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Allegedly Free Game
aka: Free To Play

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Play for free! [citation needed]

"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."
Dan Stapleton, "Strategy you can't buy," GamesRadar

This game calls itself "Free to Play" - with a heavy restriction on the "play" part. And the "free" part, too. Games based around this concept are more commonly referred to as "Pay to Win", or more humorously, "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 minor enough that you could genuinely play the game for free and never miss them, like removing adverts. This is for games that claim to be free, but force players 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 gameplay is time-restricted unless you either pay to reset the timer or wait for several hours or even days before you can perform more activities; 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 — for example, when a mid-level raid on an RPG will net you about 15,000 gold, but the Sword of Plot Advancement you need to advance to the next level costs 100 quadrillion googolplex gold or 5 diamonds worth one US dollar each. 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.


Naturally, the existence of this type of game creates a seriously Broken Base among gamers by its very nature.

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. Some games will use the Sunk Cost Fallacy to keep players spending money again and again.

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 (a term originating from casinos to describe someone who spends extravagant amounts of money) — 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.


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    Mobile/Tablet Games 
  • Nintendo markets all of its own mobile games as "free-to-start" in an admitted attempt to be more transparent about the existence of micro-transactions in titles like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (Leaf Tickets) and Fire Emblem Heroes (Orbs).note  These in-game currencies can be slowly collected by completing in-game tasks, so it is possible, if slower, to get by without paying a single real-world dime.
    • Super Mario Run follows the free-trial approach. Originally only the first three levels could be played for free, but later on, the entire first world was made available. If you want to experience the rest of the worlds, as well as the bonus and special levels, you'll need to buy the game for $9.99. However, the extra modes Toad Rally and Remix 10 can be played with "Rally Tickets", which can be gained in several ways that don't require you actually purchase the full game.
  • AdVenture Capitalist is a free game that does not require money to play. Spending real money makes the game appear "faster", but time is an illusion anyway, making this arguably a Deconstruction Game.
  • Alice in the Mirrors of Albion can technically be played completely for free, but unlocking locations, collecting keys to explore said locations, and finding relevant items needed for the quests are extremely difficult/time-consuming to accomplish without shelling out gold coins, crystals and "cash", the latter two of which can be purchased using real money.
  • Downplayed in Azur Lane. Gems are used mostly for vanity things like skins and dorm expansions, and you can earn them (albeit in small amounts) through quests and commissions. Play Every Day is enforced as lucrative quests are refreshed daily and weekly, and events are also very helpful. If you want to take a Gotta Catch Them All approach to ship recruitment then spending Gems on dock expansion is mandatory as the default dock falls woefully short of the extensive list of characters that can join your roster (still, free Gems earned through play will be enough to cover those costs).
  • The Battle Cats allow units to be upgraded with experience points through steady utilization of stamina, plus the occasional gacha cat, adding to the overall balance of the party setup. But those Uber Rare and Legend Rare cats from the Rare Cat Capsule, they do look really nice. Thankfully, it’s been shown time and time again that you don’t even need a single Uber, let alone a Legend Rare, in order to beat every level the game has to offer. Even if you do want to get an Uber, the drop rates for them are somewhat generous (5% for normal gacha, 9% for Uberfest/Epicfest) and there’s a mechanic where you can farm items that let you roll the Rare Gacha for free, meaning it’s possible to stockpile on those items until the desired event comes around. Having Rares that are Game Breakers that can sometimes outclass Ubers might have something to do with it as well.
  • In Brave Frontier, one could play for free, but why miss out on those amazing premium limited edition characters?
  • In Castle Cats and its canine counterpart Dungeon Dogs, you won't be able to get all the cats/dogs in an event without spending money on the event items or purchasing the "premium" heroes with real money (which also gives you a multiplier on earning event items). Some of them return in later events or can be exchanged for Gems for a limited time, but it'll take you somewhere between a month or two of daily grinding to earn that many Gems. Some of the heroes are also only available by being purchased with real money, making it impossible to complete your collection by playing for free.
  • In Counter Side, you collect Quartz daily from doing Daily Quests and also for logging in. However if you want to get the Premium skins, or additional pulls, you need to buy Admin Coins, which are only available via microtransactions.
  • In Crash Fever, you get a steady inflow of Polygons via the day-to-day and through missions. While the game can be played without spending a cent, provided you're willing to stockpile enough Polygons and not spend any to revive yourself or refill energy, those Global Ducks, free FES Tickets, and Nurupons in the packs look really appetizing. Not to mention the clock is ticking on that Hatcher with really good rates and an Academic, Cost 60 or Cost 65...
  • In Crusaders Quest, real money would make it oh so more convenient to fill up the party with better characters and equipment and upgrade much faster.
  • In Dragon Blaze, why not go for all the top tier characters by spending real money?
  • In Dragon Heroes, rubies can be earned through free play, or you could buy some right now and fill up your party with premium characters and gear.
  • Dragon Project: Technically, you can play this game for free without paying a single cent and breeze through the content with a decent build, assuming that Random Number Generator is kind enough to give you good magi and the behemoth that you want. However, the game's nature encourages players to spend money on more gems to get a better chance at getting more gear. This is why it's best to save up your gems and summoning tickets for a banner that you actually need, or if you're a new player, then pick a banner with the easiest learning curve available (according to veteran players of the game).
  • In Final Fantasy Record Keeper, there are two currencies to get 5-star relics that are needed to master powerful Limit Break-esque attacks called Soul Breaks that surround the core of the game's strategy: Mythril, which is non-premium and generally given as a one-time reward for most fights (of which the game has expanded to over 800 dungeons in permanent content), and Gems, which you can purchase with real money and can use to draw relic equipment. Mythril is in limited permanent quantity, given as daily log-in rewards or quests, or given in time-limited events that can expire — without Mythril, players only have 'Free Relic Draw' once per day that used to be very, very unlikely to ever give 5-star relics (the average has been calculated as several years of Daily free draws) until the rates were upgraded to be close to what single draws are at any other banner in the game, so free players tend to hoard Mythril on discounted and highlighted quarterly banners. In any case, both Mythril and Gem purchases on banners are at the mercy of randomization — spending Gems, however, gives you more chances...
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia uses "Gems" as in-game currency. Initially the game gives players a sizable stock, but the supply quickly runs low after all the available chapters are completed. Gems in smaller increments (usually 20 to 100) are earned for high Gameplay Grading and as one of the daily login bonuses. They're the currency used in the game's gachapon, where players roll for high-powered equipment suited to a particular character. Because there are large number of characters at hand, multiple rolls may be required even if a character is one of that week's featured, and to fully upgrade armor or weapons requires four duplicates. Single rolls are possible, but most players opt for the 5000-gem roll to guarantee at least one five-star item, and some characters practically require their special weapon to be useful. Players can purchase "gem chests" of a few or several thousand... starting at around $25 USD.
    • While buying gems is prohibitively expensive and you need to 11x pull on a banner up to 15 times to guarantee getting a specific item from it, the game is otherwise extremely generous with gems and tickets, latter of which are good for a single pull each, with rates identical to gem pulls: each normal event provides roughly as many gems as is required for a single 11x pull and around 30+ tickets and summon boards provide 300 gems and 3 tickets per character per board, and since there are currently over 130 characters in the game with more being added monthly, it's not unheard of for people who play the game for free to hit the Cap of 999 tickets on a regular basis if they don't make a habit of spending them regularly and for them to generally have enough gems available to guarantee they get a hot new toy of their choice.
  • Final Fantasy Brave Exvius starts with tolerable level progression comparable to a single-player game, and most of the paid items are upgrade material that can be earned through grinding. You don't really need the periodic limited availability bundles of abilities, accessories, awakening materials, magicite, more energy, or mithril currency to help with buying character experience and rare tickets for even more powerful characters.
  • Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire offers additional resources and time reducers as well as permanent discounts and speed bonuses for the reasonable price of $100. These offers can certainly be skipped. But if you had a job as a pizza delivery person or some such, then why not. It would only help in progressing that much faster, and that much further ahead than other players.
  • Dragon Soul exaggerates this trope, using a "VIP" system to limit ALL features of the game. Even then, the VIP system is tiered, requiring one to pay $10,000 just to reach the maximum VIP level. Even then, the higher VIP levels are less exciting, and the game CONSTANTLY demands your soul for exclusive items and contents. The game even puts contests that run exclusively on spending the most money for easily expendable rewards.
    • Things only got worse when GREE took over the control of Dragon Soul. Yes, the same company that runs Knights and Dragons.
