Allegedly Free Games have some sort of limitation intentionally added or sweet perks to entice players into spending money. Unlike the usual method of offering special premium items and/or characters for you to use (yet nefariously, these systems run in tandem with one another), the Freemium Timer limits how much a player can play a game over a given period unless they are willing to pony up one of their precious game credits, or watch an ad, to extend their playthrough. This is either to monetize off of impatient players or as an Anti Poop-Socking mechanic.
Freemium Timers can manifest in two different ways, although many games employ both mechanics at once:
- The Energy Meter: This is when the player consumes a number of points to perform a task or to enter a stage. When the player runs out of energy, they must either wait for that energy bar to refill on its own — which usually takes several hours — or pay real money to immediately fill up the bar and skip the grind.
- The Timeout Timers: The second variety, more common in Construction and Management Games and/or Idle Games, gives individual timers to complete specific actions (e.g. building a town structure or crafting an equipment that takes 3 real-time hours to complete), and the player must pay real money to speed up the process.
These systems started life out in those Flash-based Facebook games from the late 2000s, and when the Mobile market became viable enough for gaming on the go, these systems spread to the mobile market like wildfire. Not surprisingly, most addicts attribute their long playtime for their game of choice to constantly emptying the Energy Bar or resetting the timers over the actual intended gameplay experience, due to them timing their lives around these timers. As such, detractors of these systems have coined the terms "Free To Wait" or "Wait to Play" games; games that are intentionally designed with abusing these systems in mind, so as to maximise the full profiteering potential.
Despite the name, these systems are not limited to Free to Play games, as many full-priced retail games also use these mechanics (much to the increasing ire of players everywhere). Often overlaps with Play Every Day, as these timers' durations generally take less than 24 hours to finish, or refill fully in the case of the energy meter.
Games that use the Energy/Stamina bar:
- Some rhythm Gacha Games (BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!, D4DJ Groovy Mix, and Project SEKAI among them) use a variation where rather than stamina being strictly tied to the ability to play the game, stamina is instead tied to the ability to earn rewards. Each point of stamina spent to play a song multiplies the final rewards by a large quantity (with Diminishing Returns for Balance in effect to encourage playing more at once). Once that stamina runs out, you are still allowed to play the game as much as you want, but you will only earn the lowest possible rewards for clearing a song, which are typically a small pittance compared to the amount you earn for using stamina.
- Ace Combat Infinity: The "Sortie Fuel System" limited how many times you could play in either the campaign or multiplayer modes unless you waited for supplied fuel to recharge or buy stocked fuel if you didn't want to wait. The normal rate was seventy-five cents per unit of stocked fuel at best, one dollar at worst,note and to play the campaign past the second mission one had to pay a massive amount of credits to unlock the mission on top of the fuel cost, and more credits was necessary to replay it. Critical feedback from the fandom eventually tweaked the system so that you used exactly one unit of fuel per mission (originally it was planned to use one unit for every five minutes of gameplay, though given that co-op missions only lasted five minutes anyway it's basically the same), and stocked fuel could be gained through challenges or random drops. There was also an Unlimited Campaign play ticket that removed the fuel and credit costs from playing missions. It was possible for a player to receive stocked fuel via challenges and random drops faster than they spent it, especially after buying the Unlimited Campaign Ticket.
- In Ace Fishing, the player uses 1-2 energy point to go fishing, and it takes 10 minutes to refill one energy point. The energy bar is capped at 15 at first, but is increased by 1 point with each level up.
- Angry Birds 2 uses a lives mechanic in an attempt to prevent the players from being addicted. There are five lives at the start. If a player loses or quits a level after sending their first bird, they lose a life. If they run out of lives, they can either wait or pay to refresh their lives. This wasn't well-received by fans.
- Arcaea has an energy meter that is used in World Mode, which is required to unlock much of the game’s content. You spend one unit of energy to move a certain distance on the map, based on a combination of your performance in a song (usually) of your choosing and selected character.
