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Freemium! The "mium" is latin for "not really".

Games that run on a Freemium model will have two modes:

  1. Play for free. You can play as long as you like without paying, but some amount of content will be unavailable, and you might have to deal with annoying advertisements.
  2. Upgrade to a paid account. This gives you full access to the features that weren't available for free, but you have to shell out some dough for the privilege (almost always a monthly fee).

Unlike games that use Microtransactions, Freemium games have a binary distinction between those who pay and those who do not: you're either Free, or you're Premium. This tends to limit the Bribing Your Way to Victory effect—if you can only pay a fixed amount, you can't out-pay the other people who are paying. That's not to say that the two methods can't be combined—there are plenty of Freemium games that also feature Microtransactions.

Offering a 30-Day Free Trial of the Premium version is commonplace, but if the Free version itself is a 30-Day Free Trial, it's not this trope.

If the game's marketing plays up features in the paid version of the game while advertising it as "Free", you probably have an Allegedly Free Game on your hands.

Of course, this model isn't limited to games. It's a common business model all over the internet. Even on this very wiki, making a modest monthly/yearly pledge will remove the advertisements from the site for the duration of your subscription. *nudge nudge*

Compare and contrast Shareware.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Tony Stark enforces this in Superior Iron Man. He creates "Extremis 3.0" and spreads it across San Francisco, granting average everyday people heightened abilities, Shapeshifting, and even a powerful Healing Factor, allowing them to become be look as perfect as they want. However, when he reveals that keeping it will cost $100 a day, it unleashes a massive crime wave that grabs the attention, and ire, of its recently arrived protector, Daredevil.

    Live Action TV 
  • Stephen Colbert jokingly offers "Colbert Platinum" segments for The Colbert Report's very rich viewers, instructing everyone else to look away until it's over.
    "Remember folks, this segment is for Platinum viewers only! So if your next trip has an in-flight movie instead of an in-flight safari, why don't you run along and count how many frequent flyer miles you need to upgrade to an aisle seat? Beat Are they gone? Good."