  • In Endless Frontier, crystals are quite helpful for new units, exchanging between the time shop, doubling medals, and other perks. You could wait for free crystals in the mail, but why not spend money for them and get some crystals right now?
  • In Girls X Battle, a free player can get to level twenty just fine. But come on, real money would help so much more.
  • The Kids We Were has players being able to play the next chapter by paying 10 coins. One needs to watch ads or explore Kagami to get more coins. But players also have the option to pay in order to remove this restriction, aside from the ads.
  • In Pocket Three Kingdoms, a player can reasonably upgrade their characters. But real money would make it so much more convenient.
  • In Soccer Spirits, playing for free could lead to a halfway decent team, but why not pay for a team full of top tier characters?
  • Plants Vs Zombies 2 takes this up with the more than one thirds of the plants being premium plants. To add on insult, most premium plants released costs at least $4.99 each or more, so the over 44 plants would cost you more than $220 to get them all.
    • Somewhat Inverted as of 2019. Players can compete in the Arena battles and earn enough seed packs to level a plant to level 3 without spending money. Players who want to spend money will still have an advantage though.
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes became more F2P-unfriendly with the release of sets and rarity changes. More than likely, you now would have to buy more gems to save up for multipacks due to how costly they are.
  • 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.
  • In Sword of Chaos, a player can reasonably get to level 40. But spending money sure would make reaching the level cap much less of a grind.
  • Puzzle & Dragons provides you with a steady trickle of Magic Stones through events and the daily One Shot dungeons (they give you a stone each for clearing them and respawn each day, you see.) Oh no, you died on that quest you were so close to beating! And if you don't decide to continue, do you REALLY want to wait umpteen hours for all that Stamina to refill? Let's not forget that it runs on a gacha system too (which is why the unspoken rule "Only Roll The Godfests" was created.)
  • Super Monster Bros by Adventure Time Pocket Free Games. This "free" Iphone game was an extremely basic platformer that put microtransactions on everything. You start out with a single character (which is basically Charmander with a leaf on its head). Additional characters cost anywhere between $25 and a $100, you can buy more lives, buy more BULLETS (only in packs of 30, FYI), and basically are all but strangled to pay if you want to get anywhere with the game's horrible controls.
  • 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.
  • In Terrapion, spending real money would make it that much easier to upgrade equipment more effectively.
  • 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 (or those who live in areas where Nintendo refuses to roll out the eShop), but for those that already own one, the whole ordeal is pretty much a waste of time and money.
  • In Unison League, there are a number of premium units and weapons that would be just that much better in one's own inventory.
  • In Valkyrie Crusade, purchasing gems would make the game that much more efficient for obtaining buildings and premium units.
  • 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.
    • Strangely averted with EA's own The Sims Freeplay, which is widely praised as "freemium done right" since there is an alternative way of getting the other in-game premium currencies (read: Life Points and Social Points) without even forking out a single cent (read: by watching ads), and they've actually made waiting less painful since you can switch between multiple sims to alleviate the boredom, team multiple sims up to speed up progress, and the wait times in itself are actually quite reasonable. One wonders why the other parts of EA didn't just copy these dynamics for their other freemium games.
      • Subverted again with later updates which introduce Life Cycles. Sims will now age over time and eventually die. You can slow their aging by paying Life Points to reset them to the start of their age group. The only way to permanently stop their aging is by completing their Life Dream and obtaining a Platinum Orb. Firstly, this means that you have to kill that Sim to harvest their orb and save another Sim. Secondly, to complete the Life Dream before the Sim dies, you'll most likely have to pay Life Points to speed things up or slow their aging. Needless to say, players were not pleased at being forced to pay to keep their Sims.
      • And then as of now, the game shoves ads after doing at least three actions. While there is benefits of doing so (such as being given cash and life points or having the action completes instantly), the fact that it was shoved for doing actions in less than five minutes no doubt is extremely intrusive. To get rid of auto ads, a player need to reach VIP 3, with the equivalent of spending $15 in the microtransactions (with discounts)!
  • The My Little Pony game for iOS and Android. Unlike many social games, this one does 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 Cadance 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. Cadance and Shining have since come down in price (90 gems for Cadance and 195 for Shining), but that's still a lot of gems, and it also doesn't help that certain shops or items that are required for quests can only be purchased with gems.
    • The game made headlines in the UK after a six-year-old English 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 same is true of the ones by TabTale and MiniClip, other developers they've partnered with.
  • The app for the Nick Jr. children's series Julius Jr. follows this model — it has four sections: quizzes, puzzles, games and songs from the show. For free, you get one in each section, to get anything else, you have to pay to unlock the full app.
  • Fallout Shelter is another aversion that is widely considered to be this trope done right. While the game tries to get you to buy lunchboxes to plow through it faster, it is possible to plow through the Nintendo Hard game without shelling out a single penny. Even Mr. Handies, who used to only be obtained through microtransactions, can now be gained by completing objectives (and are unnecessary in order to progress anyway).
  • Several of the BEMANI games on smartphone platforms (jubeat plus / jukebeat, Reflec Beat plus / Reflec Beat +, pop'n rhythmin, specifically) come with three free songs each, with the rest of their respective libraries requiring DLC purchases at 3.99 USD or 500 JPY for each four-pack of songs, depending on which version you're playing.
  • Mobirix's iOS and Android ports of Psikyo shooters Strikers 1945 II / Strikers 1945 III add leaderboards, achievements, multiplayer, ads, and... locking all but the first character, earning some through achievements, or grinding through hundreds of playthroughs to earn gems to unlock a character. Or buy $15 worth of gems to unlock all the characters, and further spend gems and gold for power-ups and continues. Other characters can be randomly selected with gold, though not in the port of Tengai (Sengoku Blade).
  • The original Groove Coaster is a self-contained purchase, but Groove Coaster 2: Heavenly Festival (previously Groove Coaster Zero) is free to download and comes with a set of songs that can be earned by leveling up, while the majority of songs require DLC purchases, much like the BEMANI example above.
  • Amazon is attempting to avert this trope with its new Underground service. Many popular games (some listed above) such as Sonic Dash, Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride, Cut the Rope, Goat Simulator, Sonic CD, DuckTales Remastered and My Little Pony (Gameloft) are 100% free, meaning you do not need to pay anything to download these and they have no in-app purchases whatsoever. This is not even limited to games: you can get several apps as well without paying a cent. This works because Amazon is paying the app developers on a per-minute basis. Unfortunately, this service is only available in the United States and a few other countries, those living in countries where the Underground service is unavailable will still need to put up with this trope (if the app doesn't already cost money upfront) on the Amazon Appstore.
  • Elemental Story:
    • Most of the time, this is ownplayed that some characters can be only obtained through crystal (this game's in-app-purchase currency) rolls through luck during limited time campaigns featuring them, however this is subverted by the fact that all monsters are subjected to elemental weakness and the game is balanced enough that it is possible to go through most regular stages and trial bosses without using (paid, as crystals are given as login or mission complete bonuses) crystals. It is also possible to use co-op sessions to temporarily use monsters that one normally doesn't have access to. However,
    • Arena tournaments played this trope straight in the sense that paying players are more likely to get powerful monsters than the ones who don't, which gives unfair advantage than those who are not. It certainly does not help that most battles, unless players are very unlucky, ends in 3 turns at most. This is further exacerbated by the existence of ability cards which its usage is locked by ranks, which paying players is more likely to have higher ranks and gain more slots than those who not.
  • CROSS×BEATS gives you Tickets that you spend to play songs. You can have up to 10 Tickets, songs cost 5 Tickets to play, and Tickets recharge at a rate of one every 20 minutes, i.e. you can play at a rate of one song every 1 hour and 40 minutes. Want to play more than that? You'll have to use Premium Tickets, which can be earned at no charge through completing Missions, but the amount you can get from Missions pale in comparison to how many Premium Tickets you can get by ponying up real cash; you can't really play the game at a very serious level without periodically forking over a few hundred yen.
  • The free apps Shall We Date? series is this. You can pay for coins (the premium game currency), which can get you premium items that allow you to access extra stories and/or CGs or allow you to go through the main story without waiting. Coins can also be earned for free, but it's very tedious, and you'll eventually just run out of free offers.
  • The developers of Shall We Date, NTT Solmare Corporation, are also behind Moe! Ninja Girls, which functions similarly in terms of progression. However, rather than free offers being limited, it separates currencies into "diamonds" and "coins", with the former being much slower to earn freely and used to access more features.
