes through iTunes, which saves credit info and doesn't usually need more than a basic password.
The mobile version of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Every single character and song outside of the very little the game gives you off the bat has to be purchased individually, to the point where to get everything the 3DS version offers, you'll end up paying almost three times as much. It's very barely understandable for those who want to play the game without having to purchase a 3DS, but for those that already own one, the whole ordeal is pretty much a waste of time and money.
The Dungeon Keeper iOS/Android remake requires waiting up to 24 hours to execute actions that took seconds in the original version, unless you pay for it, thus making the game essentially unplayable if you aren't spending money. Escapist Magazine gives it 1 out of 10 as a result. The German review site Superlevel... puts it more concisely.
Thankfully, this has later been changed. 24 and 8 hour tiles now take... 12 hours and 4 hours. With cost of basic resources on everything going up.
In 2014, the British Advertising Standards Authority formally reprimanded EA for describing the mobile Dungeon Keeper as "free" and told them not to do it again.
The My Little Pony game for iOS and Android. Unlike many social games, this one done have an ultimate goal: to defeat Nightmare Moon. In order to do that, one of the things you need to reunite the Mane Six. Twilight Sparkle is free (she's the first pony you get when you start a new game), while Pinkie Pie, Applejack and Fluttershy can be obtained by spending regular game currency (Bits). Rarity and Rainbow Dash, however, cost premium currency to obtain (90 Gems each). You're guaranteed 3 Gems every 5 days and can earn a few more if you accomplish certain tasks. So you can either hoard Gems for 10 months or spend $20 to get 260 Gems immediately. The situation was worse when the game first came out, when Rainbow Dash cost 500 Gems.
It gets worse if you do anything other than beating Nightmare Moon. Following her defeat, the game has a mini-quest to prepare for Princess Candace and Shining Armor's wedding, it involves buying the bride and groom for 650 Gems EACH. And the Hearts & Hooves update features a Valentine themed quest chain, which ends with buying Lovestruck (a pink Twilight Sparkle recolor) for 600 Gems.
The game made headlines in the UK after a six year old British girl accidentally spent £900 of her parents' money for gems in-game.
Games from American Greetings licensee Budge Studios definitely qualifies. They make several Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears games. All of the games are practically trials- they give one or two items for free, but to unlock the other items in the game you need to fork out anywhere between US$5.99 and US$20.
The concept is parodied in the Upgrade Complete games. Everything must be purchased in order to play the game, and the only point of playing the game is to earn "money" in order to purchase things such as the menu screen, the menu items, being able to save, the copyright page, the music, the ability to turn off the music, the option to say you don't want to purchase something...
Ace Online, also known as Air Rivals and Phi Doi. You can sign up and fly from L1 to L100 for free, but you need cash credits to buy Enchant protect cards, item seeker units, and fancy holographic banner-like things you can attach to your airframe. At least they give you generous samples of these credit shop exclusives as you gain levels.
AdventureQuest boasts itself as a free game - it is... unless you really want to go on the exciting quests, and have advanced classes, pets, and other things that make this online single-player game exciting. Non "guardians" (you guessed it, they're members) have the large nuisance of only getting a 'small server' whereas "Guardians" always get space. Also, they can equip some restricted items. Every other spin-off has its own Guardian counterpart with a very similar theme of 'pay now and get better stuff, etc'.
In Dragon Fable, you can only use one half of each 'class' skills, cannot use epic weapons (which in a particularly cruel twist are actually given to you anyway — often more frequently than normal weapons — but you simply can't equip them!), and you are unable to access 'Titan Dragon' missions (which are the best for level grinding, natch);
In MechQuest is less of an example of this, and more of an example of Bribing Your Way to Victory, since there are almost no 'upgrade-only' quests arond, but a lot more upgrade only weapons and mecha.
AE games (aside from AQWorlds) are a comparatively minor example of this trope, since all "Guardian" upgrades are one-time, full-life, and not subscription-based. Of course, if you want the very best equipment, you're still gonna have to shell out for those Z-tokens, Dragon Coins or whatever, and just Bribe Your Way To Victory. Though for AdventureQuest free players have all access to get the Uber and Epic tier item sets, which rival and even surpass Z-Token items and come with a nice bonus for equipping the whole set. You'll be farming a lot of Gold for them though. And some of the best pets and trinkets are Guardian Only.
AdventureQuest Worlds is the only one with a limited time subscription (6 months or a year), rather than a one time fee. At the same time, with the exception of item upgrades and character classes, almost every items is Cosmetic Award. The upgrades for armors, weapons, etc. have both free and upgrade versions every couple of levels, and the difference is only how many levels one goes between such upgrades. While some classes are upgrade only, they have also began implementing a new system with classes that gives two identical versions of a class: one that requires a long quest chain and rank 10 reputation in the area that sells it (which can take the completion of thousands of quests to reach), or Bribe Your Way To Victory and use Real Money Trade currency. Outside of PVP, most combat comes down to how many players are ganging up on the monster, rather than class abilities, so even if some character classes are restricted, the game can be used without them.
It should be noted that you can earn (in small amounts) Z-tokens/Dragon Coins/Nova Gems/Adventure Coins without buying them. Originally, this was only in AdventureQuest, but has now been implemented in all of the games.
Artix Entertainment's 6th game, EpicDuel had also implemented a little of both. Before being purchased by Artix, the game featured a one-time upgrade, where players had access to premium weapons, armours, and hairstyles. After the merger, the game added a secondary in-game currency "Varium" that works similar to Z-tokens/Dragon Coins/Adventure Coins/etc. and the elite upgrade has since been transferred to a considerable amount of the in-game currency and a badge that players can show off. Since it's a PvP game, the increased stat bonuses of premium items offer an edge to paying players.
The Artix entertainment examples, aside from AQ worlds, could best be summed up by this: You "buy" the game once, you have access to everything, but you can still get a currency faster by paying for it.
Age of Conan converted from a subscription-only model to a hybrid model in July 2011. While much of the content was made available to free players; a substantial amount, especially at higher levels, remains available only to paid subscribers, or cafeteria-type purchase. This includes over half the character races/classes, and nearly the entire Khitai region; as well as several of the advancement and ability mechanics.
Qualifies for this trope, as the game is advertised as "Free To Play!"; and it takes a little poking around the website to find out that a substantial portion of the game is pay-to-play only. Even then, it takes going into the official forums to find out just how much is content unavailable to free players.
Allods Online is an interesting example, as it is a game that started as merely Bribing Your Way to Victory that turned into an Allegedly Free Game. There were many "features" at release, such as the death penalty, that were annoying, but you could still pass through the game without paying a cent. With the latest content patch, now mobs have been scaled to be so strong that you practically need cash shop items to progress past level 20, and the death penalty was changed for something that can permanently ruin pieces of gear unless they're protected by cash shop items. Without those items, you're pretty much never going to get past the first third of the game.
As of March 2nd, 2011, Holy Amulets, which prevent equipment from becoming cursed, are now absolutely free.
Atmosphir used to avert this, with money only really giving you Cosmetic Awards. Cue Executive Meddling, and now it is played really straight, if only because playing racing levels now requires shelling out money. The problem? The whole point of Atmosphir is playing levels other people made, for free for both designer and player. Now it's pretty much dead, though it is getting a Spiritual Successor called Voxelus made by longtime fans.
Ikariam's "Ambrosia" system rings of this trope, but is subverted; all it really does is make the game a little more convenient to play, by offering overall views of Resource Gathering, research, military operations, and the like (things anyone can already do by checking their colonies individually). It's possible to buy temporary upgrades to Resource Gathering or a few more trade ships with real money, but nothing the least bit gamebreaking.