    Video Games 
  • Club Penguin accounts were upgraded via monthly subscription.
  • RuneScape members are treated to a vastly larger game world with more servers, no ads, loads of exclusive content, weekly game updates, and a bunch of other stuff in exchange for a monthly fee. Sister site FunOrb, now defunct, ran on a similar system.
  • AdventureQuest requires a one-time fee of $20 in order to upgrade your account to a "Guardian", unlocking additional content.
  • Animal Jam has both free accounts and membership accounts. Price per month varies by how long the membership will last (1 month costs $6.95 per month).
  • Free Realms membership started at around $4.00 per month. The game featured Micropayments as well. Ironic considering its name.
  • In Wizard101, a monthly subscription free gives you blanket access to the features that free players would otherwise have to purchase through Micropayments.
  • Dofus requires a monthly fee for much of its content. Long-term subscribers are eligible for a discount.
  • Among other things, Free players of Shattered Galaxy level up at a severely handicapped rate.
  • Toontown Online ran on a monthly subscription model until it closed down in September 2013. Fanmade private servers, such as Toontown Rewritten and Toontown: Corporate Clash, are completely free to play.
  • Squaredle is free to play, but purchasing a Squaredle Squared membership unlocks perks, including: the ability to play past daily puzzles from the archive, an extra weekly puzzle, no ads, unlocking board perks earlier, extra word reveals, and different themes and fonts.
  • Marvel's Super Hero Squad Online has a free play mode, which gives you some starting heroes and lets you play the Mission of the Day, and requires a monthly fee for additional heroes and missions.
  • GemCraft does this. $5 gets you a handful of additional skills and some new battle settings, some of which are necessary to unlock all of the levels.
  • Ragnarok Online has a Free server and a Premium server. The Premium server gives more exp, higher drop rate, and items which can not be obtained on the free server. In some regions, the Free servers actually have more items... except they are all Purposely Overpowered items intended to break the game's balance. Of course, these items are only available for renting with real cash for a short time - that's right, you can't buy them, so if you want to stay on the competitive game you're paying a fee either way.
  • Many Sony Online Entertainment games have been switched to a 'Free to Play, Your Way!' model. This model offers 3 tiers of play: Free, Premium and Legendary. Free players can play almost all content up to level Cap barring Downloadable Content but they have less item and bank slots and a lower money limit, as well as only 2 character slots. Excess money once the player has hit the cap is placed into an "escrow" account, which the player must buy a coupon for (using real cash) to retrieve. More slots can be bought and a purchase of at least $5.00 upgrades a player to Premium status with access to more item slots and a higher money cap than Free players but less than Legendary players. Both tiers must additionally purchase any DLC they wish to play. Legendary requires a (albeit small) monthly subscription fee, opening up all the game's original (Pay to Play) features. Missing a payment downgrades a player to Premium until the next payment. Everquest, Everquest 2, DC Universe Online and Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes use this model.
  • Quake Live: Although you can play for free, by paying for the Premium account, you get extra maps, modes, and the ability to create your own dedicated servers, among other things.
    • And then the free, web version is taken out, replaced with the low-priced Steam app that come with the Premium account for a single purchase.
  • When Quake Champions first launched, it had an unusual Freemium system. Every player is able to play as Ranger or another champion in the weekly free rotation. You can buy the Starter or Champions Pack with real money to play as other champions or buy individual champions and cosmetics with premium currency, but you could only use free currency to rent champions to gain temporary access to them for a day. The game later switched to a more standard premium currency system and removed the rental system. Free-to-play players can now get premium currency via daily login bonuses and use them to buy champions.
  • Team Fortress 2 went Free-To-Play when the Uber Update was released in Summer 2011. Free (or Limited) accounts only get to store up to 50 items in their Backpack, can only receive items rather than being able to Trade or give giftsnote , have limited Crafting blueprints and can't get Rare (such as the Halloween Items) or Cosmetic items. Otherwise, they can get all of the regular weapons, and all game modes and maps are available to both Free and Premium accounts note . Worth mentioning is that the only requirement for "premium"/Retail is buying any item from the in-game store, which can be as cheap as $0.50; in fact, the only difference between a premium account gained from buying the game itself as opposed to something from the in-game store is a Proof of Purchase hat.
    • A premium user can also buy an item from the store than when traded and used by a free account automatically converts it to premium. It can also be purchased from the Community Market, but it's much more expensive.
  • DarkOrbit features two kinds of currencies: credits, which may be obtained generating and selling minerals (for free; it just requires you to be clickittyclickittypatient); and Uridium, which are obtained mainly paying a monthly fee. You can find both types of currency roaming randomly through the space and completing missions, but Uridium are much rarer, and, of course, Uridium buy the coolest things.note 
  • Sryth has a lot of content available for free. Buying a subscription (9.95 USD for 3 months, or 19.95 USD for 1 whole year) grants access to even more content: The ability to log in regardless of server load, no ads, more character slots (4 instead of 2), more adventures, more events, more locations to visit, a way to learn all skills and powers instead of just some of them, Grand Residences, Multiplayer scenarios…
