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On Steam, there are the labels "Free" and "Free to Play" - what is the difference between the two?

Steam Store showing free and 'free to play' games

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"Free" means the game is free. 100% free with no charge to play it.

"Free to play" means the base game is free and you can play for free but some content will be available that require micro-transactions or other form of payment to get hold of. As mentioned on the Steam Support article for "Free to play" games:

Free to play games are available to download for free and can be played without a subscription or a credit card. Your Steam wallet allows you to purchase items and content in-game to customize your gameplay.

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    P2W has a significant overlap with, but is not identical to F2P. There are plenty of F2P games that only sell cosmetic items. There are P2W games that also charge for the retail box and/or a periodic subscription. – Timbo Dec 15 '15 at 0:02
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    * where the interpretation "can play" might heavily depend on how we define "can" and "play". – vsz Dec 15 '15 at 5:07
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    Not to forget about the Free to Pay games, where you have all the content from the beginning, but still can buy stuff that does not give you any advantage at all :P – Marv Dec 15 '15 at 8:17
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    @Iszi Notice 'Path of Exile' in the list? This is a great example of a F2P game without any P2W content. It does feature microtransactions for item skins and convenience items like bank space, but it's totally optional. – Leon van Noord Dec 15 '15 at 13:49
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    TF2 would be a good example as well. Whilst yes, you can unlock weapons via paying, a) those weapons are not strictly better (or worse) than the stock counterparts, and b) You can unlock the majority of them through random item drops/achivement gets anyway. – Robotnik Dec 15 '15 at 23:59
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It's important to note that in most cases, at least on Steam, if a game is listed as "Free to Play" then the additional content which is behind a paywall will be purely cosmetic.

In other words if you want your player character to be wearing a fancy hat or have a weapon which is golden rather than the usual chrome or black finish then you will have to pay for it, but the actual gameplay will usually be unaffected.

Examples of this model are DOTA 2 and Team Fortress 2.

Some other games have items/bonuses etc. which do affect gameplay, which can be unlocked over the course of normal play, but will allow you to unlock these things more quickly by paying some money.

Sometimes you can outright buy these items, or sometimes you will earn free "points" of some type by just playing which can be spent for either cosmetic or gameplay-affecting items, and you can "boost" the rate at which you earn these otherwise free points by paying real money, thus allowing you to unlock the items more quickly (but still requiring you to "earn" the points through some gameplay actions or just time spent playing).

Examples of this model are League of Legends and Marvel Heroes.

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    League of Legends has nothing that affects gameplay. If you don't count faster leveling that is, but that does not give you an advantage over other players. Pay for convience != pay to win. – Bl00dylicious Dec 15 '15 at 11:28
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    @Gnarly404 OK I realised that in LoL there are IP (earned by playing) and RP (bought for money) and that you can buy IP boosts with RP/real money, which then buy runes which do affect gameplay. I have corrected my answer. – WhatEvil Dec 15 '15 at 11:38
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    @Gnarly404: League has heroes to buy, I can not think of anything that affects gameplay MORE. – kat0r Dec 15 '15 at 13:11
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    No, the player skins / costumes do not affect gameplay. They are cosmetic only. – WhatEvil Dec 15 '15 at 13:26
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    unlock these things more quickly oh yeah, 1000x times more quickly in some games. You either spend 1000 days, or 1 day, but no, it's not P2W, we assure you. :) – Neolisk Dec 15 '15 at 14:22

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