- Arknights has Sanity, which is used to start operations in story mode and most events. Sanity is refunded if player fails an operation; normal operations has a first clear refund and all failures after that cost 1 sanity on retreat, challenge mode and H stages refund half of sanity consumed, and Annihilation stages refund sanity based on number of enemies killed. Players can replenish sanity using certain items, or Originite Prime (the premium currency); after the release of chapter 8, the community has spawned memes revolving around the Doctor having questionable behaviors when at low Sanity.
- Azur Lane has oil, which is used mainly for sending shipgirls on missions. It is quite generous with this, though, as there is not only a slowly-refilling canteen from which more oil can be collected, various commissions can be used to collect oil and the developers frequently send out gift mail containing additional oil, usually as compensation for maintenance downtime. Nevertheless, hardcore players who still somehow run out of oil can buy more with real money. While there are a number of timers, it doesn't count for that category because there are no purchasable items to accelerate them.
- Blue Archive uses Action Points, represented as a green lightning bolt, of which going on missions costs a certain amount - regular missions cost 10, Hard Mode missions cost 20, commissions start at 5 and go up in multiples of that as the difficulty increases. There are two caps: a soft cap, determined by your level, under which AP regenerates at a rate of 1 unit every six minutes, and a hard cap of 999, above which any extra AP is sent to your mailbox until you reduce your active AP enough to claim it or it expires. It can be bought with Pyroxenes (which is also the currency used to roll for new students), the rate going up with every three purchases, though you can also replenish it with stamina drinks or gather it from the Café, with the limit on how much that can hold based on its level (improved through items acquired at the end of every third set of missions) and how much it recharges per hour depending on its comfort rating (improved by placing furniture in the café), the maximum amount of which also depends on its level.
- Candy Crush Saga: The game has a lives mechanic in which losing a level costs one life. The lives automatically replenish at 1 life every 30 minutes or you can buy lives with real money once you run out of lives.
- CityVille have "energy" that is required to interact with buildings and collect their outputs. Generally in such games energy regenerates over time, and the maximum increases with level, but when you run low, it's guaranteed that a popup will appear recommending you to buy more.
- Unlike its predecessor, playing a stage in Diner Dash Adventures requires the player to spend 10 "food supplies", and it is capped at 50. Supplies are obtained every 2 minutes, and the cap cannot be increased, although players can stockpile supplies during "Free Play" bonuses — i.e. a bonus where the players can play stages for free for a certain period of time.
- Dragalia Lost features two stamina meters. The first, which is simply called stamina, is consumed whenever you clear a quest alone. The other meter, referred to as getherwings, is consumed when clearing coop quests. The stamina meters max gets bigger the more a player levels up while getherwings always have a max of 12. Both meters, however, can be overfilled past their max through use of items, wyrmite, diamantium, leveling up, or collecting from the halidom, but they won't reload on their own when they are over their current max.
- Dungeon Fighter Online: The game uses a "Fatigue Points" system, which starts at 156 points and goes down by 1 for every uncleared dungeon room traversed, although the game will let players finish a dungeon if the FP bar hits 0 during a run. The sole exception is with special dungeons, which simply subtract a fixed amount of FP at the start of a run. The only free-to-play options for restoring FP are waiting until 9 AM UTC the next day, buying/crafting a "Fatigue Recovery Potion", or handouts from events. Otherwise, FP potions of varying recovery amounts can be bought with real money, or players can subscribe to "Neo Premium", which raises the daily FP limit to 273.
- Duolingo: If you don't have a premium subscription, the app gives you five lives. If you answer incorrectly, you lose a life. If you lose all your lives, you have to wait 1 hour for them to replenish. Recently the app has added an option to buy lives via microtransactions within the "free" version; thankfully there's also a more legitimately educational option, as you can gradually restore lives by practicing lessons you previously made mistakes in (and speed the process up a bit with an Ad Reward).
- El Sword has a stamina meter that is depleted whenever you play in dungeons. When it reaches 0, you won't be able to play dungeons again until tomorrow. You're still able to play Pv P regardless of stamina, though. The meter resets to full every 24 hours.