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online was one of the first MMORPGs to essentially combine Allegedly Free Game and Freemium, into three distinct payment models: Free to Play, Premium, and VIP. The first, which is like many Allegedly Free Game's and requires earning or buying points to unlock content - using Microtransactions. In this model, the player technically plays for free, but continuing to play the game this way requires a lot of grinding, and dealing with multiple limitations (which can mostly be bypassed through the store) in order to progress past the first 8 to 12 levels. The second two are more along the lines of Freemium, with the only exception being that the Premium level requires some form of payment - whether that be purchasing an access to a pack of dungeon's, subscribing for a month, or even buying any amount of points. This mode removes a lot of the more draconian limitations placed on free players, but still requires purchasing quest packs with points. Finally, the old tried-and-true subscription model works exactly how it does in most other MMORPGs. Namely, unlimited access to content, save for some of the newly introduced races and classes. Subscribers also get a 500 point allowance per month to spend in the store for various convenience items.
  • City of Heroes became this in 2011. There's 3 tiers: Free, Premium, and VIP. Free is, of course, someone who's never paid a dime. They don't have access to Chat Channels, the in-game Auction House, Mission Architect, end-game system and even certain Classes, and also don't have Posting access on the forums. They do, however, have access to 99% of the content of the game, levels 1-50, no purchases of any kind required. Premium is anyone who's EVER paid anything who may or may not have the limits described above (for instance, one can buy access to the Market or Mission Architect, and once one has bought enough stuff, they're automatically granted certain privileges such as Forum posting and the previously-locked Classes), and VIP are monthly subscribers who get everything listed above, plus certain Online-Store items for free, as well as a free stipend of points to use in the Online Store and other perks.
  • Final Fantasy XIV lets you play the game for free without a subscription fee up to a level cap, as well as some additional restrictions like no access to the market or retainers (item storage). Originally, the cap was level 35, out of 50 in the base game. It later massively expanded the free trial content all the way up to the Heavensward expansion, up to level 60. However, once you purchase the game, you are invalidated from the free trial and need to pay a subscription fee to play, even if you haven't made it past the free content and you only owned just the base game and Heavensward when the free trial content got expanded.
  • ARMA 2: Free is a free-to-play counterpart to ARMA 2 released two years after the retail game, advertised as free of microtransactions and allowing Free players to play alongside or against players who'd bought the game. Unlike ARMA 2 however, the free version does not include the official campaigns, has toned-down graphics quality compared to the paid versions, and does not support the use of addons — so no custom guns, vehicles, characters, DayZ, etc. As a result, they can only play on ARMA 2: Free servers or on ARMA 2 servers that are not running custom player-made addons, unless they were to buy ARMA 2 or Operation Arrowhead.
  • Draw Something has a free version with ads and a pay version ($.99) without ads.
  • Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter has gone this route - competitive multiplayer is now free to play, with the actual singleplayer/co-op game available as the "Campaign DLC".
  • In addition to items and experience boosts obtained by spending Gold, bought with real money, any Tribes: Ascend player who has ever spent any amount of money on the game gets VIP status which grants a permanent 50% EXP bonus; this stacks multiplicatively with the bought experience booster packs. VIP will also grant you access to premium servers available only to paying players, if they ever come online that is.
  • Blackout Rugby has a lot of features for its Premium members, such as a 2D field to watch the games in (instead of the standard text crawl). Also, Premium adds plenty of club customization options. You can even rename your players.
  • Around the time of the Cataclysm expansion, World of Warcraft went free-to-play up to level 20.
  • Furcadia is possibly the Ur-Example; since 1997, you could get wings for your characters, and entirely new species for a certain price. In their kickstarter campaign, they mentioned they've been using a Freemium model before it was a word.
  • World of Tanks gives 50% bonus on all earned experience and game money to users with paid "premium" accounts. There are also "DLC" style Premium vehicles that you have to purchase for real money. While it is entirely possible to get any of the top tanks for free, a few of them are too expensive to repair and require either a premium account, lighning-fast reflexes and strategy or another tank to earn money for two. T-50-2 is one such example — as a Tier 5 light scout, that frequently has to face top-tier opponents, it gets killed very often. The game also uses microtransactions, allowing to purchase: more room in the hangar (useful, if you want more than 5 tanks), better shells (sometimes deadly, but usually not very useful) and rare tank models (which are usually no better than regular, but allow to avoid Level Grinding).
    • The same publisher's World of Warplanes and World of Warships operate on the same model, though with grinds that are not quite as harsh to free players.
    • World of Warships makes it possible for free account players to earn premium ships through accumulation of special resources like Free XP, Coal & Steel or occasional events & mission chains.
  • PlanetSide 1 had the Reserves program, which ran for a full year in ~2006. Anyone could set up an account and play, but free players were limited to Battle Rank 6 and Command Rank 1, which severely limited what they could do - forcing them into Crippling Overspecialization or making them a Master of None. Battle Frame Robotics were totally out of reach for Reserve players. Reserve players who upgraded to the standard $14.99 per month subscription fee had those restrictions removed.
    • Planetside 2 is totally free-to-play (aside from cosmetic items), but people who pay $14.99 per month subscription fee for "Membership" status gain $5.00 worth of in-game currency a monthnote , 50% more XP, passive certification gain, higher priority in server/continent queues, and exclusive double XP weekend events. Members also gain access to exclusive 50% off sales, a 10% discount on all purchases, and early access to some cosmetic items.