Even the most "creative" (mis)uses of Ambrosia only make the game a little more convenient, generally during wars. The most infamous example is the use some people make of the feature which allows players to move a city to another island for 200 ambrosia (12,5 €, more or less), which is often used to move a city full of troops in an enemy island, attack and retreat immediately. There's possibly only one strategy to get the most out of Ambrosia, namely building all your cities on islands which have wine as their rare resource and using Ambrosia to convert it in other resources. It has many advantages, but even so, it's not a full Game Breaker.
In Astro Empires nonmembers can only build one thing and have two things in the queue to automatically build, but members get 5 queue slots. Also, members can construct unlimited bases, but nonmembers only get to build up to 9 before having to conquer other planets to expand.
Similarly, Muelsfell: Rise of the Golems has a building-construction queue, a golem-construction queue, and an item-construction queue, each capped at 1 for non-premium members. Non-premium members also can only accept smaller market offers, have double the return time, can't name their golems, and for a while couldn't set their golem to hang back or persue targets aggressively - in essence, they have to spend twice as long to do half as much.
Battlefield Heroes became this. It used to be you could buy clothing and other extras for real money, and buy the guns and essential using in-game currency. Then, EA (of course) jacked up the prices in in-game currency by 20 times, no exaggeration, and made it a lot easier to buy stuff using real money, making it effectively useless to use in-game currency. Then added new, better guns, available only with real money. Interestingly enough, this is the exact thing they promised wouldn't happen when they introduced the game.
They took out the cheaper bandages and wrenches. Not cool.
Battlefield Play 4 Free, made by EA's Play 4 Free studio, E Asy. Bonus points for being this trope while still in closed beta. It's most egregious with sniper rifles, where there are paid sniper rifles that are longer range than the free ones and do significantly more damage. Headshots that don't kill? Never mind that bodyshots from those guns should put thumb-sized holes in people ...
And made some weapons unrealistic and underpowered (PP2000 for one) so that they didn't compete with paid weapons.
You can buy armor, heals, weapon attachments, guns where every single stat is better than the free or earnable guns ...
And now, cash payouts are significantly lower, making permanent weapon purchases a pain.
The later versions of Bloons Tower Defense have these, but even then the game is extremely winnable without these premium upgrades.
The japanese-language MMO C21 is particularly excessive with this; the game's world spans several planets; beyond the first, 99% of what's for sale in robot shops(where you'd get your newer/better hardware outside rare drops) costs cash-shop currency. And while there's occasional events to swap normal ingame money for cash points, they're capped so you won't be able to buy anything worthwhile anyway. And the ratio of cash to points is insane. A few units from the cash side of things have free versions... But their configurations are locked. Which is lethal to their usefulness in a game where customizing a unit is essential; you can't even re-arm them.
Its "sequel", Cosmic Break, isn't much better, as while most of the regular shop is priced in in-game money, 99% of what's new and/or desirable is cash shop only. And both games are overly fond of the "gashapon" method of sale (i.e. you get a random item, with various probabilities of getting each one); CB has not released new weaponry in any other manner in at least a year, and it has less than half the content of C21... And at least half CB's content is recycled from C21.
Cosmic Break is a mild example. Currency for the cash shop (Rt) can be bought with in-game currency (UC), but the price drastically increases every 10 units and is capped to 50, a decent amount of Rt. The "UC to Rt" event resets each month, allowing to gather enough Rt to buy what you want without waiting 2-3 months. Only a third of robots and weapons are in cash shop, the rest can be found in Player Versus Environment\PvP and the UC shop. And the game continues to receive updates.
Lately, the updates have only seemed to be of the aforementioned gashapon (called garapon in-game) variety. Some of the garapons require real money, and have a small chance of getting a bot that is usually considered overpowered. As one forum user puts it:
"(...) Cyber Step continues to churn out Garapon updates non-stop, not even bothering with the Shop in terms of UC and Rt (it took months until an actual bot appeared in the Shop, and it was only 1 bot). Because 95% of the stuff people want are in the Garapon, people are unable to actually improve on their bots unless they were willing to sell their houses. Didn't help that the Gashapon was more or less a part of Japanese culture and that most Otaku are very willing to throw their money away on mostly useless stuff, so [Japanese] players were OK with that sort of thing and CyberStep hoped that it would be the same case with the [English] players...
After a certain update, every player can receive an item that generates a random Humanoid robot, almost ANY humanoid robot. As it turns out, some of the Humanoid Robots that can be generated are of the (then-)broken "Type Zeroes", as well as many, MANY gachapon-acquired humanoids. Cue a large number of players making alternate accounts to get a chance of aquiring these powerful bots.
On the other hand, one specific Humanoid that was released in the same update, is currently the most powerful humanoid in the game, having an attack that was so broken, they only nerfed a single effect from it. Oh yeah, and this humanoid can be acquired for no RL money, just for ingame money (and a crap-load of luck at a free gachapon.)
The Caverns Of Hammerfest became available entirely for free after the Parallel Dimensions update. You, however, can only play it once a day, so you have an option to buy more games for the day if you're impatient enough.
Champions Online has a "Free For All" setup, where anyone can play nearly all of the game's content for free. However, the free Silver accounts have severe restrictions placed on character customization (fewer costume choices, a handful of Archetypes, limited bag slots, and a limited selection of travel powers) and have to purchase access to the Adventure Packs (optional repayable mission content). Still, this is mostly an aversion of this trope as it is entirely feasible to level a character all the way up to end-game content without spending a penny on the game: nothing that is essential requires a purchase.
All of the above restrictions can be bypassed by spending real money to unlock the restricted content; but there are two aspects of The game which are only available to the subscription-based Gold accounts: power customization (what color is my energy blast? does it come from my palm, fist, chest, or head? etc.) and Freeform characters (which are superior in every way to the Archetypes, both in terms of how much freedom you have in choosing powers and how many powers you can choose). Silver accounts are definitely second-class citizens in the game; though they are not outcasts.
With the introduction of the Questionite Exchange and Freeform slots, this is no longer technically the case. The system allows any player to farm Questionite, a form of in-game currency that can be traded for the real-money currency between players. Freeform character slots allow anyone to make one freeform character regardless of subscription status. Just be prepared to do a lot of farming if you don't want to use actual money.
Club Penguin is getting almost unplayable for free members; they can't continue to the next level on games such as Catching Waves or even Astroblaster without a membership, making the new stamp collecting feature very pointless.
They used to have all of its games played for free where you didn't have to pay to continue to the next level, thus making it possible back then to complete several games 100% without having a membership.
There are other games around like Kung Fu Panda World which are pretty much just reskins of Club Penguin with, as expected, hot IP names attached.
They are getting a little better, though. Non members can buy two pages of clothes, and unlock millions of coins using all the free codes that Club Penguin gives out. It's also getting a little worse, since members can transform into things at parties, such as puffles (the in game pet) ghosts, reindeer puffles and Jack Frost style penguins, oh, and in January 2013, DINOSAURS!!!!! At the Puffle Party in February 2012, Halloween Party October 2012, Holiday Party December 2012, and Prehistoric Party January 2013, respectively. There will probably be more in future parties.
Dead or Alive 5Ultimate has a free-to-play version on the PlayStation 3 called Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate: Core Fighters that allows you to use 4 characters - Kasumi, Ayane, Hayate and Ryu Hayabusa - in all modes (except Story Mode) for free. The rest of the characters and Story Mode have to be bought. Of course, those who would rather have everything at once can simply buy the regular, retail version of the game.