- Fate/Grand Order has an action point gauge. The player spends AP to embark on quests, and even if they quit or fail, the AP is still consumed. It recharges at a rate of one point per five minutes, but the player can use items to instantly gain some. Bronze apples for a flat ten points, silver apples for 50%, and gold apples or Saint Quartz, the game's premium currency, for 100%. As Quartz is mainly used to spin the gacha, using it to recharge AP is seen as a huge waste. Doing so is often derisively called "eating rainbow apples."
- Fire Emblem Heroes has a Stamina point which is refreshed by 1 point every five minutes. The number of stamina used increases in higher difficulties. It originally had a limit of 50 stamina but was increased to 99 in an early patch. There are also Dueling Swords which are used for the Arena which only refreshes on the next day. Both of these can be refreshed through Stamina Potion and Dueling Crest, respectively.
- Gardenscapes uses the classic 5 hearts counter, but during some special events the counter's maximum capacity can be expanded to 8 for a whole month by buying a 4,99 dollars ticket (which also unlocks an extra tier of rewards during the event)
- While not every action performed in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery consumes energy, the player needs to use up energy points to collect stars to advance in classes and quest missions. Each energy takes 4 minutes to gain, and the bar automatically refills every level up.
- Exploring locations and/or playing mini-games in Hidden City requires energy, and once it runs out, the player must either wait for the bar to replenish (at a rate of 3 minutes per energy point) or consume energy boosters, which can be bought using Premium Currency or obtained as rare quest rewards.
- Going into a dungeon stage in Kritika uses up a minimum of 5 "lives". The player is given a limit of 50 lives, and the bar is filled up by 1 life every 10 minutes.
- Lily's Garden, a mobile and browser game, grants the player four hearts, with one heart being depleted each time you fail one of the puzzle levels. If all the hearts are depleted, the player is prevented from attempting any more puzzle levels until at least one heart has been replenished. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to win unlimited heart boosts, either as random prizes or from being really good at the puzzle levels.
- Love Live! School idol festival uses a Live Points system that refreshes at 1 LP every six minutes. The number of LP needed for a song increases with higher difficulty levels, so you can spam Easy songs all day long, but it can take a while before you can play more than one Expert or Master chart in a row.
- Mafia Wars has three meters: energy (used for performing jobs), stamina (used to fight and rob), and health (depleted whenever player takes damage).
- Murder in the Alps has an energy meter which is required to accomplish any task. Capping at 200, it takes 5 energy to collect one item in a hidden object scene, 20 to view the unskippable comics that progress the plot, and 30 to begin one of the mandatory minigames. This wouldn't be an issue if it didn't take 8 minutes to recover one point of energy.
- Punishing: Gray Raven has a stamina system that regenerates one point of "serum" every five minutes, though it can also be refilled by using earnable serum items, when the account gains a level, or by spending Black Cards.
- Puzzle & Dragons started an excruciatingly slow refresh rate of 1 point per 10 minutes. Dungeons consume anywhere from 3 all the way up to 200 (!) to enter. Eventually the refresh rate was accelerated to 1 per 3 minutes.
- SimCity Social have "energy" that is required to interact with buildings and collect their outputs. Generally in such games energy regenerates over time, and the maximum increases with level, but when you run low, it's guaranteed that a popup will appear recommending you to buy more.
- Simplest RPG has an energy meter that goes down by 4 with every battle and 150 with every visit to the ruins. It caps at 500 and refills by 1 every second. You can buy King mode which refills it by 4 every second, and because auto fight works once every second, it allows for unlimited battling and not worrying about the energy bar.
- SINoALICE has SP, which is spent in order to play levels, with harder levels costing more. While your SP gauge refills very slowly, you can refill it (and, in fact, overfill it) through a minigame called Purification. You can Purify for free once every eight hours, or use Purification Tickets to do it more frequently. Since the game likes to hand out Purification Tickets like Halloween candy, running out of energy isn't actually a problem for all but the most obsessive players.
- Summoners War, an app game, lets you start out with a certain fixed amount of "energy" so you can play. You can find more as drops from defeated enemies, you can win more on the daily prize wheel game. But once you use it all, you either have to pay to refill the energy meter to keep going or wait for it all to slowly build back up.
- Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, the Spin-Off game to Kirby: Planet Robobot, has a "vigor meter" that will get used when you go into quest battles. If it's depleted, you'll have to either wait for the meter to replenish itself (by waiting a few minutes) or eating the Gem Apples which restores it instantly. Its sequel, Super Kirby Clash, also uses the same system.
- Tokyo Afterschool Summoners uses a stamina meter that goes down any time you start a battle, whether it be a free quest, daily quest, or main quest.note When the number on the stamina meter goes below the second number, a timer begins that tells you when it will fully refill. Using stamina drinks, which can mostly be acquired by logging in or playing the game, can not only help speed up the process, but it can also increase the first number to have more than the second number, allowing more opportunities to battle.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links uses a replenishing stock of generic, low-level NPC duelists that slowly respawn over time. These are primarily used for grinding out EXP and Gate Keys used to level up characters and challenge Legendary Duelists, respectively. This stock can be manually replenished with Duel Orbs, which can be earned as rewards from missions but can also be bought with real money. However, the ability to play Player Versus Player is completely unlimited.
Games that use individual timeout timers:
- Disney Magic Kingdoms: has timers for just about everything, including: opening pieces of land, character tasks and quests, building and enchanting attractions, collecting from attractions and concessions, character level-ups, and tapper respawns during events and mini-events. Skipping them costs gems (premium currency) or (as of Update 60) Time Skip Tokens, the latter of which can be gained from chests, Season/Kingdom Pass milestones, and the calendar rewards. Notably, each Time Skip Token knocks ten minutes off of a given timer, so players don't necessarily have to use them to skip a given timer entirely. They can also partially reduce it to be more in line with their schedule if necessary.
- Girls' Frontline: Building new T-Dolls or putting them through training requires a period where they're locked away by a timer, which varies according to either the new Doll's rarity or the skill level that's being upgraded. They can be skipped with some currency, but since the game is meant to be played slowly, waiting a day for one of your many, many T-Dolls to fully max her skill shouldn't affect anyone except the most impatient.
- Game of War: Fire Age and other games based on its 4X model will often feature long construction timers. They are typically expressed in days, which is a good way of disguising the fact that some of them ought to be expressed in centuries instead.
- Grand Theft Auto Online: Although GTA Online is technically retail, this trope still applies to many of the most lucrative money-making methods in the game. Players can own illegal businesses that take supplies and turn them into sellable product. The supplies can be either stolen or bought at a rate of GTA$15,000 per 20% supplies missing in stock. Selling Import/Export cars takes a different approach; the player is prevented from selling more cars for a period of time depending on how many cars were sold in one go (generally 15 minutes per car).
- In Harvest Town, producing items in the workshop and/or selling stuffs in the Goods Stall has a cooldown timer that increases with the value of the products. You can speed up the timer by either watching ads, paying with diamonds, or using speed-up coupons, which you can buy with real money. Fortunately, the game is generous enough with diamonds and bonuses, that it's usually unnecessary to actually use cash to bypass the timer.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Unlike its predecessor, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, production orders are based on real time instead of how many missions are completed. The production timers only tick down while the game is running, with the exception of online productions, which always tick down regardless of the game's status in exchange for having longer timers, some going on for days. Players can send some of their soldiers on expeditions to procure crafting materials, soldiers, and vehicles, which also run on real time.
- In Shop Heroes, crafting things to sell can take time, and sending heroes on quests can take a few hours. Moreover, resources take time to replenish. These things can all be sped up by upgrades (or by spending real money).
- Tiny Shop has timers for crafting items, researching crafting recipes, sending out adventurers to collect materials, and upgrading the workshops around the city. You can speed up the process either by watching ads, paying with crystals, or buying ad tickets with real money.
- Vigor gates shelter upgrades and Item Crafting behind timers of varying lengths. The shelter's Antenna upgrade, a facility that generates tiny amounts of premium currency every day, gets it the worst — its first upgrade level takes six hours to finish and every level thereafter takes an additional six hours on top of that (level 2 takes 12 hours, 3 takes 18 hours, and so on).
- Warframe: All items being crafted in the foundry have differing time requirements ranging from minutes to hours to 3 days in the case of Warframes themselves. All of these can be rushed at the cost of platinum (in-game currency that can be traded between players but also bought with real-world currency) although this is generally frowned upon and discouraged by most of the playerbase.
