Free Games vs. Free-to-Play Games: What’s the Difference?

While they sound similar, free games and free-to-play games aren’t the same. Let’s briefly explore how they differ.

At first glance, free and free-to-play games may seem the same. However this isn’t the case and knowing the difference before downloading a title can help you decide whether or not the game is for you.

Here, you’ll find a brief overview of free and free-to-play games to help you choose which title to play next.

What Are Free Video Games?

A free game is one you can play at no cost, meaning you don’t pay to download it, nor do you purchase anything with real money to level up. You typically find these within a subscription—making the games not entirely free.

For example, Sony gives away free games monthly as one of the benefits of its PlayStation Plus subscription. It’s included some excellent titles on that list, such as God of War, Days Gone, Resident Evil 7, and Ratchet and Clank.

The only catch is you need to download them when they’re available, and you can only access them as long as you’re a subscriber. However, your subscription for the year sometimes costs less than buying the game at its original release price.

Think of these as a bonus you get alongside your subscription.

What Are Free-to-Play Video Games?

Free-to-play means you can still download and play the game at no cost, but in-game purchases are available.


Some examples of in-game purchases are:

  • Upgrades
  • In-game currency
  • Cosmetics
  • Characters
  • New levels or downloadable content

While mobile games and watching ads for coins may be the first thing to come to mind, you can also find free-to-play games on your console. Warframe is an excellent example.

This multi-platform game uses the free-to-play model to allow anyone to access and play it with no initial cost. As you play, you collect an in-game currency that you can use to purchase upgrades.

If you want to fast-track your progress, you can either complete repetitive tasks to gain more credits—also known as grinding—or purchase them instead.

The top reason free-to-play games are superb is that they make gaming more accessible. You can still play them without ever making an in-game purchase, and upgrades are just a matter of time commitment.

It also means you can enjoy the game longer if the developer continues to create more content—like the many DLCs and expansions of Destiny 2.

Both Free Game Types Have Perks

Free and free-to-play games both have perks.

Free games are typically an add-on to a subscription. However, these additional titles save you money, give you variety, and allow you to play games you’re hesitant to buy otherwise.

Free-to-play puts more games in your library at no initial cost—or none if you spend time rather than money to level up. These are excellent for tiding you over between releases when you want to save up for an anticipated game.

Now you understand the difference, be sure to try out both types and see which you prefer. You may also find a free or free-to-play game that becomes a favorite.

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