The online Flash game Dinowaurs has stat-boosting equipment which can be purchased with DNA (the in-game currency) or with real money. As any Genre Savvy online game player can probably guess, DNA gains are next to nothing, to the point where it would be faster and much less work to mow your neighbors' lawn and use the money to buy equipment.
Diplomacy Online seems like a perfectly free game at first- until you realize that only subscribers can play the different variants, maps, and rules, and free players are restricted to the simple un-varied format.
DJMAX Online had free songs, but also premium songs that cost 1 credit per play, and credits must be bought with real money.
Erepublik, (here), an online social strategy, suffers from this. While free play is possible, the international currency is virtual gold. This can be earned in small amounts for various infrequent achievements, or bought on the currency markets (prohibitive due to its high value), but is required in moderate and large amounts to create organizations, newspapers, companies, and political parties; to upgrade buildings; and to buy wellness packs that allow players to fight more times each day. In short, any major in-game enterprise tends to become expensive.
Equine-Ranch. Sure, it's free to play indefinitely...unless you want to actually do something, like breed or train your horses to a winning level of even the basic level competition...or even own horses that aren't just "Grade" horses.
Evony advertises itself as "Free Forever", but the only reliable way to get special items is to buy them for real money. This includes the Michelangelo's Script, a requirement to upgrade a building to its highest level, for $5 per upgrade. It also includes medals, which you'll have to buy if you want to have more than two cities at once. They also have three separate "free gifts", the best of which requires the player to spend $100. The worst part is that the game coins are called "cents" even though each cent costs $0.10, to make things seem cheaper. (All figures in US dollars.)
Some Facebook games come pretty close to Allegedly Free; you can get stuff you want or need in the game by paying money directly to the game or by completing real-world offers that sometimes require money. The upside is that some of the offers are things like product samples, so you're not just paying for that game upgrade you want, you're paying for a bag of coffee or a makeup kit and getting the game upgrade.
Even big companies have begun using the masive userbase of Facebook to try to scrape a little cash. Dragon Age: Legends, which touts itself as "the first real game on Facebook," is entirely free to play... only, if you don't buy "crowns" to purchase gear, then you get about six characters who level slowly and can only be used once every 1-2 hours, need half a day to grind out a small amount of potions, and have your team limited to three (including you) characters per battle. Want to revive a character? Spend crowns. Want to use the same character two battles in a row? Spend some crowns. Gear that doesn't suck? Spend crowns in the store. Want to be able to realistically play the game for more than ten minutes a day? ...you get the picture.
This has pretty much become the standard. Most games have two basic units of currency: One you can earn by playing, and another you can only get through Facebook Credits (or, if you're playing it on another site, paying into the game). The value of "free" in this case is determined by how many in-game items can only be bought with the Credit-only currency.
Social games have more become Bribing your way to prevent monotony through the commonly used "energy systems". Every action costs energy, and if you run out? You could wait 12 hours or so for it to fill up again, or you could just buy more. Let's just say paying is essential to be able to play the game for longer than a few minutes at a time.
Facebook may be just as famous for its Allegedly Single-Player Games. You start off the first few days playing a nice enough and diverting game. Then, when you reach a certain level, you find out that you have to have "neighbors" (in form of your Facebook friends) or co-players to get the useful things or even to advance any further. You better hope you have a lot of gamers among your friends, because to those who don't usually play Facebook games, it tends to quite push their Berserk Button when you (and others) send them the one game invite after the other.
Fallen London is edging toward this — players have always been able to use real money to purchase Fate, which allows you to refill your actions, get new opportunity cards, start a Soul Trade storyline, reset your Ambition, etc., but they were also able to collect Fate through dreams and a few other events. Then the dreams stopped granting Fate. Then the devs added a few more storylines that could only be opened up with Fate...and started adding options to existing cards that provided new storyline paths only available with Fate, so it's getting to the point where you can't play any of the new content (which is the only thing you're there for, if you've hit all the content caps) without spending some Fate. In fairness, the game has no ads and needs to make money somehow, but it's a little disappointing when the majority of the new content is available only for those who can pay for Fate.
The February 2011 update increased the number of Actions that a paying player can make per (real-time) day (by 10), and decreased the number of actions that a non-paying player can make (by 30). This was changed back on the January 2012 update gave everyone unlimited actions a day.
Forum Warz has "Brownie Points", purchased using actual money. They can in turn be used to buy a number of things, including later episodes, the removal of ads, and Bribing Your Way to Victory, although the latter keeps you from participating in competitive game elements and disqualifies you from getting "E-Peen Length" for collecting achievements.
Free Realms limits about 40% of the game's quests and jobs to subscribers. Also, the Card game decks and boosters, and pets for the Pet Trainer job require RL cash.
In FusionFall, before April 19th, 2010, the only way you could get past level 5, leave the future, and see the rest of the story... was to register for a monthly fee. Now, it's completely free.
Gaia Online has become this, especially after the Flynn's Booty fiasco of fall 2013. Thanks to the introduction of it and several similar pure gold generators (which can net the users up to hundreds of millions of gold, all without doing a thing other than opening it) the only way to obtain the now-daily onslaught of Cash Shop-based items — as well as older items that have skyrocketed in price in the Marketplace thanks to inflation caused by them — is to pony up the dough.
Geocaching. The site charges to download lists of caches to a GPS, receive notifications of new caches and access certain premium caches.
The Game Room service for Xbox Live says it's free, and has a free addon every week. Too bad it costs about $3 per arcade game in the game itself, and about 25 cents for a "token" that allows you to play a game once if you don't own it. The only thing you can do without paying is to move stuff around, or "demo" any of the games one time each.
Global Agenda - you're still competitive at lower levels, and the game is still extremely fun, but there are some game modes and aesthetic armors that it will take forever to unlock if you don't pay.
GunBound is a relatively mild example. Most equipment can be bought with real life money or in game money. While there are plenty of powerful equipment that can only be bought with live money, there's equally powerful in game purchases that you can make if you work hard enough at it. Interestingly there's also equipment that you cannot buy with real life money and must grind in game currency to get.
Or at least, it used to be. But Gunbound seems to get traded around by a bunch of different sites, and in one version players who pay real money not only reach ridiculously powerful avatars, but get special cash-only items that can heavily unbalance the game. It's gotten bad enough that the "avatars off" server has a decent following once again, and frequently using cash-only items is widely considered to be a dick move even by people WITH cash avatars. When even your most devoted users stop falling for it, it's time to give up.
Imperion. Oh, sure, you can play your game for free, if you want to be raided ceaselessly and smashed into the ground by the three guys in adjoining systems who paid so that they could have increased resource production, instant building, additional building slots, and cheaper auto-trades. Basically, free players exist only for the pay-players to prey upon.
Imperium Nova, you don't really need to subscribe to play, but you can only operate in up to two socio-economic spheres if you don't. With a monthly or tri-monthly subscription you can operate in up to seven (depending on status).
In IMVU, not only is it almost impossible to get a personal avatar for under 5000 credits. There's also the Access Pass, Guest_-names and wait for it... VIP accounts!
A lot of games by UK-based Jolt (Utopia Kingdoms, Legend of Zork, and the now defunct Nationstates 2, among others) didn't charge for the initial account...and that's about it. Nationstates 2 in particular was pretty bad, requiring real money for a lot of things that were free in the original, and basically making wars unwinnable without real money extras.
The Xbox One Killer Instinct can be purchased as a full game, but it's also available as a free download. However, the free version is restricted to one character that rotates periodically, and the rest can be bought separately.