  • Starstruck Love uses this trope. You can download it for free, but you still have to worry about the novel's currency. You have to use platinum to progress through the game and it won't last long. You can earn platinum without paying anything, but the tasks won't give you much.
  • The English app for If My Heart Had Wings is free, but only allows the first half of the novel to be read, purposely leaving readers on a cliffhanger in hopes they'll pay for the complete route DLCs. Previously, you had to use "Wings" to read the novel, which you could pay for, or get a very miniscule amount for free (one scene a day if you were lucky).
  • Game of War: Fire Age is particularly aggressive in using the Sunk Cost Fallacy to ensure players keep paying micro-transactions. Many players have spent thousands of dollars on it, and will continue to do so to ensure that the thousands of dollars they have already spent don't go waste.
  • In Fate/Grand Order there are three types of currency you can use to get Servants to fill out your party: Friendship Points, Saint Quartz, and Summon Tickets. Friendship Points are available in almost infinite quantities so long as you keep playing the game, but can only get you 0-3 star Servants and 1-3 star Craft Essences to equip them with. Using quartz allows you to get 3-5 star Servants and Craft Essences, but they are a very limited quantity in-game. Once you've caught up on the story, completed the bonus maps, and gone through the special interludes, there's an extremely limited amount that you can actually work for (via bond levels, daily logins, and weekly missions), meaning you have to buy the quartz through the in-game shop or wait for more content via either story updates or events (which provide a chance through event quests or reaching milestones within said events) as well as quartz dropped as compensation for maintenance (be it for updating the game to account for the new content or providing patches large enough to warrant preventing logging on to fix). Tickets meanwhile can be used to substitute for quartz, but they're even rarer and can only be obtained via once per week's worth of daily logins, five per month in the shop, or as rewards from events or limited-time commemoration campaigns. Worse, there is only a 1% chance per three-quartz or one-ticket roll of actually getting a five star Servant and a 3% chance of getting a four star Servant. This means either a vast amount of preparation or money needs to be used if you want good odds of acquiring a rare Servant. People have been known to spend thousands of dollars just to get characters that they really like. That being said, the game is well-balanced so you don't actually need rare Servants, they just tend to be some of the strongest and most popular units.
  • Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story comes from the same producer as Fate/Grand Order and functions similarly. Magia Stones can be collected from various ingame battles, challenges, and daily login bonuses, and spent to roll for characters. The amount of them you can get for free is limited by the number of available missions and number of days you've been playing—though you have to play quite a lot to hit this limit. Most popular characters have a 1% drop rate, mitigated only by a mercy timer that gives you one automatically after 100 failed attempts in a row. To make good use of them, you need to get the same one multiple times to expand their powerup slots, and many of them are only available during limited-time events. All of this incentivizes buying Paid Magia Stones, for which there is no limit other than the depth of your wallet. Some particularly valuable ingame items, like tickets for selecting a specific character, can only be bought with paid stones. While it's technically possible to get all the characters for free, this requires no small amount of luck and dedication, and you have virtually no chance of becoming a top-tier competitive player without spending (lots of) money. Free players aren't locked out of any story content, at least, other than "Magical Girl Stories" for characters they don't have.
  • Doctor Who Legacy has fallen into this as of 2016. The Chapter and Special levels (Expert, Series 8, etc.) remain free...but there are now four Premium campaigns — Bigger on the Inside Chapter 1, Trickster Pack (only one battle, but it drops six fully leveled-up characters!), Sonic Adventure, and The Husbands of River Song — the Fan Area, and the Kids Area, all of which cost extra and feature myriad unique character and costume drops. (Fan Area also eliminates in-game ads when bought.) There are also characters and costumes that can only be bought through the store via Time Crystal currency (said crystals also allow one to continue a battle if the party is defeated — awfully tempting on the monstrously hard Expert levels to get their guaranteed character drops and from there access to other Expert levels), rather than acquired through drops. While logging in every day can get a player 2 Crystals a week for free, that's not near enough to keep up with the hundreds of characters and costumes.
  • This is one of the major criticisms of Choices: Stories You Play: getting many of the best endings requires you to spend diamonds on various scenes, outfits, items, and actions, usually multiple times. You start with 25 diamonds, with purchases typically running in the 17-25 diamond range, and the only way to get diamonds without paying real money is to get a grand total of one diamond each time you finish a chapter (and reading any chapter beyond the first of any book requires paying keys, which replenish at a rate of one every two and a half hours to a maximum of two without paying for more keys, so reading all the chapters takes a long time). You're left trying to Earn Your Fun, which is impossible because even if you do read every chapter of every story, it won't get you enough diamonds to finish, say, The Crown & the Flame with the best ending (which is otherwise extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get) — and that's just one story. So, yes, you can play for free, but good luck getting that Golden Ending by your own wits.
  • Pokémon GO technically allows free players to access everything, since all in-game items are bought with "pokecoins" that you can either buy with money or earn by defending gyms. But accumulating pokecoins for free is heavily restricted—originally to 100 coins (but much less for the average player) every 21 hours, later changed to 50 per day (with a system that made hitting the cap easier, but less consistent). Serious players who want to collect the strongest possible mons and grind through the punishingly steep level curve from 30 to 40 do so by buying tons of incubators (to hatch high-quality mons up to 9 times more frequently) and lucky eggs (double-experience for 30 minutes), and will probably go through several of each every day, especially during events. A free player can't afford more than 1 incubator every 3 days, and that's the best-case scenario; players have very little control over when they get their gym defense rewards. The release of limited-time Legendary raids caused some controversy, since free players only get 1 free "raid pass" per day, plus 1 more every 2 days (at best) from gym-defense coins; catching just 1 of each legendary is a crapshoot without buying raid passes.
  • The PriPara based puzzle game, PriPuz, uses diamonds to get idol cards from the premium gacha, as well as help restore your stamina. You can get them from reaching S-rank on certain levels of the game, completing a gallery, or daily log-in bonuses, but outside of that, you have to buy them. Buying diamonds and using them in the gacha gives you a higher chance of getting rarer cards, and there are also cards only available to those willing to pay 20 purchased diamonds such as Jewlie, Janice and the birthday PPRs. note 
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon for mobile is another offender. The game starts off playable, with low costs for new attractions and fairly low build times. However as the game progresses and the park gets larger, the cost of new attractions and land expansions increases exponentially, as do the build times. Without land expansions, you're stuck in the starting area which isn't too shabby but probably full of revenue-earning buildings and one or two coasters by that point, but each expansion is surprisingly small; building your third coaster will likely require purchasing 'five' or more land expansions. The build times mean that you might spend all of your available cash on one single ride which will take ten hours to finish, though you can speed it up by spending rare tickets...which are also necessary for purchasing later coasters and other attractions. And tickets are only obtained by leveling up (which gets harder as the game goes on) or by spending real-world money on them. After a few days of playing the game, you're basically reduced to logging in, collecting cash from your food stands (because the registers can only hold so much and won't accumulate any more past that point until emptied), and logging out again because you still don't have enough to do anything if you don't want to spend real money.
  • Osomatsu-san Hesokuri Wars: Battle of the NEETs: You can get free diamonds every day, but if you really want more silver or gold Matsus, be prepared to pay in order to get more diamonds. There are also the 'Step Up' gachas, which require the player to only use diamonds they've paid for with actual money. Many newer sets are locked behind these.
  • Idolish 7 You can play the game for free, but good luck getting a decent rank or getting all the rabbit chats
  • Ensemble Stars! It's a free game, but unless you actually buy diamonds, good luck getting the cards you actually want from the gacha.
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is free to download and play, but the "energy" function, through which you perform actions to complete scenarios, has created backlash for the game by running out extremely quickly and being very slow to recharge — even at the start of the game it takes 1 hour 40 minutes to fully regain energy credits. Extra energy can be bought using in-game currency gems, which themselves take a long time to earn unless you buy a bulk amount using real money. Character customization is also very limited without spending real money on gems or gold to buy glasses or different hair styles. The game was met with massive criticism over its Energy mechanic for the fact that one of the first parts where the game demands you to wait or pay is while your created character is being choked out by the Devil's Snare, this scene draining all your energy, even if it was maxed out prior to you encountering the plant - either cough up, or be treated to having to watch the student you took time out of your day to create essentially be tortured for you not giving the game money.
