Free-To-Play Strategy Games: How They Stack up Against Paid Ones

Can free games really stack-up against paid/premium titles?

Video games have been around for a while. Massive advancements in technology paved the way for games to be more accessible to the mainstream audience. There are different channels where game enthusiasts can play, namely mobile, PC, and console. In many instances, these games are developed to be compatible with all three channels. 

Among the most popular genres of video games, strategy games cater to a particular niche that enjoys the emphasis on using tactics and skills. While strategy games may not always be action-packed, they have an addictive appeal that lures players of different ages. 

Developers use two models to market strategy games. The traditional method is to offer games as paid content. Players will have to buy the content first before they can start playing the game. On the other hand, the free-to-play model pertains to games that are free to download and play. Most free-to-play games offer in-game purchases. Nevertheless, it is possible for a player to reach high levels without having to shell out a single cent. 

A closer look at free-to-play games

The free-to-play business model used in video games originated in South Korea in the early 2000s. This model of distributing games was popular with MMO type games catering towards mainstream or casual players as well as children. Eventually, small and independent developers started adapting the same model for releasing games. The internet was largely responsible for the proliferation of free-to-play games in response to the demand for content that is not only free but is also available to play anytime and anywhere. 

Later on, a number of subscription-based games started transitioning into the free-to-play model. Large game developers picked up the method and applied it to some well-known games such as Battlefield Heroes. By 2011, free-to-play games had surpassed subscription games in terms of revenue. In fact, the most popular free-to-play games such as Clash of Clans had successfully gathered revenue from in-game purchases because players are more willing to spend when the game itself can be downloaded and played for free. 

Currently, some of the most popular strategy games employ the free-to-play model. These games include League of Legends, DOTA 2, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite. The success of these games, in their respective genres, has influenced other developers to use the free-to-play business model.

Comparing free-to-play with traditional paid games

Traditional paid games measure success by the number of game units sold multiplied by unit price. It is not as simple when compared with how the success of free-to-play games is determined. One of the most important parameters is the number of players the game can continuously keep engaged which is then followed by the number or variety of spending opportunities offered within the game. In this model, what’s important is that the player is engaged enough to be willing to pay for in-game purchases as the game progresses. 

With free-to-play games, more players are likely to try out the game knowing that they don’t have to pay to download the content. Depending on the level of engagement, revenue from in-game purchases can vary from small amounts to thousands of dollars. 

Another problem that the free-to-play model eliminates is piracy and high system requirements in PC games. Developers are still in the process of improving the business model to ensure that the negative connotations surrounding free-to-play games are completely eliminated. 

Right now, free-to-play games are predicted to become the dominant business model used for most genres of strategy games today. However, paid games and subscription-based games will not be completely replaced.

A list of top free-to-play games

When comparing whether or not it is better to play F2P or subscription-based games, there are varying opinions from experts and gamers alike. For the most part, what’s important here is whether or not the game is enjoyable or if it has superb graphics and game plot. Here is a list of some of the best free-to-play games for PC. 

Crusader Kings II. This is a compelling game where there is a more personal element of participation. Unlike other strategy games where you will take charge of a fictional nation or empire, in this game you will start out by building your own family. The game becomes multi-generational because after your character dies, your heir will take over and the entire premise of the game begins again. 

StarCraft II. This is another ubiquitous name in the world of strategy games. It is a classic game where you have to build a base, build your armies, gather as many resources as possible, and kill your enemies before they kill you first. Online participation is a large part of what makes this game so popular. It is also considered to be one of the best multiplayer games for PC use. 

Supreme Commander. There is nothing too groundbreaking with this game. But the scale of the game is what makes it one of the top strategy games available today. A player can create an army composed of up to 1,000 units spanning land, air, and sea. While StarCraft may boast of better excitement because you need to think and act quickly, this game levels up the experience because you have to deal with a massive army. 

Endless Legend. This game became a favorite when it first came out in 2014. What sets it apart from other games in this genre is its ability to seamlessly integrate fantasy and science fiction. Aside from that, the game also has a strong narrative with stories and side quests which lends the game a feel of adventurous roleplaying.

These examples are only a few of what critics dub as the best strategy games for PC. There are other lists that exist out there and numerous other games to enjoy. Also, the genre of strategy games has become increasingly popular for mobile phones. Developers have come up with iterations of games often played on computers and consoles and made them compatible with smartphones and tablets. This makes strategy games more accessible to the general public and mainstream players. 

Latest Jobs

IO Interactive

Hybrid (Malmö, Sweden)
Gameplay Director (Project Fantasy)

Arizona State University

Los Angeles, CA, USA
Assistant Professor of XR Technologies

IO Interactive

Hybrid (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Animation Tech Programmer

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN, USA
Assistant Professor in Game Design and Development
More Jobs   


Explore the
Advertise with
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer


Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Advertise with

Game Developer

Engage game professionals and drive sales using an array of Game Developer media solutions to meet your objectives.

Learn More
Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more