Kingdom of Loathing is an example of the "free players can't even pretend to compete" kind. The main source of replayability is in cutting down on the length of your run through the game. If you don't pick up a $10 Item of the Month, you should feel insanely proud if you manage to complete a run in under 10 days. Having a handful of Iot Ms, though, makes even the laziest player have a decent chance of a 3 day run. Don't feel like paying? It only takes 2-3 months of daily grinding in-game currency to afford one. There's 9 inventory slots, and Iot M familiars, spells, and gardens. If you're stingy with real-world money, you have YEARS of grinding ahead of you before you can be a top-level player.
The Last Stand: The Dead Zone allows you to play and level up freely, but there are waiting times placed on missions, buildings, upgrades, and raids. Of course, they can be sped up with fuel which can be found, but there is a cap to how much you can find in a day. You can also build a FUEL Generator, but it also gives out very little and must be refueled by materials. The easiest way to get more is by purchasing some with real money.
League of Angels is a moderate example. Most of the stuff you can do in the game is free, but only a limited amount of times per day. A serious player who wants to take greater advantage of it needs diamonds - the only thing unavailable in the game itself - to buy more daily uses. (And it's possible to win diamonds in events, although it's difficult.)
Kwari, an former online FPS. The equipment that you couldn't get unless you paid real money? Bullets.
Within recent years, the game has become this even less. The majority of players have gone more and more towards indulging in useless but nice-looking gear (the fanbase have given such players the nickname "Fashionogi"), allowing Nexon to make large sums of money by making "Fashionogi" items hard to obtain. The new reforge system is expensive if one gets into it, but it's far from necessary. It's more meant for min/max players who want to become obscenely powerful.
Magic: The Gathering Tactics advertises that it's free to download and play. However, befitting the card game the game is based on, you must buy booster packs to add to your collection to customize your original setup. Of course, most of the demographic that the game is aimed at expected this...as they play the card game the game is based on.
Oh, and you need to spend real money to buy more chapters of the story mode. Much like Star Chamber.
Similarly, Magic Online also charges real money for in-game cards and for tournaments that give out prizes. Once you have the cards, though, "casual" play is free.
Magic Online works more-or-less exactly like the paper game, barring the availability of some older cards. It's not intended as a self-contained game so much as a client for playing the card game online.
MapleStory is a common example of this trope. Without the real-life-cash bought money, characters stick to the regular equipment, are forced to stick to the basic 3 hairstyles, and thanks to special items that allow better boosts like extra slots for more upgrades, 2x exp (almost needed in a game famous for its grind) and other boosts, are stuck with weaker things. Also, the real-life-cash makes it a lot easier to make in game money.
This becomes truer with the Evan and Dual Blade classes, which can only reach full power with skill books available in the cash shop.
The sad thing is, the "cash shop," as they put, it was at first primarily cosmetic with a few extra things that could enhance your character, but could be skipped with either careful planning or a lot of free time. Then 2x exp cards appeared there.
In today's standards, Maple (with all the revamps) basically got to the point where getting to 200 takes 3 days for a funded guy, 15 days for a hacker, 30 days for a casual, and 4 months for the bads (assuming they don't quit at 150). The real goal to Maple is to hit really high damage. However, the only way for this to be possible is to waste upwards of $3000 on nx to buy all the gear needed, which costs upwards of 200 billion mesos (thankfully the nx:meso conversion rate is pretty high) for Global Maplestory. In Korean Maplestory, things are significantly cheaper, so it's easier to reach higher damage and get better equipment, which results in the video above. You'll never see Global Maple reach such lengths since Nexon of America is too greedy.
As if it weren't possible to be any more vile, there is an NPC quest in Amoria that provides a Cash Shop item as its reward. What is it? It's a "random haircut" coupon. Anyone who's fallen into this trap knows that a "random haircut" from Claudia really means the most butt-a** ugly haircut in the game. Guess what the only way to change it back is? That's right... despite it not impacting gameplay, this game actually has the balls to make your character's head look like the spawn of Satan without telling you, then hold you hostage until you pay to change it back.
Marvel Avengers Alliance is an unusual case. There were three versions, one of which was on the Playdom home site which was completely free to play (though you could buy the premium currency to make things a LOT easier, like skipping missions and buying valuable characters/items). The Facebook and IOS/Android versions are basically Bribing Your Way to Victory despite not being a subscription based game. You CANNOT make any significant progress without constantly dumping money into the game (the game either refuses to give you more of the story without buying characters via actual money and when that's done with, you need to buy more characters to ironically enough GET new characters from special events). Unfortunately, the free-to-play version has been shutdown as of April 22nd 2014, forcing players to either abandon their progress or transfer a fraction of what they own to Facebook (all their characters leveled down to Lv 1 and a small percentage of the premium currency they own. Nothing else aside from these things were transferred to the Facebook accounts, subsequently pissing off some players)
MechWarrior Online plans to be this. You can grind in-game for the monopoly money (C-bills), or you can throw your money at the game to instantly acquire mechs, vary from ten dollars to thirty dollars. Cosmetic items (new camouflage or paint schemes, dashboard items such as hula girls) and "Hero" mechs with unique paint schemes and equipment slots are microtransaction only. Players can purchase consumable items such as coolant boosts or artillery strikes with the in-game monopoly money, but the consumables purchased with real money are much more useful.
Memoir 44 Online appeared on Steam as a Free-To-Play title. While this is technically true, you'll be able to play 25 games maximum outside the tutorial before you have to buy more tokens using real money. Since most of the scenarios eat three tokens rather than the minimum 2, it's probably going to be fewer.
Microsoft Flight gives you the base game with two planes for free, then charges for DLC to expand the game.
Microvolts in somewhat interesting in that while it has a currency earned in game and another one bought with real money, most items can only be bought with the in-game currency, Micro Points. In contrast, the real-money currency, Rock Tokens, buys better items — virtually none of which can be kept for more than a week.
Moon Breakers has also appeared on Steam. While it's possible to get new ships with the in-game currency, the cheapest one costs 216,000 credits. Your average reward per match is around 2000. Do the math.
Mousehunt averts this, despite being a Facebook game. While there are rewards offered for donating, they're either a special brand of cheese (called Super Brie+) with a 99% attraction rate or skins for traps, which obviously require you to have the trap to use. Packs of supplies for areas are also offered, but they don't give anything you can't get by hunting for it manually. You also get a luck bonus of 7 to make it easier to catch mice that are a pain, but this doesn't make the difference too large compared to normal. To make it even better, if you log in five days in a row, you're given a few pieces of Super Brie anyway!
Need for Speed World is a curious case. It's free to play, with the whole game world available without restrictions, but cars are unlocked through an RPG-like progress system. The system maxes out at level 10 for free users. Thing is, the supercars are unlocked after level 10, so if you want that virtual Lamborghini, you're going to have to pay $20 for the VIP pack, which removes the level 10 Cap and adds access to the supercars. There's also something called "SpeedBoost" for the Bribing Your Way to Victory file as well.
The level cap was lifted a couple of months after release, so free players can go up to level 50, with anyone who bought the VIP pack getting some free car rentals as a "thank you" from EA. SpeedBoost remains, though.
Keep in mind that the SpeedBoost is not something that boosts your speed, but a virtual currency that's bought with real cash. You can use this to buy powerups like nitro, which you can get more of in the game, but only by getting first place, and the powerup you get for accomplishing this is randomized.
Neverwinter, a revamp of the classic D&D storyline, proudly touts itself as "free to play", but is anything but that. As the player levels their character up, more and more restrictions are levied against them to the point of being prohibitive, including inventory space, upgrade gems, enchantments and just about every other element in the game. In order to advance, the player will need to spend copious amounts of money on the crafting system (as anything that isn't bought with money will fail 95% of the time), or buy a "Starter Pack" (the most expensive of which costs $200!) to get around most of these restrictions. The PVP model has also become pay-to-win, due to the fact that only certain powerful Enchantments (which can cost upwards of $150 to max out) can be used in the mode.
