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Great Games That Only Blew Up After Going Free

There are usually two kinds of free-to-play games: those designed as free-to-play and those that moved to that model after struggling in the paid game market. However, shifting from pay-to-play to free-to-play comes with a lot of baggage. Often, games transfer between payment models because they aren't popular or are seriously flawed, and many gamers view the shift as a last-ditch effort to stave off the grim reaper for an extra month or two.

However, sometimes the stars align and going free-to-play is the shot in the arm a game needs. Instead of dying a protracted death, the newly-minted free-to-play title finds success that surpasses anything it experienced as a pay-to-play title. Granted, surviving as a free game is difficult, but the truly great entries don't just survive the transfer, they thrive. Here are the best games you may have only discovered after they went free-to-play.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Over the years, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has transformed into a powerhouse esports offering. The game has been through ups and downs thanks to problems with cheaters and skin gambling scandals, but it's hard to imagine a time when the game wasn't well-liked.

CS:GO released in August 2012, and grew steadily before becoming the second most-played game on Steam by 2014 — an impressive feat for a pay-to-play game. After noting the continued popularity of free weekends, Valve eventually hatched a plan to turn CS:GO free-to-play

In December 2018, Valve flipped the switch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive turned free. While this decision initially drew the ire of many players, CS:GO finally hit the one-million concurrent users milestone in 2020 that eluded the title when it was pay-to-play.

Though not a perfect transition, it appears going free-to-play was the best thing that happened to CS:GO.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

BioWare has created numerous beloved RPGs, including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. While BioWare never developed a proper sequel (that honor fell to Obsidian Entertainment), it produced another game that took place in the same time period: Star Wars: The Old Republic. Though BioWare faced some issues during launch week, The Old Republic reportedly hit 1 million paid subscribers within three days, before slipping below 1 million by July of the following year.

Though still profitable, Electronic Arts made the call to convert The Old Republic to free-to-play. BioWare has since released numerous expansions that gamers can either purchase or experience free with a subscription. The game has continued to grow, and EA reported it had reached almost $1 billion in revenue near the end of 2019.

Destiny 2

Destiny 2 didn't initially live up to expectations. Now, there's a difference between a disappointment and a failure, and Destiny 2 was merely disappointing. The game reportedly brought in around 700,000 players just before it went free, but after Destiny 2 made the transition to free-to-play, over two million started logging in.

Turning free was the beginning of good things for Destiny 2 and Bungie. The company started introducing seasons that provide new challenges and rewards, then cut ties with Activision and regained all rights to Destiny 2. Moreover, Bungie will soon release the Beyond Light expansion, introducing new powers and elements, a first for the franchise.

While Destiny 2's population numbers have supposedly petered out slightly, they are still well above what it accomplished as a pay-to-play game.