Ironically, the free-to-play business model is being adopted by more and more video game companies as means of increasing profits and income. In the past few months we've seen Ubisoft acquire casual gaming company Owlient, EA purchase Popcap Games and Steam launch its own free-to-play section, to name but a few.
There's an old saying, however, which states that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and in order to get the most out of free-to-play games there are additional, albeit optional, costs. Digital Spy looks at some of the biggest and best free-to-play games available and examines what players can expect for nothing and whether it pays to pay.
Free Content: Quake Live features 40 maps and five game modes, as well as the ability to play with friends and join a clan.
Additional costs: There are two subscription packages available, both of which feature extra maps and modes. Subscribers also benefit from long-term stat-tracking and are able to host their own games, join multiple clans and skip pre-match advertising.
Verdict: Hardcore fans will subscribe no questions asked, while casual players will be more than happy with what's on offer.
Trackmania Nations Forever
Free Content: Trackmania Nations Forever features a generous number of single-player courses, as well as the ability to create and share custom tracks and videos.
Additional costs: For approximately £20, players can purchase Trackmania United Forever, which features a more in-depth single-player mode, extra stadiums (allowing for more elaborate and impressive custom tracks), as well as a host of power-ups and upgrades.
Verdict: The ability to create courses means that Trackmania Nations Forever has almost unlimited replay value. It doesn't cost much to buy the more complete Trackmania United Forever, however, which should appeal to those who have exhausted Nation's standard single-player mode.
Free Content: Players can enjoy all of the thrills of building and managing a farm with a mere click of a button, and are able to share their creations with friends and fellow FarmVille enthusiasts.
Additional costs: Premium content including tools and items necessary for maintenance and growth can be bought with cash. Cosmetic enhancements can also be purchased, ensuring that each farm looks attractive and unique.
Verdict: Impatient FarmVille addicts will be unwilling to wait for crops to grow and will pay anything to speed up the process and reach higher levels.
Free Content: The insanely addictive 60-second game is free to play for all users, along with full access to leaderboards. Other elements such as rare drops and item creation tools are also restricted to paying users only (a Premium account is unlocked with a single purchase).
Additional costs: There are a string of bonus items and jewels that can be purchased with the in-game currency. Players can slowly earn currency, or pay for it by adding credits with cold hard cash.
Verdict: Bejeweled Blitz is incredibly addictive, especially when there are high scores at stake. More bonus items essentially guarantees you a better score and so the more competitive will happily splash the cash to stay on top. Most players are likely to be content with the free model, however.
Age Of Conan
Free Content: The free model enables players to choose from four character classes and two character slots, and also grants access to non-premium dungeons and two raids.
Additional costs: Subscribers will receive full access to dungeons, character classes, offline levels, raids, sieges and character slots, as well as a 10% item shop discount.
Verdict: There is a rich world and decent amount of content available for free, but it won't be long before players are craving more and pay for the extra dungeons and raids.
Team Fortress 2
Free Content: The entirety of the team-based online shooter can be played without any payments, with full access to game modes, classes and maps available for all users.
Additional Costs: Team Fortress 2 features an in-game shop which contains lots of reasonably-priced items and weapons.
Verdict: Items and weapons are fairly cheap, so players can customise their experience without breaking the bank. It's not necessary, however, and the free experience should be more than satisfactory.
World Of Warcraft Starter Edition
Free Content: Players have access to the full World Of Warcraft experience, albeit with some limitations. There is a level cap of 20, trade skills are capped at 100 and players are unable to trade, properly communicate or join guilds.
Additional Costs: Players can purchase a retail copy of the game and use the authentication key, or subscribe online in order to continue to develop past level 20.
Verdict: World Of Warcraft is one of the most popular games ever made for a reason, and players who have invested the time to reach level 20 will undoubtedly pay anything to continue.
What free-to-play games do you play? Add a comment to the space below!