  • Ghostbusters Pinball is free to play, but requires virtual tokens for each game. Players get additional tokens every four hours, with more tokens awarded for owning The Pinball Arcade. Players can also pay for a 24-hour unlimited pass.
  • Godus is a bit of an odd one. Its a Kickstarter funded PC game that, was always planned to be released on mobiles, but which was touted as a full PC game first by the developers. So it attempts to fulfill being a standard game and a Freemium at the same time; annoying both camps with long periods of time of waiting..
  • Habbo members can join up for free. However Habbo Club has a lot more features going for it (more clothing options, exclusive areas, and exclusive furniture to name a few), however it's a monthly subscription.
  • Angry Birds 2 has gone to this system. You only have 10 lives, and it takes 30 minutes to get one back...or you can spend the crystals you earn in the game to get continues and other features.
  • Xbox Live is like this. Sure, you can create a "Silver" account for free, which as a few features, but if you want any of the features that people actually care about, you have to pay for a "Gold" subscription.
  • Tibia has a Free Account and the Premium Account, the difference being access to different spells, outfits and areas that free users can't go, also a entire world to premium players. Costing a monthly fee, after some point you need a premium to grind levels faster as free areas are crowded, slow spawn and with weak and cheap monters only.
  • The MMORPG Flash game Dawn of the Dragons has no hidden costs, and players can level, gain powerful items, generals and troops and generally hit raids just as well without ever dropping a cent (primarily because they can earn Planet Coins, the game's currency, through loyalty bonuses, leveling or in a couple of specific server events). There are also microtransactions which allow the player to buy powerful equipment right off the bat, potions that allow the player to auto-level their character after a certain point, or buy their way past ranks in the PVP modes.
  • Cytus can be downloaded and played for free, but the game have a 30 second "cooldown time" to play each song, and this could only be removed if the player buys the "full version". There's also 5 or so locked chapters that requires additional purchases to play.
  • Mario Kart Tour features both this and Microtransactions. There's a monthly "Gold Pass," and by having one, players have access to the 200cc engine class, extra missions to earn stars faster, as well as get greater rewards for hitting certain amounts of stars.
  • Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has a monthly "Pocket Camp Club" introduced in its second anniversary update, featuring two premium plans: "Happy Helper Plan", which the player can choose an animal to fulfill animal requests and accompany in-game events; and a more expensive "Cookie & Depot Plan", which the player can choose five fortune cookies and expand item storage in a form of warehouses.
  • Fire Emblem Heroes introduced a monthly "Feh Pass" in its third anniversary update. Having one lets player have access to pass-exclusive quests, Resplendent Heroes (heroes in their special attire based on the regions in the game, as well as a 2+ stat boost), increase Summoner Support bonds up to three heroes instead of one, a re-act feature which they can rewind to the start of the previous turn, and an auto-start feature which can repeat the same map until the stamina runs out.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic is another three-tiered system. Free accounts can play through the original eight campaigns, but not much else. Subscribers get full access to the game and a monthly allowance of "Cartel coins" to buy things from the cash shop. In between are the Preferred accounts who have paid money for the game at some point, whether by buying something from the shop or being a former subscriber. Preferred accounts have limits like the free ones but with higher caps, and they still have access to content that they had formerly paid for.
  • Simplest RPG: You can pay to access King mode for a month or forever. Such players get more gold, regenerate energy 4x faster, several discounts, and can find better equipment in the ruins.
  • Peter Panic: An odd variant: the entire game is technically available from the start. However, you can't save unless you pay for the ability to do so. Also, the developers will keep popping in every time you complete a stage to nag you until you do.
  • In 2017, Sega launched a service called Sega Forever for Android and iOS devices, featuring a selection ad-supported free-to-play titles from the Sega Genesis and Dreamcast era as well as native mobile ports of existing games. Games featured in this service includes Alex Kidd, Phantasy Star II, Gunstar Heroes, Streets of Rage, Comix Zone, Crazy Taxi, Beyond Oasis, the 2011/2013 Star Engine remasters of Sonic the Hedgehog CD, SonicTheHedgehog, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and much more. Players can pay a small fee for each game to remove the advertisements.
  • Pac-Man 99's eponymous 99-player battle royale mode is free for anyone with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. For those who want more, there are a handful of other modes and a library of game skins that can be purchased as paid DLC.
  • In a stark change from the norm, Halo Infinite's multiplayer is free-to-play with additional bonuses available to purchase, similar to the model Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) adopted (albeit without having to buy the game itself). To play the campaign players will still need to pay full price, however.
  • Fantasy Strike became free-to-play in July 2020. Free players have access to all characters with no need to unlock them, but cannot play with friends locally or online (unless they get really lucky with online matchmaking, or are invited to the match by a paying player) or access Story, Boss Rush, or Daily Challenge modes. A single purchase of the Core Pack (or the game itself before it became free) permanently unlocks all these modes. There's also a timed subscription, Fantasy+, which allows players to upload and view replays online and use special costumes for each character.
  • Tales of Maj'Eyal 4 lets players access nearly everything (outside of the expansion packs) in the game for free, but players who donate or purchase the game through Steam gain permanent Donator status, which grants various perks, such as the Possessor class, the ability to replace your character's appearance or that of their equipment, a vault to transfer items between characters, and Exploration Mode, which lets you respawn infinitely after dying.

