Throughout the Digital Age, the Internet plays a major role in connecting gamers all over the world. Now, we can instantly log into games to play with others online, which is different than how things worked a few decades ago. That being said, are PC games still free for us to play online, as it has always been then?
Yes, PC games are still free for us to play online with family and friends worldwide. Only a few video games are exceptions to this, such as subscription-based MMORPGs like Final Fantasy® XIV: A Realm Reborn™ and World of Warcraft®.
Today, everyone accepts that video games are a recognized global phenomenon that has become a preferred daily pastime for young generations. In fact, many of us – from kids to grown adults – play video games in some shape or form too.
Based on a study conducted by Ofcom in 2021, around 62% of all adults play video games, while a whopping 92% of individuals aged between 16 to 24 years old do so as well.
PC gaming is one of the primary contributors to this, and the ease of online multiplayer results in more interest in online games than ever before. This is evidenced by Steam’s peak online count of around 30 million players at the time of writing.
Console leaders like PlayStation® and Xbox understand this and have taken steps to improve their online monthly subscription packages, each being PlayStation® Plus and Xbox Live respectively.
Nevertheless, PC players find it ridiculous to be charged monthly fees to utilize the Internet’s open network while playing online. There will always be a healthy divide between gamers because of this, with one section agreeing with online subscription models for multiplayer support while others passionately disagree about it.
Regardless, depending on a game’s business model, a developer or publisher has the right to impose charges for online multiplayer to earn a profit, especially if it’s a free-to-play game. It all depends on the monetization strategies implemented, with some being user-friendly (cosmetics-only, effects, etc.) while others remain predatory (loot boxes, pay-to-win items, etc.).
Reasons Why PC Games are Free to Play Online
So far, the most probable answers to why many PC games continue to provide free online play are:
- Developers/ Publishers’ competitive advantage against console-exclusive games
- Avoiding player backlash due to the free use of the Internet
- Players’ admin-level knowledge and accessibility to toolkits that allow direct connectivity to other players
Some companies do lock multiplayer game features behind paywalls, but this is mostly practiced by those that adopt free-to-play business models, allowing us to ‘sample’ their games without any initial costs.
Developing video games requires extensive amounts of time and money, so it is understandable that game developers and publishers are forced to aim for profitable business revenues at the end of the day.
That being said, a game can still be free online AND consumer-friendly too when it comes to monetizing its services. Warframe is an exemplary example of this, boasting a player count of around 500,000 players every single day!
Can We Play PC Games Online without Spending Money?
These days, many successful video game companies choose free-to-play strategies to widen their reach of the general gaming community. In fact, some of the most lucrative video games in the business don’t require any purchase whatsoever, like Riot Games’ League of Legends.
Yes, we can play many online PC games out there without spending a single cent. However, more desirable in-game features and premium content might require a purchase for us to enjoy.
For instance, the highly-successful StarCraft® II finally became free for everyone to install on 14th November 2017, letting us play the entirety of its Wings of Liberty™ campaign, the full multiplayer Versus mode unlocked, and certain Commanders to play as in Co-Op Missions.
On the other hand, by purchasing its Heart of the Swarm™ and Legacy of the Void™ expansions, we get access to the whole trilogy’s blockbuster story, including exclusive unit skins and decals too, among other awesome additions.
As mentioned previously, gaming studios and triple-A (AAA) publishers invest actual time, resources, and capital to develop our favorite video games. These involve real people working behind the scenes 24/7, doing their best to create satisfying gaming experiences for us to relish.
By purchasing special in-game content, we directly support the respective companies to survive in today’s competitive video games industry, allowing them to create sequel projects for many years to come.
Here’s a look at some of the most addictive online PC games that are absolutely free right now:
Do We Need to Install PC Games to Play Online?
Although video games today benefit from the advancements in gaming technology – like photo-realistic graphics and jaw-dropping animations – their total memory sizes have also increased to accommodate these improvements. This is especially true for open-world MMORPGs, making players wonder if games can be played online without sacrificing up to 100 GB of memory space per game.
Generally, every game needs to be installed on the computer to allow instantaneous reads of all the required assets and resources without jeopardizing game performance and risking application crashes.
Still, there is a solution to this particular predicament: cloud gaming. Believed to be the future of video games across all platforms, cloud gaming lets us play video games without requiring any game installation whatsoever. This saves up A LOT of memory space because games are stored inside cloud servers instead, usually set up all around the world.
The concept is almost similar to streaming movies but with the added ability to actually play the games ourselves. A primary example of a cloud-gaming service is Xbox Cloud Gaming for PC, allowing players with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate account to play Xbox games on the computer!
Cloud gaming might still be in its early stages right now, but in due time, we might actually see a future where we won’t need to install PC games to play multiplayer games anymore. Wouldn’t that be exciting!
Should We Pay to Play Games Online?
Admittedly, the decision depends on the players themselves. Both free and paid online multiplayer games have their distinct pros and cons that mainly affect the developers and publishers.
If a free-to-play game is fun to play, doesn’t promote pay-to-win elements, and implements player-friendly monetization packages, then we should consider supporting it by purchasing its unique, paid content.
This is not to say that fully-paid games do not deserve attention too. In fact, games like Star Wars™ Battlefront II™ and Battlefield™ Vare amongst the most beloved multiplayer shooter games to date.
If a fully-fledged paid game offers exciting gameplay, hours of replayability, maintains development promises, and achieves players’ expectations, we would be happy to purchase the game in full in order to play it.
Many fully-paid games are usually those that offer outstanding cinematic stories with big-name casts that portray the main characters in-game. In real life, these individuals charge hefty fees to be included in games, not accounting for other development costs like motion capture (mocap) and marketing yet.
As a result, many publishers are usually forced to recoup those initial costs quickly, leading to $60 price tags at launch – even more so for special editions! However, the selling price is not an issue if the game is well-received by the gaming community, meaning that a highly-reviewed paid game (by players, not critics) will only result in more units sold. Don’t underestimate the players’ word-of-mouth power!
Nevertheless, it’s always great to have a final say between a free-to-play game and its paid counterpart:
- Allows us to reserve our money until we can justify in-game content purchases
- Minimal obligation/ pressure for us to complete the game
- The complete package right off the bat (except DLCs)
- Instantly supports the developers to incentivize future titles
I do reiterate that it all falls down to every gamer’s personal viewpoint. Still, the argument between free games and paid ones has been a long-standing topic within the gaming community. Add the controversies surrounding both sides like scammy micro-transactions (free-to-play) and unpolished/ buggy game releases with incomplete content (paid) into the mix, and it looks like the debate will rage on for more years to come.