About half of O2Jam 's songs and avatar clothes must be purchased with real money.
Most PS3 bundles include a voucher for a "free" copy of PAIN. But there's only one way to unlock new characters and levels in PAIN: buy them on the PSN store for $1.99 each. Have "fun".
Pangya has any number of awesome equipment, clothing, golf balls/clubs, and items that you must use the premium currency (known as cookies or Ntreev Points depending on what server you play on) to buy. One of the playable characters has all of one outfit you can purchase without spending real money. To be fair, Ntreev USA offers a tedious method of getting Ntreev Points for free, by, among other things, doing online surveys, but...
Phantasy Star Online 2 is a pleasantly surprising subversion of this. Each MMO in the Phantasy Star Online series before it was a paid subscription game, and many worried that this game would become allegedly free. Sega has, however, reassured players that the game's cash points, known as Arks Cash, would only be used for aesthetic add-ons and other goodies like player rooms and setting up one's own player shop, as well as skill tree resets and additional Mags. They have held true to this promise thus far: players can freely pursue story missions and access every stage in the game without having to pay, and are free to switch classes and shop from other players' shops (a great way for free players to access some goodies they would otherwise need to pay for).
PlanetSide 2 has some of this - in general, weapons are the only non cosmetic things that can be unlocked with real money - upgrades require XP to be earned through playing. The infantry guns and tank primary weapons tend to be sidegrades (i.e. not particularly differing in power between each other). Aircraft secondary weapons and engineer turrets? Not so much. Cosmetic items (helmets, camouflage, decals, et cetera) require Station Cash to buy - with the exchange rate being about $7 for 1000 cert (the most expensive) weapons, $5 per camo ($15 for a whole set - vehicle, armor, weapon) and $10 for most helmets. The game is very playable on free-to-play, but if you intend to specialize into infantry classes or vehicles, it's highly recommended to buy the $15/mo Membership, which boosts XP gain and gives you $5 worth of Station Cash per month.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game Online. Sure, you can download it for free and play against the computer all you like. But, if you want a chance at doing anything against the human players, you need to either buy physical cards and redeem the codes inside for virtual packs, or buy virtual decks online. The provided decks are a basic type of deck and won't do much against people throwing around things like Darkrai cards in their decks.
Like the Magic Online example above, though, this is less a stand-alone game and more an online client for the Pokémon TCG, so some amount of Bribing Your Way to Victory is to be expected.
If you're playing for free, you're quite restricted. You have to earn tokens by logging in daily and playing against people, and the packs you can buy with Tokens are watered down - you get five cards instead of the ten you'd get in a normal pack, and the cards cannot be traded with other players.
Puzzle Pirates is a very interesting case, as there's three ways to play: using the in-game currency to buy the premium currency, buying the premium currency with real money, or buying a subscription (which can be done with real money or the premium currency). It's also possible to play it as a collection of pirate-themed puzzle games, ignore the larger MMO aspect of the game, and never WANT to spend money. It's probably as close to Freeware as an MMO (that still follows this trope) will ever get.
In earlier versions of the game, Free players (or 'Greenies', as free players' names were always in green, as opposed to subscribing players' yellow) could play forever but were unable to purchase ships, shops or anything beyond the most basic clothing and weaponry, which is not as much of a handicap as it sounds - weapons in the game merely altered the drop patterns in the swordfighting puzzle, cheaper weapons are easier to defend against because their 'attacks' dropped blocks in patterns that were easier to clear. Free players could still get at least one upgrade to assuage this - though they were obviously barred from the more expensive weapons with their impenetrable drop patterns. Still, many high-end players would use the starting sword most Greenies were confined to in the name of Self-Imposed Challenge. Clothing is purely for decoration. They were also prevented from playing two of the puzzles - gunnery and navigation. This has obviously changed, but even back then, there was still a 'free' server that used a rudimentary version of the system detailed above.
Except Urban Dead, which only has limits on IP access.
Especially ridiculous for Ragnarok Online free servers. "Donate" items break the game without any regard to petty things like "fairness." A lot of servers will let you "donate" for a completely max leveled character. Or items that give +XX (XX being dozens and dozens) to stats and other advantages, while the standard official items rarely more than +1 to anything.
RO released the 'Renewal' revamp, which introduced third-tier classes. In order to access them at all, you have to shell out for 'Reset Stones' (or save up for months), and good luck being at all competitive in PvP (or experiencing a lot of new content) without them.
ROBLOX. Like most entries on this page, its biggest advertising point is that it's free to play. Although you can get most hats, shirts, gear etc. with incredible patience, some items are Builder's Club only, and BC is the easiest way to earn enough Tickets/ROBUX to get the rest. Plus, there are many BC-only features, such as having more than 1 map/place, more than one group, making badges etc.
Now BC members can make it so one of their places can only be visited by BC-members, for extra benefits. Fortunately, this practice isn't wide-spread, and some creators are kind enough to make free verisons of their BC places.
Rumble Fighter is another offender. While you could technically play for free, you better be really good at the game if you want anything other than the default fighting style. All of the scrolls you get for Carats, the in-game currency, are ludicrously expensive and vastly inferior to anything you can buy for Astros, The Paying currency. Not to mention most of the items are only available with Astros, and almost all of the Astro items provide stat boosts that Carat items don't. And even if you shell out enough money to completely deck out your character with cool weapons and clothes and a good style, expect something new to come out the next week that completely blows away whatever you just bought. You basically have to shell out money constantly to avoid being treated to a curb-stomping every time you fight someone.
Runes Of Magic: You will never be as good as the guy sitting next to you who buys the in-game currency, without either paying the same amount or more, or spending a ridiculous amount of time. Assuming you choose the latter, you need to farm 10 turn-ins of whatever Daily Quest you choose, turn those in, and get 100 tokens which are basically a free version of the diamonds, but with half the item selection at like 5-20 times the price they cost in diamonds. A Purified Fusion Stone (6 of which are needed to make the best gear possible) costs a whopping 1100 tokens vs. 55 diamondsnote and that's when they're not on sale, when they cost as low as 25 diamonds (in a 5 pack). That's 11 days for one stone, 66 for one piece of gear.
Furthermore, depending on your class and the weapons you use, you may have between 16 and 18 items to stat. That's between 1056 and 1188 days of farming for the minimal amount of Purified Fusion Stones for one set of gear. About three years! Oh — and you'll end up statting at least three or four full sets' worth. All this is ignoring the equally sized set you'll need for your secondary class, if you choose to stat a set of gear for it, too. Let's not forget the Arcane Transmuter charges, which are 300 for ten of them on the tokens. That's 3 extra days per armor piece, which comes to 1-2 more months. Then there's tiering your weapons, required if you want to do any real damage ever, as well as gear refinement on top of the statting and tiering. You're practically required to farm the local Money Spiders and slowly earn millions of gold to buy statted armor, the best of which runs AT LEAST 4 million per piece.
RuneScape was originally completely free to play, but constant growth made it too large to sustain without paying players. Paying members can access many times as much world, skills, minigames and quests as non-members (who can only play about 5% of the total content). However, it advertises its Free-to-Play content as an entire free game note "The World's Most Popular Free MMORPG", quoted from its website front page!, and the Pay to Play content as a super expansion pack (ergo the trope).