    Visual Novels 
  • In 2019, a VIP subscription feature is introduced in Choices: Stories You Play, so instead of having up to 2 keys at a time and up to 6 daily diamonds from ad rewards, subscribers can get unlimited keys and earn diamonds much faster. Oh, and you also get to play some books earlier than everyone else.

  • Penny Arcade:
    • Parodied in this strip, where the free player of Hellgate: London gets a colander for a helmet, a shoddy novelty t-shirt, and a chance to be ridden like a horse by the awesomely-armored Elite Player at any time.
    • Discussed regarding a Harry Potter iPad game that The Rant describes as a Satanic Anti-Trinity of pay-to-play.
      Tycho: But it's not a game. It's an evil trap made by criminals to make good children steal all their parents' money.

    Web Original 
  • Homestar Runner Parodied this in an April Fools' Day prank, " PAY PLUS!"
  • The Day9 Daily, a web show for Starcraft II, has an "optional subscribers" program where for $5 a month viewers get to play games with Day[9] himself, among other little bonuses.
  • Froge from Froghand compares Valve Software's business practices unfavourably to that of blatantly manipulative mobile games companies:
    It's the ideal freemium game scam - you get a free download, say the Steam client, pump the client full of advertisements pressuring you to buy virtual goods, and milk the 1% of gamers who will spend tons of money on your application for all they're worth, without regard for their mental health or how much time they're spending on your client instead of doing literally anything else, because it doesn't matter if you only get a few dollars from 99% of gamers if you take advantage of the 1% who will spend thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars on virtual goods. There is no difference between what Valve does and what other manipulative mobile games companies do - it's the same system, just formatted in a different way.

    Western Animation 
  • The South Park episode "Freemium Isn't Free" has Stan becoming addicted to the Terrance and Philip Freemium game, and deals with how mobile games exploit addiction for profit.