- Zombidle: Done relatively unobtrusively.
- You can make a Deal with the Devil every five to ten minutes (every four hours for item crafting) for a slight boost to damage, income, speed, item crafting, or a small number of diamonds (the game's premium currency). This is done either by watching a fifteen-second ad or by paying a bloodstone, a different kind of currency that is given out for every milestone level passed. And a regular event even makes devil deals free, so you don't even have to watch the ad.
- Item crafting and upgrading buildings in Hell lets you pay diamonds to accelerate the process, with a free eight/four-hour boost every four hours.
Games that combines both mechanics:
- Alice in the Mirrors of Albion is a Hidden Object Game that uses energy bars and timers to explore the various places around Albion.
- In the Normal mode, searching a location uses up from 15 to several hundred energy points, and it takes 1:30 minutes to replenish one energy point. Of course, the player can spend money to buy food items to refill the bar faster.
- Similarly, the patrolling duties require 10 stamina points to make a move, while the player has a limit of 150 stamina points (which cannot be increased through leveling up, unlike the energy bar).
- Locations in the Mirror World, on the other hand, has cooldown timers that prevent the players from immediately revisiting a location after searching through them, although paying Cash can speed up the process. These cooldown timers can range from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on the area.
- The Battle Cats
- Playing a level costs energy. In the non-Special levels, energy costs are lower the easier and earlier the level is. If you run out of energy, you can either pay to restore it all, claim a rank-up reward, or just wait a few hours to get more.
- Gamatoto is a cat you can send out on expeditions for rewards. You can choose to have him adventure for 1, 3, or 6 real-time hours, and he returns with more rewards depending on how long he was adventuring.
- In Criminal Case, the player is given an energy bar with a limit of 110 points, which refills one energy point every two minutes (meaning it takes two hours to fully replenish). Investigating crime scenes requires 20 energy. Analyzing clues found in the crime scenes can take anywhere from thirty minutes to 36 hours (when replaying a case to unlock bonus features, all analysis times are doubled). Players can spend real money to either speed up the analyses, purchase in-game food to refill the energy meter, or even get a subscription that permanently extends the energy bar for a weekly price.
- Cooking Diary: Playing a round costs a heart that needs to be refilled every ten minutes. Also, when you purchase a store upgrade, you need to wait several minutes for the upgrade to be "delivered", although you can speed up the delivery by paying with gems or watching ads.
- Egglia: Legend of the Redcap uses all sorts of timers, despite the mobile versions lacking any in-app purchases aside from buying chapters of the story.
- Empires and Puzzles: Epic Match 3
- There are three types of "Energy bars" to play various puzzle stages. The first bar is used to play the normal campaigns (story mode and quests) and costs 3-8 energy points per stage. The second one is used to battle against other players and is limited to 5 tries per day. The third is used to battle Titans (the player must be a part of a guild for this feature to unlock) and is limited to 3 per day. Automatically refilling this bar requires potions, which, of course, is purchasable using real money.
- Building and improving stronghold assets, on the other hand, has individual timers that range from a minute to 7 days, depending on the level of the building upgraded. Speeding up the building process requires diamonds. Oh, and did we mention that you can only build one building at a time?
- Love & Pies is a merge-2 game where Gems can be spent on instantly clearing the timers on the energy meter, which slowly refills with 1 unit of energy every 2 minutes until it reaches 100note ; item generators, which have a cooldown after spawning a certain number of items; and item boxes, which take time to be opened to get rewards.
- Merge Mansion is a merge-2 game which requires the use of energy to generate items to merge, and once you run out, you have to wait 70 seconds to gain another energy or use diamonds to recharge the bar. The item generators also have cooldown times after generating a certain number of items (the higher the level, the more items it can produce before having to cool down), and diamonds can once again be used to skip the cooldown times.
- My Cafe's Quest Mode has an interesting combination of the two. The player is given an energy bar, and performing various tasks consumes 3-50 points. However, this bar doesn't automatically refill, and if the player wants to replenish their energy, they need to use the two energy generators available at the venue that can be used every 3 to 12 hours.