  • While the source material already parodied and discussed this trope at length (see below), South Park: Phone Destroyer has many shades of this. The in-game cash can be accumulated through normal play, but it takes a long while to get enough to buy a pack with truly good cards inside (free packs are offered every few hours, and you can earn them every few hours through PvP rounds, but unlike purchased packs, there's no guarantee of special cards. Naturally the freemium nature is lampshaded from the beginning, with characters imploring you to buy things and getting mad at you if you manage to win the game without spending any real money.
  • Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes has this. E.A. tends to let you unlock three stars of a character and then tempts you to buy the other four with card packs that cost crystals. You can get crystals during normal game play but not nearly enough to pay thousands for a pack. That takes real money. The people who spend money are often the ones at the top of the arena metagame and are often referred to as whales.
  • Jurassic World The Game charges up to $50 for dino packs and in things like aquatic packs, species aren't guaranteed, so as to entire the player to spend even more.
  • Neopets has also become this. You can sign up for free and make Neopoints. However if you want excellent clothing for your pets and beautiful backgrounds, you'll have to buy Neocash. If that doesn't entice the player, there's Faerie Quest Cookies. They increase the stats of your pet quickly and cheaply as far as points are concerned. They can only be purchased with Neocash. This is made worse by the fact that training your pet to have maxed stats takes no less than a few years otherwise. Oftentimes players will win items that can only be used through purchase of something from the NC Mall. The final nail in the coffin comes with the rule that you will be banned if you exchange NC Items for Neopoints.
  • Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money is a blatant cash grab tie-in for Trailer Park Boys. In this game, your various illegal businesses are managed by characters from the series. You need 'liquor' and 'cards' to upgrade both your characters and businesses. Liquor can be found at a slow rate by obtaining new customers (about 10 per upgrade), and at a slightly faster rate by breaking into Mr. Lahey's trunk every 2 hours (approx 175 per upgrade). By the time you're up to level 5 or so, it takes a day's worth of waiting on Lahey Trunks to have enough liquor to upgrade. And if you don't have enough cards, you can wait, or buy cards with liquor - and the amount required increases per card. Or, you can just pay real money for pretty much absolutely everything.
  • Sega Heroes. How bad is it? You need to pay money to buy "hero shards" which are used to unlock or rank up a hero. You also need to pay money to buy coins to level up your heroes. You need to pay money to buy "spirit stones" every time your characters gain 10 levels to remove the level ceiling from said character. And lastly you need to pay money to buy skill reagents to level up your characters' skill. While you can earn the latter three through playing normally, the former are a mixed bag- weaker characters can be earned, but stronger characters requires buying shards with points earned during PvP or Survival mode. And the PvP mode’s payout is extremely unfair. To wit, you need to be at a certain rank to earn the kind of points needed to buy the shards - the game divides PvP points into Tokens and Mega-Tokens, and you can only earn Mega-Tokens when you’re at a high enough rank- that free players can only dream of achieving. So that means paying players who bribe their way to victory are better rewarded. If you dare to try PvP against a paying user, expect the game to be tilted heavily against you. Survival mode is just as bad- you’d better be grinding before you take on survival mode because the game will tilt the board against your favor if you don’t grind.
  • Tamagotchi series:
    • Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. Tap and Hatch was a free puzzle game that offered in-app purchases. Some of the levels were nearly (if not outright) impossible without buying extra moves and power-ups, the worst offender being Level 59.
    • This also happens with My Tamagotchi Forever. If you want to unlock certain items before you reach a specific level, you have to buy gems. There's also a $2 option to remove half of the ads and give you double coins, as well as a VIP club that has exclusive features you can't access otherwise like stickers and items for your house.
  • Very downplayed with ALTER EGO (2018). Upon completion of the game, you can pay some real money to unlock bonus scenarios based on each of the game's three endings. However, since all that you get is basically a chunk of text and the entire rest of the game is playable to completion without paying a single cent otherwise, the bonus scenarios are essentially a thinly-veiled "support the developers" button. You can also buy some upgrades with real money, but they are completely unnecessary unless you're trying to get 100% Completion a little faster.
  • Marvel Strike Force is free to play, and if you're willing to take the time, it's possible to get all the characters and level them up, however it goes substantially faster if you're willing to pay. The primary game mode is only capable of giving you about 5 "shards" per character per day, and only for 4 or 5 characters. Getting a character up to the full seven stars requires 810 shards (162 days, depending on how the RNG favors you), and that's if all you're doing is collecting shards; you use the same energy to get the materials and money needed to upgrade the characters. And there are dozens of characters, and it gets insanely expensive to upgrade them at the higher tiers, and the gear needed to upgrade them is locked behind difficult gates or are very rare. And they release a few new characters every few weeks. It's thoroughly geared toward catching whales and has become frustratingly inaccessible to newer players.
    • Similarly, Marvel Puzzle Quest has a massive roster (that keeps growing, 2 characters every month), and while it has a relatively easy progression curve, at a certain point players can suffer with a dearth of ISO-8 to improve their characters or Hero Points to buy slots for new ones. There's even an incentive for purchasing, as every time ISO-8 or HP is bought, the player gets for a month a few free gifts daily for "supporting the game", be it tokens to recruit characters or some currency.
  • While Mr. Love: Queen's Choice is free to play, the main draw of the game is the Karmas and Dates that are available to obtain. Unfortunately, it's impossible to get all of them without forking over a lot of cash thanks to the "Top-Up" mechanic, where you have to spend money in order to get certain Karmas (as in, close to 8,000 dollars for some of them). And you'll probably end up spending more in order to get gems, which are required for both certain events and obtaining Karma from the Galaxy Wish Tree (which is essentially a lootbox covered with a pretty coat of paint).
  • Puzzles & Survival is free to download, but it quickly becomes very difficult to progress without spending any money on upgrading the player headquarters, purchasing resources, or powerful heroes. Players who do spend money will quickly be able to overpower those who don't.

    Other Video Games 
  • Ace Combat Infinity fell into this with the "Sortie Fuel System". To play either single or multiplayer modes, you required one unit of fuel per flight. You had two kinds of fuel — supplied fuel was free, but you could only have three units maximum and they recharged one unit every four hours, while stocked fuel had no upper limit and could be bought in packs with real money. Ultimately, free players were not at an inherent disadvantage by virtue of being free players, as while there was both stocked fuel and various other goodies that could be bought (including contracts that increased your credit earnings or research progress per sortie), all of these could also be rewarded through in-game challenges or random drops after a multiplayer mission, making it relatively easy to acquire a decent stockpile. It's getting into singleplayer or the multiplayer ranking events, though, where paying cash seems necessary. To play past the second level in campaign, you had to pay in-game credits to unlock them one time, in addition to the fuel used to fly. These costs were prohibitively expensive — for the 200,000 you needed for the third level you could buy the F/A-18F Super Hornet, a solid all-rounder and the first plane on the tech tree to outclass the starting F-4 in every way possible. The alternative, of course, was to buy the Campaign Pass for $20, which removed the credit and fuel costs for singleplayer missions. Ranking events were also an issue for free players, as staying in the high brackets for the main prizes required a lot of fuel, and the rate at which someone seriously competing will burn through it far outstrips the rate at which you could gain it for free. Plus, using stocked fuel gave extra credits and research progress at the end of a mission, including a guarantee that the plane you actually flew for it will make some progress in research if it could (supplied fuel usually prioritizes parts or planes you didn't fly instead).
  • 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.

  • Artix Entertainment's games have varying amounts of this. However, some ads actually avert this by mentioning their game's optional premium status, which only requires a single purchase and is permanent (except for AdventureQuest Worlds), unlike most other examples of this trope. Even with that, there are also premium currencies needed to obtain the best equipment, although there are ways to (slowly) earn it for free.
    • AdventureQuest advertises 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 DragonFable, you can only use one half of most 'class' skills (And other classes straight-up require a Dragon Amulet, or Dragon Coins), cannot use certain 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 most 'Titan Dragon' missions.
    • 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 around, but a lot more upgrade-only weapons and mecha. And while you're not prevented from attempting any particular quest, your chances of actually completing a lot of them are pretty low due to the weak weapons and mechs you're stuck with.
    • 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 a 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.
    • 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.
    • WarpForce continues the tradition, using the same engine as AdventureQuest.
  • 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. The game is advertised as "Free To Play!"; 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.
    • As of the end of 2016, the game has reverted to Bribing Your Way to Victory since every currency including the crystals that can be bought for real life money are available for purchase using in game gold. It's possible to reach maximum level, buy and outfit a ship and get just about anything without spending real money, but doing everything in game makes for slow going and buying crystals can speed up most of it.
  • 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 eventually became gamebreaking however when it became possible to outright buy resources with Ambrosia, effectively allowing players with spare real-life money to just buy supplies rather than gathering them.