On the other hand, "worlds" (servers) are segregated between members' worlds, where all the pay-to-play features are active, and free-to-play servers, where pay-to-play features are inaccessible even to members, meaning that members don't have much of an advantage over nonmembers - if they're on the same world.
There is a more recent "feature" called the Squeal of Fortune that, while it can be used for free once a day (twice a day for members), requires payment of real money to use enough to get halfway decent rewards outside of lots of luck. Aside from potentially granting two hundred million gold, it can also grant unique (albeit terrible) weapons and armour, as well as copies of very high-grade armour.
S4 League, while not as bad as other online games, still has its problems. Cash Shop allows you to immediately buy a certain type of equipment with the highest modifier to stats. Mind you, all equipment is temporary, and while weapon rental is easily affordable, aiming for permanents is going to cost a lot of Pentavision Credits (In-game currency).
A patch has actually made it so the only way to get a permanent item is the completely luck of the draw "Fumbi shop" which is far more likely to give you a random item you don't want for seven hours. Because of this, you have to constantly rerent your items. Weapons aren't so bad as their timers only go while you use them, but clothing items have timers that are always running.
In an odd subversion of this trope, especially for a Japanese MMO, SD Gundam Online. The game makes no attempt to say, "You need to buy this to be BETTER than everyone!" The only things that cost RL money only are Paint, and you can find some of that with missions, if you're lucky. Buying Mobile Suits is interesting in that you select from about 10 different 'capsule machines' and put the in-game currency in to get a random MS. It's noted that the Capsule Machines and shop contain every MS available, buyable with in-game currency. And the best thing? You can purchase the Blueprints for some of the best MS... with In-Game currency only!
However, it's played oh-so-straight with the Taiwan version...You can buy Mobile Suits with real money, and some blueprints can -only- be bought with real money. You can't even increase the amount of Mobile Suits you can own without paying real money.
Interestingly, the North American version seems to dual-wield both versions of this. You can buy Mobile Suits with real money, but only the S-Rank units, C-Ranks (usually Mooks) are purchasable with in-game currency without having to risk what you built up on Capsules. Stickers and Paints can be bought with in-game currency, but only the basic stuff - want something neat like a Zeon crest? Real money. The only thing you positively, absolutely have to have real money to buy is hangar space.
Second Life: only premium account owners can own land, and some areas are blocked to free account users who don't have payment information. Primarily to function as an age verification system to keep kids from watching badly-rendered avatar porn. Although now they have an explicit age verification system that uses a dodgy third party who supposedly are able to determine who is over and underage by their driver's license info.
Premium accounts specifically refer to if you pay rent on the "Mainland" servers, which are owned directly by Linden Labs. There are plenty more "Private Islands" which are servers rented out completely to a single person, which confers more abilities then just buying all the land on a Mainland server. Part of this is that you can rent out your land to "Basic" members who aren't renting from Linden Labs directly. You can technically spend hundreds of dollars or more in-game and still be a "Basic" member simply because you don't deal with Linden Labs directly.
While most things ingame will cost Lindens dollars ("Lindens") and these can be purchased with real money, it's also possible to break even or even earn real money from the game by making and selling content.
Shattered Galaxy has this in various forms. First off, freeplayers have an attribute and level cap, and they also have a fairly steep experience gain cut past a certain levels. Furthermore, while they can collect uranium, only subscribers can actually use it. This means that only subscribers can use certain units, as well as the "gold" versions of weapons, which are somewhat (but not game-breakingly) better than their regular equivalents.
In Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE every shop contains equipment that can only be purchased with real money. Every shop. In order to have more than one character, or to reset your attributes if you make a mistake, you have to pay real money. Need to store extra demons? You need more money. Want to cosplay a famous Mega Ten character? That costs money too. Weapons, COMPs, Armor... Hell, there is a guitar that doesn't even do anything that costs 60 dollars. For that much, you can go out and buy an actual Mega Ten game.
Also, you can buy a REAL guitar, that does play music, (although a crappy one) for 60 dollars.
The GMs softened the game (with permission from the original japanese devs) by adding stat resets for in-game currency that work so long as you are under level 30 and holding large events where they give away tons of items for free.
The maps in the game are pretty huge, and that's all well and good, but walking anywhere takes forever. Aeria Games is clearly aware of this, because there are items that allow you to increase your move speed, teleport, ride one of your demons... and they all cost real money. The game would be a thousand times more playable if you didn't have to pay for the teleportation item.
But unlike other examples on this page, this game is entirely playable for players that don't spend real cash on Aeria Points, keeping the balance between payers and skilled players.
While the items in question have to be bought with real money initially, there's nothing to stop players buying them from other players for ingame cash.
Let's just say "zig-zagged" as a trope on this game, but still very playable free. It does have things that money would make easier, but none of the content is actually restricted to paying players.
Soulcalibur: Lost Swords is also a pretty big offender. To start off, in order attempt a quest, you have to use up AP (Action Points). Most quests will use up 3-8 AP (and they'll soon regularly cost 10-20+ AP the further in you go). Once they run out, you can't play anymore until they refill. It takes three minutes to bring back one AP, so it will probably take a while before you're at max AP again. Alternatively, you can spend money to refill your AP instantly. Or buy Continue Tickets that allow you to pick up right at the spot you were defeated instead of abandoning the missions and having to burn more AP or AP Potions to re-attempt it. And let's not get started on the premium treasure chests; about $5 for one of them, which contain one randomly picked item each, mind you.
The funny thing is, Namco actually ADMITTED that they were planning on making Lost Swords allegedly free. This is their reason for the lack of multiplayer.
It is possible, with the help of Allies and a bit of good luck, to steadily progress through the game without spending a single cent for example... the game has Daily Missions that respectively net you one Continue Ticket and one AP Potion, and players instantly regenerate all their AP upon leveling up, but where Lost Swords's "Free to Play, Pay to Win" model really screws over non-paying players is during the periodic Soul Edge Scramble ranking events, where you can earn exclusive rewards based on how many Soul Edge fragments you collect through a time-limited mission. The best goodies, usually clothing/armor sets, are only given to the top 1000/2000 ranks, and you'll need to be in the top 10 if you want all of the pieces. If you've ever glimpsed at the rankings, you'll quickly notice that it's impossible to come anywhere near that (or obtain the equipment requiring an obscene amount of fragments) unless you're buying (or stockpiling) AP Potions like there's no tomorrow and (re)playing those quests non-stop. On top of this, the game regularly advertises buying powerful equipment and weapons that the player simply cannot obtain anywhere else in the game by normal means (such as weapons with Light/Dark elemental affinities or more powerful Weapon Arts), which oftentimes just so happen to be tailored towards these events or the harder-difficulty quests that you unlock characters through. Recent updates since the summer of 2014 have mitigated some of this, however: opening FP chests (Friend Points earned in increments of 10 by successfully completing a mission with a registered Ally) now cost 100FP as opposed to 300 and have a slightly better selection of randomly-obtained equipment compared to the premium chests, logging in each day during advertised event periods nets players extra AP Potions and Continue Tickets along with A and S-Rank equipment for free, and new Daily Missions for unlocking and leveling up characters offer incentives such as stronger, A-Rank weapons (some of which were actually part of sets players would normally have to pay for).
Spiral Knights is this with its use of energy, necessary to do things such as traverse dungeons and craft gear. Each player can hold up to one hundred units of mist energy (which replenishes at roughly 1 ME/13 minutes), or buy crystal energy with real money or trade for it with other players. Paying players have significant advantages, and making enough money to buy energy usually requires using almost as much energy as you can afford, so the game becomes a slow slog of converting mist energy into Crystal Energy, grinding the one or two profitable boss runs. A free player can spend weeks trying to grind their way to a particular sword, while another can simply buy the energy and trade it for the same weapon and have it instantly.