  • The web radio service Pandora is free to use, but upgrading to Pandora One provides such perks as unlimited listening time, pause/rewind/skip options, no ads, and such.
  • Hulu offers free video streaming for popular TV shows and movies. Signing up for "Hulu Plus" expands the available video library significantly, as well as letting you watch (some) streams on consoles, handhelds, tablets, phones, etc- Anything that isn't a PC or Mac. Unlike other freemium services, paying for Hulu Plus does not remove the advertising.
  • The online music service Spotify has three tiers: Open (completely free, with advertisements and time restrictions), Unlimited (advertisements and time restrictions are removed), and Premium (no ads, no time restrictions, plus additional perks). In some markets however, the Open tier isn't time-limited, but has the additional gotcha of not being able to play specific tracks from the artist or album, and you can only listen to an album on shuffle or random songs from the artist. Premium doesn't have those limitations.
  • Some file download sites offer superior service to users who purchase premium memberships. These include faster download speed, no time between downloads, no download limits and the ability to download multiple files at once.
  • DeviantArt removes ads for paying members. Successful artists may have premium memberships gifted to them — for instance, a fan or friend pays for theirs.
    • Premium DA members also have tons of other privileges, such as the ability to post multiple images at once, create polls, and see who's visited their profile page. However, unlike some of the other examples here, DA members with free accounts still enjoy many benefits and aren't excluded from most activities and functions.
  • LiveJournal's paid accounts allow for 30 userpics, get more space for photos and own an exclusive LJ email address, among other perks. They used to be able to allow for comment-editing as well until 2012, when this feature was extended to free accounts.
  • A running gag on 4chan / Facebook / Ponychan is to post an image that says "Image requires a 4chan/Facebook/Ponychan GOLD account". People will then post what an awesome picture it was, prompting someone to eventually ask "How do I get GOLD acct.?!" and thus outing themselves as a noob.
    • 4chan actually plays this trope straight since late 2012, offering a "4chan Pass" that removes captchas required to post for $20 a year.
  • A number of news websites operate this way; the websites of The New York Times, The New Republic, and The Economist all allow you to view a certain number of articles (e.g. 10 for the Times) each month, but if you want to read any articles beyond that you have to subscribe (to either the print edition or to an online-only edition) (they can tell when you've exceeded the limit through IP and device tracking). The news/culture/analysis aggregator blog The Dish by Andrew Sullivan operated (before his semi-forced semi-retirement for health reasons in February 2015) on the "freemium" model as well (in this case, allowing subscribers to "read on" to more in-depth analysis more often) and actively evangelized for the system as the best way forward for digital news media.
    • The Washington Post has a limit of five per month, though this can be avoided by opening links in Incognito mode.
  • Many mobile-device apps use the "free, or pay to get rid of the ad displays" model.
  • The Escapist has something called "The Publisher's Club." If you pay the membership fee, you get to watch the videos in higher quality, you get access to a special forum for the members, and instead of the usual titles given to forum members depending on how many posts they've got under their belt, you can create your own.
  • The whole purpose of the British TV channel Pick is as a free-to-air preview of what you would otherwise find on the channel owner Sky's pay TV channels, with a heavy dose of Road Wars and other such cheap repeat fodder from Sky's extensive archives mixed in.
  • Similar to the above example, British sports channel BT Sport has a free-to-air channel named BT Showcase. Whenever it does not show selected matches from the UEFA Champions League or Aviva Premiership Rugby, it airs a barker loop showing advertisements that encourage viewers to subscribe to the company's pay tv and internet service to get full access to BT Sport.
  • Then there's Skype. You can call and chat with other Skype users for free, but to call a landline or cellphone, you need to buy Skype credits.
  • Smartphone users can use and download the call-blocking app "Call Control" for free, but in order to block more than 20 or so phone numbers and have access to its community blacklist and block unwanted text messages, you'll have to upgrade to the "Premium" account. They offer a free week.
  • Some dating sites and apps use this model. People can sign up for free, but in order to (variously) send more messages, have their profiles "featured" or promoted, or not see ads on the site, they'll have to upgrade to a paid/premium account.
  • Reddit has this kind of system in the form of gilding. If someone really likes your post or comment they can pay to give you access to certain features
  • Crunchyroll's free service offers anime up to 480p with limited advertisements, along with the most recent chapter of their simulpublished manga. In Canada, free users are only able to watch series that are currently being simulcasted. Premium subscribers in all countries get ad-free series/access to the entire Crunchyroll catalog up to 1080p (when available), along with a back catalog of all their manga.
  • Many TV networks offer apps to allow mobile viewing of their programming. Many offer limited access to any viewer but require a cable or satellite subscription for full access.
  • Go Animate formerly had a free accounts a Go Plus subscription with access to additional themes, voices, characters, etc.
  • The VoIP service Ooma has a "Basic" plan and a "Premier" plan for its residential customers. The Basic plan includes call waiting, caller ID, and voicemail. It has no subscription fee. The Premier plan (which does have a subscription fee) offers all that, plus many more features (including call blocking, call forwarding, a second phone line at no extra cost, and multi-ring.) New registrants get a free 60-day trial of Premier, after which they can decide to let it expire, or pay for all those extra features. (Which normally cost about 3x as much with a traditional land line.)

Alternative Title(s): Pay For Perks