    • 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.
  • Animal Jam requires a paid membership for nearly every core feature. Non-member players cannot upgrade or buy additional dens, buy music, purchase and wear a majority of the available clothing and den items, have limited inventory space, can only own two animals (and only have access to a small handful of the available species), and can't access Free Chat.
    • The mobile app "Play Wild" is free to download and does not feature membership in any form, but still requires the player to spend real money for items that can only be bought with the app's premium currency.
  • 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 pursue targets aggressively — in essence, they have to spend twice as long to do half as much.
  • Battleborn eventually became free to play in a sense somewhat by adding what it calls Free Trial. Free Trial is basically all of the game's competitive multiplayer modes made free to play accompanied with all the character and account growth and progression one would find in the full game. Free Trial players have access to a subset of the game's playable heroes through a rotating roster of six that changes weekly but can unlock heroes permanently from the in-game Marketplace using Credits earned while playing matches, or through Platinum premium currency. Not all aspects of the game are available in Free Trial however and requires upgrading to the full game. Upgrading to the full game unlocks all 25 base characters, all eight Story Mode missions as well as the Prologue, and permanent access to private matches. Upgrading also carries over all player progression stats earned from Free Trial.
  • 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.
  • Battlefield Play4Free, made by EA's Play4Free studio, EAsy. 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 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:
    "(...) CyberStep 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 acquiring 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.)
  • CABAL Online is a Korean free to play somewhat action oriented online role playing game, with a cash shop. What is not told to you (this was worked out from leaked server source) is that rare drops needed to upgrade gear are locked to specific character levels. One you get too high level, the item will be removed from the monster's loot table for you. You will have to move up to the next higher level monster that has the drop. Which is fine, except when your gear isn't good enough to kill the monster that now has the chance to drop what you need. Once that happens, it's inevitable that you will get to the point progress becomes completely impossible, because you can't kill anything that gets you experience, and can't get the drops to upgrade your gear off of anything you can kill. Time to pull out the credit card and buy a bunch of stuff to fix it, or start over and buy stuff at the earlier levels to keep your gear upgraded to the point you can kill the stuff that might drop the materials so you won't have to spend as much if you are lucky. In theory, you don't need to use the cash shop. In practice, you are punished SEVERELY for not using it, and you won't even realize it until you have put in a lot of work.
  • 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. Luckily, the game has regular events that give extra Questionite and sales that allow the purchase of a Freeform slot for cheap, severely reducing the amount of farming necessary. It also helps that farming only requires to do handful of missions per day, so while farming is necessary, grinding isn't.
    • Note that after the purchase of the developer Cryptic by Perfect World, Adventure Packs have become free for all characters, which means there are no missions available exclusively to paying members.
  • Around the time of its closing Club Penguin was almost unplayable for free members; they couldn'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 were 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 were getting a little better, though. Non members could buy two pages of clothes, and unlock millions of coins using all the free codes that Club Penguin gives out. It was also getting a little worse, since members could 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.
    • Then it proceeded to nosedive back into this even worse than before with the closing of the original and the opening of Island. Practically everything that isn't related to the main story is blocked behind a paywall! With microtransactions on top of that! It's to the point that even basic actions you can do in the original are locked behind paywalls and microtransactions!
  • Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate has a free-to-play version on the PlayStation3 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 Updated Rererelease Last Round on PS4 has something similar.
    • To elaborate, every version of DoA5 Ultimate received a free update to DoA5 Last Round, but only the PS4 generation gets the new stages and hairstyles for it. All the DLC carries over, and it's compatible with the PS4 Core Fighters, so effectively, *IF* a player bought all content for CF upon the DoA5U PS3 release, they can get DoA5LR on PS4 for "free".
  • 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 experienced 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.
  • Disney Infinity 3.0's initial release on Steam was this. The player started out with a sparse amount of content, but could unlock more content through DLC packs. This isn't a bad idea in and of itself, considering the home console versions use a similar "buy figure and scan it to unlock in-game content" to Skylanders and Nintendo's amiibo line (thus making free-with-DLC a pretty close emulation), but the problem was all in the pricing. Originally, the cost of all the DLC totaled up to nearly $900. (It cost $40 just to get one of the three starter packs, for example.) This was almost immediately rectified after the pissed-off fanbase barraged the Steam Store page with complaints and negative reviews, with the total amount of the DLC becoming a considerably more reasonable $130. Since then, the PC version has been replaced with a "Gold Edition" that has all content and characters available from the get go for only $30.
  • DJMAX Online had free songs, but also premium songs that cost 1 credit per play, and credits must be bought with real money.
  • The debate on whether Dungeon Fighter Online counts as one of these seems neverending: the short version is that all the currently available content can easily be reached without ever paying a single dime, there's no items that're impossible to obtain without premium currency and events that offer valuable items that you'd normally have to buy with the premium currency to gain access to them are plentiful, but in order to have any chance whatsoever to able to beat the hardest version of the hardest dungeon that's yet to be released in the Global version, having a full set of best gear in the game is borderline mandatory and the only way to get it is to run dungeons in a special "hell" mode. This "hell" mode can be triggered randomly when you beat enough dungeons in a party, but doing so is extremely unoptimal and the drop rate for the said best gear is extremely low, meaning that the real way to run dungeons in "hell" mode is to use a number of items called Demon Invitations to get a guaranteed "hell". These items and others that can be traded for them aren't hard to come by, but due to the vast number of "hell" runs needed to get even a single piece of equipment due to low droprate, the complete untradeability of said items and the large pool of said items, people who are willing to shell out ridiculous amounts of money to buy a massive number of "hell" runs for their characters in order to get the said item sets are the rare select few that have any chance whatsoever of ultimately being able to run the hardest content the game will have available. Some feel this hinders their enjoyment of the game when it's nearly impossible for them to be strong enough to take on the toughest challenge the game has to offer without spending unreasonable amount of money on it, while others might not mind that something that's meant mainly for the extremely hardcore is beyond their grasp, allowing them to enjoy the rest of the game regardless.
    • That being said, since the said dungeons haven't been released yet elsewhere, they might end up being made easier, which will end up angering hardcore players for a different reason.
  • 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.
  • EverQuest II is an old-school MMORPG that initially ran on a subscription model and nobody ever bat an eye about having to buy the annual expansion pack each year. In 2011, the game went to a Freemium model where you could play for free, but with limited access to in-game features like not being able to use world-wide chat channels (an anti-spambot countermeasure), limited character slots, limited selection of races and classes, or only able to use up to certain quality of equipment. The last two were eventually reverted due to negative feedback, but the game has since allowed free-to-players to play up to level 100 and access all content up to the Altar of Malice expansion pack. Buying the current expansion will allow free-to-players to access all previously expansions and the content they contain, and sticking with the subscription allows free chatting, free fast travel around the world, 500 premium currency to claim each month (which is used for cosmetics and account services.)
  • Evony advertises itself as "Free Forever" (with scantily-clad ladies, who never actually appear in the game), 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.)
    "Pay now, my Lord!"
  • Facebook hosts a wide variety of these types of games. However, many fall under Bribing Your Way to Victory rather than this trope.
    • 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 massive 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? 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 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.
  • For a while, Microsoft advertised Xbox Live as "free." While you can create a "Silver" account for no charge, accessing most of the service's features such as online multiplayer requires a paid, "Gold", subscription.
  • 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.
  • Ghost in the Shell: First Assault Online played this straight by completely averting the expectation of a Pay-To-Win business model. The game was completely free to play, and any money spent on the game was for cosmetic weapon skins and character outfits only. All weapons were available to all players to buy with the in-game currency GP, which you earned just by playing the game. You had to unlock the weapons to use them by playing, but they were available to buy without paying a cent.
  • 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.
  • Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone allows players to download a "free" version of the game called Future Tone Prelude that contains two songs and a handful of outfits. The rest of the game comes in the form of two separate DLC packs each representing roughly half of the arcade game's tracks; buying them unlocks the relevant outfits as well. Granted, buying both packs ultimately brings the cost to around the price of your average full-price game, so SEGA at least isn't trying to rip you off.
  • Happy Wars is sold as a free to play game, however it requires an Xbox Live Gold membership to play most of the modes, including multiplayer which the game is based around. Also if you want any chance at getting any good equipment, you either need to get a Premium Membership which gives you a higher chance at obtaining premium items at the end of games, or purchase Happy Tickets to use on Happy Cards and hope you get something good.