On the other hand, free players DO have access to everything that paying players have, so one can progress through the game without ever spending a dime. However, since the energy market is determined by players and prices can vary when buying with in-game currency, if you don't like Bribing Your Way to Victory you can easily be screwed by the market, and stuck unable to play without bleeding money (or waiting 22 hours for your free energy allocation to regenerate).
This is no longer the case as of the July 2013 patch, which combined Mist and Crystal Energy into a single unit (simply called Energy), and removed the energy requirement for dungeon delving and crafting. Now the only use for Energy is to activate Danger Rooms and buy purely cosmetic items from the Supply Depot.
The online game Sqwishland. First off, it's tied to a series of toys, so there's already a purchase point of entry—but the toys are available as capsule toys that cost 25-50 cents a pop, so that's not so terrible, right? But then you find out that the "free" version of the game is essentially the ability to run around the game map, and little more—you can't even interact with your pets (and it is a virtual pet site) without having a premium account. The premium page does not mention this, of course—it just mentions the new clothes and house options you get, as well as more mini-games.
Star Stable is free to play, but only in the beginner area. If you want to to actually finish the plot, create a guild, or even just learn to jump, you'll have to pony up some real money. There are also certain items which can only be bought for real money, but these aren't usually essential to completing the game; they just make it easier.
Star Trek Online has this to some degree, though the purchasable in-game currency, Zen, is also available by exchanging large quantities of refined dilithium. While it may require lots and lots of grinding, literally everything in the game (apart from a few limited-time offers) can be attained without paying a cent.
Star Wars: The Old Republic includes restrictions that can considerably impact gameplay if you're not a subscriber. These restrictions include not getting all the mission rewards, reduced experience gain after level 10, most of the races (only three are available for free-to-play gamers), and various restrictions on non-story PVE content (limited to, for example, 3 Flashpoints per week). It's still free to play, but it gets more restrictive the longer you do it.
Mission reward restriction is taken Up to Eleven for certain quests, e.g. one of the Bounty Hunter quests involves placating the crossed PC with a particularly large lump of money - or nothing if you are not subscribed.
As of winter 2012/13, PvE content restrictions were relatively light, for example PC could only roll on end-boss drops in Flashpoints 3 times per week, with no restrictions on loot from other bosses or trash.
Considering the way the random group matchmaker works, the player can greatly enhance the experience by either paying money... or playing the needed roles (tank/healer). That is: a character can outgear and outlevel its storyline (negate the experience penalty and turn it on its head with powerful equipment) by running multiple Flashpoints - which is only time-effective if you don't play a dps.
Of course, the fact that Cartel Coins are needed to access quite a bit of content (including the ability to use Titles in-game) doesn't sit well for a number of players.
Stick Arena: Ballistick added several features to the original Stick Arena, including new levels with unique tilesets, a whole batch of futuristic weapons, a level editor, and a shop with cosmetic auras and pets. However, players are blocked off from ALL OF IT until they buy a premium account, which only lasts for a set amount of days. Until then they're limited to buying about 4 items in the shop with the incredibly scarce ingame currency. Premium players can grant VIP passes that let free players join their game for one round, but this tended to result in free players spamming the chat begging for passes.
Team Fortress 2 is a subversion of this: when it went free-to-play in June 2011, the free players are provided with a 50-slot backpack (as opposed to the standard of 300), being unable to gift or trade items, not getting cosmetic items from random drops, and only being able to craft weapons. Thankfully, free-to-play players still have access to all of the actual game code, namely all the weaponsnote although not possible to have every one of them with only 50 spaces, excluding certain promotional items which are all reskins, as well as all of the maps and all of the player-versus-player servers. Even the Mann Versus Machine has free servers that will let free players play any of the mission sets. So theoretically they can enjoy the same game without paying to win. Buying any item from the Mann Co. Store will instantly upgrade you to Premium status (which gets all the perks of people who have bought the game). On top of that, the cheapest item is only 10 cents (though you need a minimum deposit of $5 into your Steam Wallet first). Additionally, people who owned the game before it went Free-to-Play got a special untradeable Proof of Purchase hat.
By purchasing and using a Backpack Expander, you can add 100 slots to your backpack, up to a total of 2000 slots (or 1950, if you tarted off with only 50). In the Smissmas 2013 Update, all players received a free Backpack Expander, meaning that Free-to-Play players no longer have the problem of a lack of space for weapons.
If a player purchases a Upgrade to Premium Gift and sends it to a Free-to-Play player, not only does the recipient get Premium for free, the sender also receives an achievement item (Professor Speks) for free.
Interestingly, over half of TF2 players have the Proof of Purchase hat. So, most active players have not only bought the game, but did so before it became free. It seems Valve made the game free because they realized that nearly all the people who were ever going to buy the game already had and decided they needed to think of ways to pump more money out of those players. Like buying keys to open crates. As Valve reported12 TIMES THE REVENUE of their previous Pay-To-Play model, the transition to Free-To-Play certainly paid off.
It seems Namco Bandai has been getting in on the trend lately with Tekken Revolution. It runs on the Tag 2 engine, but is strictly 1-on-1 and rebalanced to be similar to Tekken 5 (the most significant change being the removal of the Bound system). There is also a stat-point system, like those fund in RPGs, to make your character more powerful. As you play, you also earn gift points which unlock random characters after hitting a specific threshold. The catch is that you start with 2 Arcade coins to play Arcade Mode, 5 Premium coins for Online Mode, and a Premium ticket that can be used for both. Once you run out of all of these, you must wait 30 minutes each for these to recharge, which is roughly a 3 hour waiting period in total. You can pay real money to get more coins for Online Mode, costumes which are mostly taken from Tag 2, or Premium Effects which add special effects to certain attacks for your character. Later updates added Reset Drinks, which completely reset a character's stats so you can rework them, and the ability to purchase the unlockable characters that you want.
You can play Tetris Online Japan for free, in the same way that you can play Dance Dance Revolution with two broken legs. And an elephant tied to your back. (See TOJ's entry on Bribing Your Way to Victory for more details.) Of course, to play without being handicapped, you have to pay for a "premium" subscription. To add insult to injury, they nerfed non-premium players and boosted premium players in an update was officially explained as for "balance" purposes. The only balancing going on there is in their checkbooks.
Tibia is free to play, but the people who pay for "premium time" in real life money enjoy a large number of advantages over free players. Paying adds several new islands, the ability to travel by boats and flying carpets, new spells, new items, a new server, new monsters, new quests, new outfits and probably even more stuff.
Disney's Toontown Online limited you to gaining Toon Tasks (quests) and fishing in the starting Playground and 3 surrounding Streets (though you can wander anywhere you want), a Jellybean jar that maxed out at 50 beans, 25 Gags (weapons/attacks), only able to learn one extra gag track (toon-up/sound), and unable to buy anything from the Cattlelog, or play any of the games other than the one in the central Playground. Basically, a free user got maybe two days of play out of what might actually have been a pretty decent MMORPG.
Free players used to be able to make two characters and go past level one on the extra gag track, but that was changed.
Pirates of the Caribbean Online was just as bad. Lose half of the "notoriety" (XP) per kill, can only do a few quests, access to only three weapons (cutlass, pistol and voodoo doll) (out of six types advertised), no ship upgrades, and nothing to spend money on. Oh, yeah, and a level cap at 10 (it can be raised higher but by grinding alone could only be reached by free players at this level).
Travian is advertised as free, but it is nearly impossible to be competitive in any way without buying lots of gold. However, with T4 you can get gold for free in the auctions and in oases.
