Gaming experiences for the low cost of nothing

What is a hundred hours of immersive gameplay on a PC going to cost you? If it's exploration in a fantasy world filled with dragons, wizards and dungeons you're looking for, then be prepared to spend two-and-a-half thousand on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. If running and gunning with seemingly endless layers of team-based strategy is your cup of tea, then just over a thousand for Battlefield 3. But wait, it's 2012, and you can get yourself a thoroughly addictive gaming experience for the low cost of nothing. The ‘free to play' revolution is here, and it's come at a time when PC gaming was proclaimed dead. Piracy was hugely responsible for the decline of the PC market, and while it continues to claim victims today, it seems to have met its match in F2P (free to play) games. Think about it. Why would someone pirate a game which was free to play in the first place?

The idea of games that granted free, unrestricted access to all of its content isn't a new one by any means. Early Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs (or MMOs) thrived on the F2P model, where a bulk of content was available for free to players, with the players being charged for certain in-game items and unlocks. Some MMOs even resorted to in-game advertising to get a profit. But in its current state, the F2P market is more mature and relatively less experimental, and more importantly, the quality of gaming experiences is nearly on par with games that cost $50 at retail. One of F2P's unlikely success stories is that of Riot Games' League of Legends, a game developed by modders Steve Feak and Steve Mescon. Based on the gameplay formula of the now-famous Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends was the first next-gen competitive online MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) title — and it was entirely free to play. All in-game unlocks (except character skins) could be done by playing the game for extended periods of time and accruing influence points (or IP), but the game also gave its players the shortcut of paying real world money to purchase riot points (or RP) which could then be used to unlock characters and various gameplay items. Riot Games got the balance just right and there are currently more than 15 million registered user accounts. What's more, League of Legends is now a professional e-sport, with $3 million waiting to be won in its second season — the largest prize pot in competitive gaming history.

It wasn't going to be long before others crashed the party, and Valve Corp's Steam did exactly that. Their 2007 blockbuster hit Team Fortress 2 is now entirely free to play on the platform. Free players will have complete access to the game's content, with minor restrictions on certain features and items. Once again, there's excellent balance here, with premium players getting just the right amount of additional pampering (a larger backpack, cosmetic items and recipes) to make them feel a little more special. After the success of TF2 on Steam, a brace of other F2P titles has made its appearance on the platform. Top picks include the recently released Super Monday Night Combat, which is a tactically strategic yet fun shooter from Uber Entertainment, superhero MMO DC Universe Online from Sony Online Entertainment and Frogwares' World of Battles: Morningstar for those looking for a strategy game with a fantasy setting. If you're looking for a team-based shooter, Hi-Rez Studios' Tribes Ascend (not available on Steam, however) is an excellent choice, offering a perfect blend of frantic action, team strategy and jumping around extra-large maps wearing jetpacks. That's more than just one reason to become a part of the F2P revolution, don't you think?

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