  • Heroes of the Storm mostly follows League Of Legends model of a rotating pool of free heroes that comprises a minority of those available. All draft modes (three of the game's six modes, not counting training) require the player to have access to 14 Heroes, with the free rotation capped out at 10. Before the introduction of bans, only 10 Heroes were required...but Heroes on free rotation didn't count unless the player owned them!
    • This is something of a Justified Trope in the case of draft modes, however. Each team gets to ban 2 Heroes each, and each team has 5 players. 14 is the required number so that if a player is picking last, they are guaranteed to have at least one Hero available to them.
      • Additional updates added several heroes for a pittance of gold, plus a welcome pack that gave new players a chunk of the roster for free based on "playstyle." Now, even first timers have no small amount of heroes to pick from, and ranked is the only mode with a restriction on how many playable heroes you need.
  • 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, buying your name, and wait for it... VIP accounts! Not to mention buying more credit, with which you're able to get more clothing, rooms, etc.
  • 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.
  • Killer Instinct (2013) 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 isn't that bad for casual players (you can play through the entire game and post-game content without dropping a dime, and most paid items' main draw is occasionally giving special items that can be traded to other players), but if you want to be seriously competitive, you need to pay up. 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 IotMs, 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 IotM 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. Later, a feature called "Standard Restrictions" was added, preventing players from using old time-limited items (including paid items) until their current character has completed the main quest (or played 1000 turns, in a non-Hardcore run) unless they opt out of the leaderboards and most rewards, which simultaneously reduced and worsened things - on one hand, veterans with a large collection of IotMs no longer have as massive of an advantage, but on the other, players who spent years trying to earn these items without paying can no longer benefit from most of them when they are most important.
  • The Macintosh beat 'em up Kung Fu Chivalry only had one item locked behind the registration fee; the passcode to continue from a level where the player character died. With practice, a player could very well beat the game without it.
  • 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.) Also, the most powerful stuff is not available in the online store, it has to be won in special events. (Of course, a player who uses money does have a better chance of winning these events, but no matter how much you spend, there's still a great deal of luck involved in many of them.)
  • League of Legends downplays this. You can buy XP boosts to get (free to play) Blue Essence and Capsules faster or spend money, and you can buy Champions (including a very cost-efficient starting bundle) for real money. It used to be worse, since Runes (small stat buffs you can customize your character with) used to cost the same free resource as champions did—meaning there was a major incentive to spend real money on champions (since you couldn't do so with Runes). Having more champions does provide you with more flexibility in draft (and you need at least 20 to play draft or ranked), but it's still quite possible to play with only a few (since mastery of macro, mechanics, or champion knowledge tend to provide a bigger advantage than only having a few). The real money sink in the game is cosmetic-only skins (though some skins can unintentionally provide advantages due to difficult-to-read abilities, especially on the Howling Abyss thanks to said map having a very different color palette from Summoner's Rift).
  • While technically you can beat Let It Die without spending a single dollar, once you reach the second district (and especially the third) the difficulty skyrockets and the game starts furiously pounding your face in with high-damage attacks, Damage Sponge Bosses and ridiculously-high costs for rezzing your player characters, all to push sales of Death Medals that can be used to revive yourself on the spot or exchanged for your primary in-game currency.
  • Kwari, a former online FPS. The equipment that you couldn't get unless you paid real money? Bullets. Supposedly, though, in return you would be paid back for every kill you made.
  • Mabinogi by Nexon started out this way; with the main storyline quests, powerful Empathic Weapons, and character rebirths only available to paid members. With the "Pioneers of Iria" expansion, all game content was made available to free players; but there are still a lot of non-essential but highly useful game enhancing items available for a paid premium.
    • 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 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-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)
  • Avengers Academy has also got hit with this due to its "free to wait" mechanics, and time-limited special events that are almost impossible to complete unless you pay real money to increase your resources.
  • 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. This is slightly downplayed in that Neverwinter uses the same basic system as Cryptic's other games, meaning that almost everything can technically be gotten without paying — the game has an exchange for players between Zen (the real money-bought currency) and Astral Diamonds (a currency that can be grinded for). In other words, almost everything can be free, but paying real money is much, much quicker.
  • Nightbanes, a TCG originally a browser game and now available on Steam tries to avert this trope- but fails badly. While a lot is made of the fact that even wallet warriors have to do a whole lot of PvE grinding to even unlock the right to buy certain powerful cards (either by leveling up their persistent profile, by reaching a certain Elo rank in PvP or by defeating powerful bosses enough times), which somewhat levels the playing field, there's still the fact that, aside from the free copy you earn when you reach the right level/defeat each boss, any further copies you want to buy can ONLY be acquired with Blood Diamonds (the real-money currency of the game). Furthermore, although a lot of other cards require large amounts of Blood Pearls (the commonly earned free currency) to obtain, most notably evolved and leveled-up cards, it's also possible to just flat out buy Blood Pearls with Blood Diamonds. There were also a large number of extremely powerful 'premium' cards that were just outright Blood Diamond exclusive, but apparently the developers caved in to (quite justified) complaints about the game being too pay-2-win and made the premiums drop randomly in boosters, which at least SLIGHTLY alleviates the problem.
  • About half of O2Jam 's songs and avatar clothes must be purchased with real money.
  • Oxyd itself is free to download, but for the codes to pass the magic tokens in later levels, you have to purchase the Oxyd Book.
  • 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...
  • Path of Exile is an RPG wherein you can have multiple characters on the same account, all sharing the same storage, called a stash. The game gives 4 stash tabs, each tab containing 144 cells in a 12x12 configuration. This sounds like plenty, until you realize that the items use up multiple (from 1x1 for the hundreds of gems, jewels, currency, and cards to 1x2 to 2x4 for weapons, gear, and armor) cells, and 144 cells suddenly aren't as many as you think. The 4 tabs is plenty for a single character if you get rid of your noob gear as you progress, but as you continue to collect items of value and progress through the post-game, the stash becomes cramped very quickly. The fact you can't list items to the public market API with the regular stash tab doesn't help either. If you want to hold onto low level items for other characters or your precious currency for future crafting or purchases or sell items, give Grinding Gear Games some money (~$3-10 USD, depending on the tab). You could buy more 12x12 stash tabs for cheap, but specialized tabs like the currency or maps tab that contain plenty of space for each item type and neatly organize them give the most bang for your buck.
  • 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 one would become allegedly free. However, it turns out that the game's cash points (Arks Cash) are mainly used for aesthetic add-ons and other optional goodies like buying Skill Tree Reset Pass (Which is given for free almost every Skill Update), buying more Mags, creating more than 2 characters (Rather unnecessary due to the free Class change), and buying Dolls to self-revive (Only absolutely necessary for those who wants easier revival, and Death Is a Slap on the Wrist anyway). Players can freely pursue story missions and access every stage in the game, obtain strong equipment, switch classes and shop from other players' shops (a great way for free players to access some goodies they would otherwise need to grind or pay for). The only truly meaningful thing to buy is the Premium service, which adds trading capability to the player, among some minor premium-only features.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean Online: 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) and two ships, 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) and you could only play it in fullscreen for one week; after that, you were forced to play it windowed.
  • PlanetSide 2 generally averts this. While it's possible to unlock a variety of weapons for both infantry and vehicle gameplay, these weapons are typically side-grades to the default weaponry, which is widely considered to be very well-balanced (with the Terran Republic's default assault rifle considered one of the best infantry weapons in the entire game). All unlocks that are definitive upgrades (added abilities, for example) cannot be purchased and must be unlocked through play, and the aforementioned weapons can be unlocked through play as well. 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 only non-cosmetic "advantage" that requires real life money are the boosters, which can increase XP or resource gain. In essence, you're not paying for a mechanical advantage over other players, you're just paying to reduce the time you need to grind out cert points.
    • Most importantly, paying doesn't grant any competitive advantage over another player, as a skilled player at rank 10 can easily mow down a rank 100+ player of inferior skill. In the long term, paying just means having access to slightly more loadout options sooner than a player that is exclusively playing for free.
  • Pokémon Picross is an otherwise fun puzzle game which is almost completely ruined by the developers' decision to state, in no uncertain terms, that if you're not spending money on the game, they hate you and don't want you to have fun or be happy. The game implements two allegedly free hallmarks at once. There's an energy bar that runs out as you fill in squares (in a picross game...) and automatically refills over the course of several hours but can be refilled instantly for a moderate amount of the game's premium currency, Picrites. But apparently that wasn't enough, because you also need to use Picrites to unlock new worlds. And it's a single-player game. Of course, the rate at which you can accumulate Picrites for free is almost nothing; you can get a finite amount for completing challenges and a small amount (which can be very gradually increased) for completing a training exercise once per day. You'll only get about 10-20 Picrites for completing that exercise, and the amount needed to unlock worlds soon reaches the triple digits and only goes up from there. Don't want to pay? Enjoy grinding Picrites for months.