Tribes: Ascend allows you to purchase gold which can be used to unlock new classes, weapons, support items, EXP boosts and loadout slots. Playing the game earns you EXP which can be used to do this as well, however most unlocks require a ludicrous amount of EXP to trade for the unlocks - some of the strongest weapons in the game require up to ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND EXP in order to initially unlock. A typical match can earn a player anywhere between 500-2000 EXP. At least item upgrades are significantly less expensive....
Ntreev's Trickster. The world itself is available for free, but equipment is heavily limited in the ingame shops. To get decent gear, you have to either shell out real currency in the premium shop or hope to get lucky while fighting a Boss. Additionally, some real money items will get you insane bonuses like a ridiculously fast ground speed and increased EXP gain, that said the game does gives players free "samples" of the speed and EXP increasing items once a player reaches certain levels.
Urban Rivals. Okay, admittedly, everything in the game is theoretically accessible for free, but the good characters cost between 5,000 and 50,000 Clintz each, and the ultra-rare Collectors characters get into the hundreds of thousands or even millions. You win, on average, 5-10 Clintz per battle. Yeah, MUCH easier just to shell out the real money for a few booster packs - one can then sell doubles to those with less money and more Clintz, and get into the market. Although winning the tournaments held every other hour speed it up (you get 50 clintz for merely participating), and if you place well enough you can win one of the prize cards (usually worth between 2,000-10,000 Clintz each). This requires an intensive hour of grinding to place in the top hundred out of thousands of players, however.
This wasn't always the case. Few years ago it was much easier to buy a ready to use deck of cards for the same amount of Clintz you buy now a sigle card. But as a result of inflation and increasing numbers of meta-players, prices progressively get higher and higher. There was simply too much in-game money in the system and certain cards became highly demanded, which allowed to leverage prices of other cards, snowballing into current state.
Varsity Bars's current promotion is a £25 round of drinks for the boy and the girl at the top of the leaderboard of the Space Invaders game on the website each week. However, it's not a straight test of skill - you receive a multiplier for the number of V-Cards you own (costing £1 each, and requiring purchase in person and then online activation). If you don't have any at all, you receive no points - to seriously compete you'll need to shell out for four. While the V-Card gives you money off in certain places, only one is necessary to get this and others are redundant except for the online games.
Virtual Horse Ranch. Sure, you can play for free... with access to none of the money-making abilities, essentially no way to train your horses to compete, a permanent cap on the number of times you can breed your horses, and a ten-horse limit. If you want to play for free and actually have fun, you'd better hope you're a good artist so you can sell your wares for game money in the forums.
The versions of the Voltage IncRomance Games hosted on the social networking service GREE are free to play, but limit how far the player can progress in a day and require extensive grinding of minigames in order to earn your way to all the available content and best endings, the process of which is no doubt intentionally designed to drive players into paying Microtransaction after microtransaction out of sheer frustration.
Wakfu has designs of becoming this through Freemium. Non-subscription players can only learn a few of the professions (which are more or less essential to getting equipment), can't mint money (the only way to GET money, as money spiders is averted) and can't spend any if they manage to get it, can't affect the ecosystem (harvesting and replanting resources-and monsters-is integral to the game), and can only quest in the tutorial area and the new players area, are restricted to walking rather than using any of the various forms of rapid transit, and are even limited to using emote animations found in the beginner area.
War Frame has this in the form of a second currency called platinum. Sure, you could grind for 5 hours to beat the bosses to get the materials to craft 1 of 4 parts to craft a character (and wait 24 hours) or you could skip all that and just pay for it. However, the developers countered complaints of this by pointing out that it's possible to go the entire game without using real-world currency.
Webkinz slowly became Allegedly Free: nowadays you can't buy clothing anymore, members get exclusive recipes for the food appliances, and cooler virtual Webkinz like Griffins and Wooly Mammoths are virtual-only pets that require real cash to buy.
It's gotten worse recently; as of July 2013, Webkinz won't let free users (meaning users who haven't paid for a real stuffed animal with the code inside, which used the only way to get into Webkinz, or users whose Webkinz codes have expired) do half of the classes in the Kinzville Academy or play most of the games in the Arcade (apart from basic ones like the Wheel of WOW or the Wishing Well). Sorry, gotta pay for another pet. Every year until you die.
Online game The West is free, though premium features can be bought for things like more energy and doubled character bonuses; Unlike some examples of this trope, it's entirely possible to play without them.
All of the games in the With Friends line come in both "free" versions that have ads and the regular ad-free version which you have to pay for.
Wizard 101 is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has the typical unlimited duration free trial with "Crowns" to purchase bits and pieces of the rest of the game. On the other, one can simply pay a monthly subscription to bypass all that garbage just like a normal MMO.
You can play free, buy areas piece by piece, or subscribe. But the "play free" section is one tiny corner of the world with about a dozen areas (only three of which have fightable opponents, if you don't count dungeons).
Also, they give you a friend only to yank her away behind the payware wall. You do a couple quests for the NPC, start to get to like her, even see some hint of the mystery of her character and her family... and then she disappears, leaving a note to come look for her in Payville. Or, rather, the Dark Scary Cave that she has no business adventuring in when she can't even manage to walk fifteen feet to turn in her own registration paperwork.
World of Warcraft is starting to resemble this. Banner advertisements for the game proudly trumpet "Now free to play!", until you read the fine print and see that it's only up to level 20.
As of patch 5.4 PTR, users in Asian markets will be able to buy one of the in-game currencies, normally obtained via multiple hours of particularly repetitive grind.
Wurm Online tries very, very hard to avert this, as it's perfectly possible to buy a premium subscription with in-game currency. Actually earning enough in-game currency to do so is another matter... The exchange rate for in-game currency and real-world money is pretty reasonable by the standards of this trope, however.
The most notorious example of this trope in this game—and Chinese MMORPG in general—include paying for Random Drops, un-transferrable weaponary which is subject to wear and tear and may needs to be replaced periodically, etc.
Some sex-simulation games are taking this position, going for a combination of this, Shareware and The Sims 3-style ongoing content proliferation. The game engine is released for free, essentially as a demo, but with only a few functions enabled; most of the partners, locales and interactions still need to be unlocked by later infusions of cash. Some companies (particularly Ripened Peach) are supplementing this with (again) ongoing content releases, not to mention user-built stuff.
In the fifth season of The Guild, Codex and Tink find out that the company about to purchase their game plans on turning it into one of these.
A slight example appears in the Lucky Star OVA. During the MMORPG segment, Nanako manages to defeat a monster whilst using a "Pizzala shield", which Konata explains to Kagami is a promotional item a player receives temporarily when ordering a pizza. Kagami comments that it feels like being ripped off.
The March 23, 2014 strip of FoxTrot has Peter getting sucked into playing a phone game that advertises the use of "optional" $0.99 tokens to assist players with many basic tasks, including muting the music, preventing game crashes, maintaining the privacy of phone data, and turning the game off.
Game developers have to straddle a fine line between players who want to play a functional game for free and the die-hard gamer who will pay to win. All too often, players of these games complain that their "free" game actually costs to win. It's very difficult to make both camps happy (as they are in philosophical opposition). The traditional pay-to-play games that went to free-to-play found they got more subscribers (as few were willing to pay full price for a game they don't technically own) and are hoping that the "free" hook will lead to in-game purchases. The games cost money to make...and if we're being honest, we're unfairly asking people to make for free a game that cost significant dollars to make. Game companies should be more upfront about what they're really selling, though. Path of Exile  does a decent job of this.
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