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Free to play (F2P) refers to a business model for online games in which the game designers do not charge the user or player in order to join the game. Instead, they hope to bring in revenue from advertisements or in-game sales, such as payment for upgrades, special abilities, special items, and expansion packs.
Free to play games center around gamers' willingness to purchase items or pay for access to new content once they have tried out the game and become familiar with its mechanics. The idea of purchasing new content after playing a game, such as access to new areas or characters or levels, allows designers to create many games on the same platform and then focus on expanding those versions, thus producing in-game purchases and revenue.
Free-to-play games contrast sharply with the primary model that preceded it, which is called pay-to-play (P2P). In this model, players pay for a game once upfront and then become able to access all the game's content based on their skill and the time they put in. The early F2P games were often much lower quality than traditional P2P games. However, F2P games have quickly grown in quality as developers recognized their ability to produce revenue.
Video game producers are still working on optimizing the F2P model. Some gaming companies offer both free and paid versions of the same game, although there are many games created specifically for F2P as well.