  • 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.
  • Puyo Puyo!! Quest is a standard "gacha" type mobile game that encourages the use of real-world cash to secure more chances to draw characters.
  • 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.
    • Other RO servers fall upon Bribing Your Way to Victory, though: all items are obtainable either from monsters or for RL cash.
    • 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. Most hats, shirts, gear etc. require you to pay in ROBUX. The only items that are free for the taking tend to be only available for a short time, with the permanent free catalog being rather small. The only ways to get ROBUX without paying out of your pocket includes selling game passes, which invoke Bribing Your Way to Victory for your own game in ROBLOX, and if you're not paying for Builder's Club you only get 10% of the profit. The other way to get ROBUX is to advertise the game on other sites. Some items are Builder's Club only, and BC is the easiest way to earn enough 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. To alleviate some of this there was a currency called Tickets that non-BC users could save up over time and convert to ROBUX, but it was discontinued as of 2016, effectively killing the revenue stream of free-to-play users.
    • 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.
    • And now there is "Paid Access" to places. It's in ROBUX, but it's another incentive for the BC stipend.
    • This was downplayed when Builder's Club was replaced with Premium. All players were granted 200 active game slots, then 200 group slots, and then 70% earnings on gamepasses and developer products (previously 10% for free players). Premium grants all benefits for all tiers, with exception of Robux earned.
  • 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 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 . 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 , 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 (later replaced with the similar but less annoying Treasure Hunter) 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 having a very small chance to grant two hundred million gold, it can also grant unique (albeit terrible) weapons and armour, as well as copies of very high-grade (but not top-level) armour.
    • Players are allowed to buy "bonds" with real money and trade them to other players for in-game gold. These bonds can be consumed for membership and other features that normally require real life cash purchases, allowing players with sufficient in-game gold supplies access to all features without real money, pushing Runescape more into Bribing Your Way to Victory territory. Bonds are the only major form of microtransactions besides membership in Old School Runescape, which otherwise tries to defy the trope (as the game was created as a result of backlash to RS 3, including its increased reliance on microtransactions for revenue).
    • It's taken to an extreme with regards to high-level monster farming. While bonds can be bought with real money and sold ingame for millions, allowing wealthy players to easily buy high-end gear, actually maximizing damage output requires auras, which can exclusively be obtained by using Loyalty Points, accumulated by months to years of membership, combining Bribing Your Way to Victory with Play Every Day for that particular endgame goal.
      • Due to complaints about this, Jagex later changed it so that auras used in combat can be obtained by playing. Non-combat auras are still only available through loyalty points though.
    • Averted by Ironman Mode (aside from membership), which deliberately prevents Ironman players from using Treasure Hunter and only grants cosmetic rewards from the Yak Track battlepasses (as part of its emphasis on being the game's DIY mode).
  • S4 League, while not as bad as other online games, still has its problems.note  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 days. 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. To their credit, you can win weapon/clothes/pet capsules in a free daily loot box with random drops (the drops change every month), you probably won't get a permanent in your first week note  but eventually you will get multiple sets of clothes.
  • 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.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE was perfectly playable for free, but had many features requing payment. At least it was possible to trade cash items.
    • 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. 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.
    • Every shop contains equipment that can only be purchased with real money. Every shop. Want to cosplay a famous Shin Megami Tensei 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 guitar (albeit a low-quality one).
    • 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.
  • 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... , 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 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 you have to slowly grind. 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. With the release of Expansion 2, Delta Rising, many players were accusing Cryptic of trying to force them into buying more stuff due to the inclusion of the Tier 6 line of ships and the decreased XP gains caused by the Level Cap rise, although you can get at least three free T6 ships per year during events, one of which is one of the strongest in the game thanks to exclusively having six bridge officers (all other top tier ships having five). Once the respective event is over, however, the possibility of getting the ship is gone, and the longer time for level improvement has eased up once the players who were stuck with all content played and little XP sources managed to get through — new players will get enough XP anyways, plus a new admiralty system hands out XP like candy.
    • You can now even skip that and pay to complete events without having to grind them. If you're really lazy and willing to spend real money on Zen.
    • Previous T6 event ships can be gained though Phoenix Pack boxes. One is free per day of the event for them, any more cost dilithium. It's an epic reward though, so expect to spend lots of dilithium. Or convert Zen into it. In the same way, previous lockbox ships can be gained in infinity boxes. If you buy or sell dilithium for Zen to get a lot of keys.
  • 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 exaggerated 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 , 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 or buying The Orange Box bundle from Steam 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 halo.
    • 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 started 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 an 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, the majority of TF2 players had the Proof of Purchase hat when the game first went free-to-play; roughly 25 percent have it now. 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 reported 12 times the revenue of their previous Pay-To-Play model in about the same time span as between release and the transition to free-to-play, it certainly paid off.
  • Team Kirby Clash Deluxe and Super Kirby Clash are free to download, but if you need a lot of Gem Apples quickly to buy better gear or items that permanently multiply the rate you gain crafting materials for the said gear, you're gonna need some real money. Buying enough Gem Apples will also upgrade the tree in the town so that it will produce a lot of Gem Apples when it's harvesting time, and there's a maximum cap to how much Gem Apples you can buy with real money roughly equal to the cost of most full-priced new games: once you reach this cap, it's impossible to buy any more Gem Apples with real money and the tree will produce enough of them that you'll be able to buy out the entire remaining store inventory in just a few harvests.
  • 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 DanceDanceRevolution 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.
  • Transformers Universe became this for its short lifespan. Promoted as Free To Play, expensive "Founder's Packs" were soon revealed to play certain characters, and Jagex began putting more and more game content into these "packs" until even they couldn't pretend the game was Free To Play anymore. Critics point to this as one of the major factors for Jagex and Hasbro pulling the plug on the game before it even left open beta.
  • Travian is advertised as free, but it is nearly impossible to be competitive in any way without buying lots of gold. With T4 you can get gold for free from auctions and oases, but far less than the amount competitive players use.
  • 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.
    • Though, this is more of a jab at flash games with upgrade systems (something that started to become as much of a trend on flash game websites as platformers), than Allegedly Free Games. The game mentions that a player should be playing to have fun, not just focus on affording the next upgrade. Many similar games feature a rather bland progression due to designs this one parodies, only adding a few more obstacles or enemies from one stage to the next, and allowing a player to keep whatever they earned on a failed stage, just to retry as many times as they need. These games eventually become a grindfest where the only real goal is to purchase the next upgrade, with the only benefit of progression being... more upgrades, and another stage to grind for said upgrade, at a slightly faster rate than before.
  • 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 now pay for a single 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, Inc. Romance 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.
  • Warframe:
    • Present but surprisingly reasonable. Although Bribing Your Way to Victory is quite possible, the number of things you actually need to buy with Platinum is significantly lower. It's not "theoretically need," either; the game is perfectly enjoyable if all you buy is warframe and weapon slots. Both of those, however, are vital to enjoyment after a while; there are forty and counting unique warframes to collect, and there are hundreds of weapons to collect. While it's not too hard to keep your weapons limited to a few favorites, you'll want to keep every warframe, and it's even worse if you want to keep both the normal and improved Prime variants. A quirk of the Mastery System means the only way to level up your character is to level up warframes and weapons, even if you hate them, which means you have to have at least a couple free slots for weapons at all times if you want to master and then sell them. New players usually find that their starting supply of 50 free Platinum goes farther than in most free-to-play games, especially if it isn't burned on something stupid. General consensus is either two warframe slots or four weapon slots and one warframe slot, with maybe an Orokin Reactor/Catalyst thrown in so you can get to high-level play (and thus the player economy mentioned below) faster.
    • The Nightwave alert system offers free weapon and warframe slots every season, and you can buy Orokin Reactors and Orokin Catalysts using Nightwave credits. Since those are the primary "mandatory" things to spend Platinum on, it helps keep the game free even longer.
    • For new players or cynical reviewers who only tried the game for a week, the Allegedly Free elements can seem much more prevalent: Don't want to go through all the hassle of getting to the boss node, grinding for blueprints, grinding for resources to make those blueprints, then finally waiting several days for first the parts then the 'frame itself to finish building? Buy it or rush the build with Platinum! Smart players and veterans, however, recognize that both grinding and long build times are all part of the game and acknowledge that the ability to rush Foundry builds at all is mostly Shmuck Bait. Additionally, most items are attainable for patient players and there's a thriving player economy that uses Platinum as its main currency, FOR FREE; once you've gotten a single character up to scratch, you can complete a few Void missions for parts of Prime weaponry or do some Vault runs in the Orokin Derelict for Corrupted Mods (both of which are consistent sells in the trade chat) if you're running low on funds.
    • All of this is on top of the fact that login rewards, Platinum discounts, and Platinum discounts via login reward are all pretty decent. The combined effect brings the implicit message that if you've spent enough time in the game to need more Platinum, you can damned well afford to pay the devs a few bucks for it.
    • As the devs frequently give out thousands of Platinum per week (at least two of these prizes plus a single Prime Access, which also comes with Platinum, during weekly Prime Time) and Platinum can be traded, it's entirely possible to obtain everything in the game with some savvy trading and persistence. However, due to the way Steam Workshop works, Tennogen cosmetics can only be obtained via cash purchases with steam wallet credits (which does not exist in the console versions). Some have joked that due to "Fashion Frame being the endgame", this is the true "pay to win".
  • 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.
  • Wizard101 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.
      • Overtime, the game has updated in ways that alleviate this, mostly by allowing players to earn Crowns in game. The most efficient means to do so is by watching short 'videos' (advertisements) that are roughly 3-to-5 minutes, each of which gives a small chunk of Crowns, if you kill about an hour doing so you should be able to buy most of the areas in the first world and still have a few crowns left over to save up for the next world. (Noticeably, this is particularly useful at low-levels, where you spend a lot of time recovering from being knocked-out in battle, and so have a lot of downtime on which to spend watching the advertisements.)
  • World of Warcraft:
    • The game proudly trumpets "Now free to play!", until you read the fine print and see that it's only up to level 20 (out of a max of 120 in BTFA expansion), so it honestly would be classed as just trialling the game. Additionally, non-paid members have their social interactions limited: no joining parties, raids, or guilds, trading with players or accessing the global chat. This is intended to prevent creation of throwaway accounts in order to spam offers of trading gold for real world money.
    • The game also features a curious eventual inversion of the principle, allowing players to buy subscription with in-game money. The price automatically fluctuates based on supply and demand, and while a newbie on a trial has no way of ever getting enough in their life, an experienced player with money-making skills can coast on them, only needing to purchase a new expansion pack every couple years to stay up to date on content.
  • 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; one Euro (about US$1.13 at time of writing) for one silver coin, where five silver coins buys you some pretty impressive armour and a weapon and various useful Item Crafting tools. Unfortunately, it's somewhat let down by the level cap imposed on non-subscribers, which is steep enough to make it very hard to do anything interesting unless you're part of an established group. You also have to be a subscriber to own land, but thankfully members of a settlement can share the upkeep costs of a settlement deed.
  • ZT Online. This game is one of the biggest offenders of this trope, and BY FAR the most popular MMORPG in China.
    • 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 need to be replaced periodically, etc. Chinese MMORPGs also tend to have essentially no upper limit to how much money can be spent. While in a Japanese, America or European game you'd usually be hard-pressed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars even if you were crazy enough to want to (you'd run out of things to buy before getting to that point), in the typical Chinese MMO you absolutely could, and easily. The gambling addiction gravy train continued until 2008, a year and a half after its initial launch, when the Chinese government had to step in to enact laws that protect kids from what would eventually become known as Loot Boxes in the West.
  • 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.
  • While joining Habbo is free for users, you would need the in-game currency of Coins to buy furniture, Habbo Club membership and other goodies. And you need to pay actual money to get these coins. (You can get 5 coins for a dollar.)
  • OviPets has the Ovi ++ subscription that keeps your pets constantly fed, lets you buy pets directly from other players, and gives access to the top research tier among other things.
  • Code Combat: Free set of levels, followed by a premium set of levels, that keep increasing in number as new premium levels are added. 110 free levels as of 2015, that, at the time, take over 30 hours to complete.
  • In The Legend of Zelda Hyrule Warriors Cia, Volga, and Wizzro were made playable by a free update to the Wii U version. However, all of the missions involving them are in the Master Quest DLC pack, including the missions to unlock their 2nd and 3rd level weapons and heart containers. You can play as them for free, but without buying the DLC, they'll never have a decent health bar or a weapon with more than 120 attack power. Same thing goes for Medli for Legends. Once again, Definitive Edition averts this and has everything available from the get.

    Fictional Examples 
  • 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.
  • Parodied in the Jaltoid video "Free to Play."
  • 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.
  • The South Park episode "Freemium Isn't Free" deals with this. Stan spends several thousand dollars on in-app purchases for a Terrance & Phillip freemium mobile game. The episode even explicitly points out that, in "Freemium", the "mium" is Latin for "not really". The entire scam turns out to be the brainchild of Beelzeboot, the Canadian Devil. Satan himself is rather disgusted by this, as he believes temptations have to have actual nuance rather than simple exploitation of addiction, and goes as far as to possess Stan Marsh to fight Beelzeboot.
  • In DLC Quest, a low-fi indie platformer, all in-game abilities are unlocked by spending in-game coins on "DLC"... including jumping.
  • Penny Arcade takes a potshot at Hellgate: London's "elite" and "free play" tiers. The attached news article freely admitted that they didn't know to what extent this trope would actually apply after the rollout, though.
  • In Ready Player One, the VR MMO OASIS costs only a single quarter to form an account. 25 cents and you're in forever. Everything else, however, is considerably more expensive. Equipment for avatars, transport to different worlds, space to set up in online-business, that costs in-game credits which you can buy. And while you can earn money in-game by going on quests and defeating enemies, without some capital for transport, your avatar will be stuck on the starting world. Main character Wade Watts had been stuck at the starting point for five years prior because he's flat broke. The reason so many players are against the OASIS falling into the hands of the IOI company is that their stated goal is to stick people with a monthly subscription fee and fill the place with ads.
  • 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...
  • Mocked in "There's An App For That" from Halloween Unspectacular: Blue Alert: E350 discovers that his friends have been trapped in a supposedly free-to-play app...only to discover that, in order to beat the game and rescue them, he either has to pay a fortune or slog through it for thousands of years. He picks the former option and promptly goes to rob a bank.
  • Parodied in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal with a prostitute who claims that sex is free, with in-sex purchases. All the client really gets for free is to go in a room with her.
  • Parodied in this Living with Hipstergirl and Gamergirl strip.
  • Discussed in one Yonkoma strip for It's Tough Being Neeko. Neeko says she prefers home console games because unlike mobile games, which have microtransactions, "Once you've paid ¥6000 to buy a game, everything in it becomes free!!"
  • Skewered in There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension, specifically the chapter "Free2Pay". After plodding your way through a standard Zelda-esque Action RPG, the antagonist Mr. Glitch modifies said game into a deliberately awful and nakedly exploitative Free2Play clicker game and forces you to replay it all over again. This version of the game is filled with ads and Product Placement, and the original gameplay mechanics have been replaced with tedious coin farming, lootboxes (containing more ads) and microtransactions for "optional" quality-of-life upgrades like the Sword of Plot Advancement or "a halfway-decent walking speed". Naturally, the chapter is a vicious Take That! towards the F2P model, and many of the puzzles in it are about finding ways to cheat your way past the arbitrary progression-blocking paywalls without actually paying.
    Game: [But] being turned into a free2play is the worst thing that can happen to a game. How can I explain it? It's like riding a bike... but without the seat.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons, where Homer spends $100 on 'happy little elf berries' for his game. Ironically enough, this episode was released about the same time as Tapped Out.
  • Two More Eggs: In "Eggpo: Mobile App", some goombas from an 8-bit platformer wind up in a modern adaptation of their franchise—as a puzzle game for mobile phones. At first it looks like the in-app purchases are purely cosmetics (like different colored hats), but the characters do outright say:
    Old-Timer: What the heck is an "in-app purchase"? Didn't they already buy the game?
    New Guy: Naw, the game's free. You gotta pay if you want it to be any fun!

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Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Free To Play, Free To Pay Game


Phone Destroyer Ending

South Park: Phone Destroyer is free to play, but includes microtransactions allowing you to buy card packs with real money. The characters "collect" your money at the end of the main story, while remarking on how much or how little money you spent.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / AllegedlyFreeGame

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